I Can’t Forget My Hometown (Ein Karem)
Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:
Homeland is dear to all of us. I often asked myself questions about my roots. My father used to say that the essence of the present problem is the injustice done to our people in 1948 when over 700,000 people were forced to leave their towns and villages. Encouraged by this and in order to know the facts about the nakba [disaster] in 1948 and its negative repercussions on the Palestinians in general and my family in particular, I decided to talk to one of my parents.
Last week, I asked my father to discuss the roots of our family. My first question: “When and where was my grandfather born?”
My father replied that his father was born in 1914 in the village of Ein Karem [to the south-west of Jerusalem]. “During the last years of Turkish rule people suffered much as a result of famine, diseases and war. After 1920, the situation improved. Ein Karem, where your grandfather lived, was a large and beautiful village with sloping hills and fertile fields. It covered an area of 930 dunums [1 dunam = 1000 square meters], and its agricultural lands covered 15 thousand dunums. The village was inhabited by 3,180 people. There were three churches: the first on the southern hill, the second on the northern hill, and the third about three kilometers from the village itself, at the place where St. John lived [the church of St John in the Desert]. Your grandfather used to play with his peers on the hills of the village. He enjoyed picking fruits during the summer season, and wandering with other boys in the green valleys. Your grandmother used to prepare bread baked in the house oven or taboon. The family enjoyed eating it with za’ater [thyme] or labaneh (yoghurt). When your grandfather became a young man, he began to tend the fields which were covered with olive and fruit trees.”
I asked my father: “How was life socially?”
“There were five quarters in the town: the first was called Haret en-Nasara (the Christian Quarter), the second Haret el-Mascobieh (the Russian Quarter), while the other three were for the Moslems and were called: Wa’ar Sara, Haret Dwar and Haret el-Haraje. Social relations among the inhabitants were strong and based on cooperation and being good neighbors. They used to visit each other, especially during pleasant occasions such as weddings, but also on sad occasions when they shared the grief of their neighbors. In the summer men would gather in the town square to hold conversations and narrate stories from the past. In winter, they met at the house of the mukhtar [village head] to discuss common affairs. In general, life was easy for most of the inhabitants because everything, especially food, was available and cheap. Farmers tended their fields peacefully. Trade was prosperous and money had real purchasing power. We enjoyed eating the products of our good and fertile land such as the delicious Jaffa oranges and other kinds of the numerous fruits. In addition to vegetables, the land was cultivated with vines, figs, apples, pears, pomegranates, mulberry and walnut trees. People made bread from flour out of the wheat grown on the land.”
I asked about the political situation. He replied: “Before 1936 the situation was relatively normal. But as a result of the Jewish settlement expansion and a British policy that favored the Jews, the number of clashes increased between Arabs and Jews. In 1948, the situation became dangerous. The inhabitants of Ein Karem began to worry and made the necessary preparations to defend their town. One day, as villagers were returning from their fields, they heard the sounds of shooting. They knew that Jewish forces were surrounding the village from all sides. Armed fighters tried their best to defend the town, but in the evening the situation became hopeless. In order to avoid the massacre of women and children, the elders of the village met and decided to take a very difficult and painful decision: they left the village to take shelter in the city of Bethlehem. We began our journey of suffering and kept walking until we reached Bethlehem in the early morning. We and other families decided to go to the Latin Convent until we would secure a home. We arrived there exhausted and shocked because of this unexpected nakba [disaster].”
My father stopped to drink a cup of coffee. I asked: “How was life after the disaster?”
“My family became refugees without house, money or source of income. So your grandfather worked as a laborer for many years, and the family lived in a difficult situation after the many years of stability and happiness in Ein Karem. However, your grandfather did his best to provide his sons with what was necessary and he never lost his trust in God.”
Then I asked my father whether or not he had visited his village after the nakba. He sighed and replied:
“Yes, of course. After the war of 1967 your grandfather took us to visit Ein Karem. We visited its magnificent churches and saw its old houses. Its inhabitants were Jews from Yemen. We felt sad and frustrated, not only because we were forced to leave our beautiful village in 1948, but also because we were not allowed to return to it. Strangers were allowed to live in the houses that we had built ourselves!”
Finally I asked my father: “Do you hope to return to your village?” “Certainly I still long for my roots. I am sure that justice will come at last. Although I have been living in this town for a long period, I can’t forget my original hometown. My roots and childhood memories are there. So I still hope that one day I will be able to return to my dear village.”
After this conversation with my father, I felt that I had answers to my questions. The facts he told me enhanced my belief in values that are important to all, such as dignity, courage, hope, love of freedom and love for the homeland.
From: Your Stories Are My Stories: A Palestinian oral history project. Saint Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem, Wi’am – Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, Arab Educational Institute-Open Windows. Culture and Palestine series AEI-Open Windows 2001. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com