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I Was Born In War. I Have Lived In War. And I Feel That I Will Die In War.

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Amal Owaineh

My grandfather is a great man. He is an educator but not like a teacher at school; he got his education through the school of his life. He was born in 1926 during the British period; afterwards he lived the Jordanian and now the Israeli period. I like spending my spare time chatting with him. He tells me wonderful stories full of history and lessons of life. With the help of the history stories I can foretell the future of us as citizens of Palestine, a country occupied for ages by powerful countries. History repeats itself!

Before my grandfather started talking about his past life, he sighed as if he had bitter, severe or painful memories. I felt sorry for him. I just couldn’t leave him because I wanted to know what bothered him so much. I thought that if he told me what was on his mind, he would feel better. Finally he spelled out some words:

“Oh, my pretty daughter, I really don’t know where to start. Our suffering never stopped for a moment. Our life is full of painful stories.”

My grandfather started telling me about his father’s life. He told me that during Turkish rule, life in Battir [a village to the south-west of Bethlehem] was miserable. Women and men worked the whole day just to have something to eat at the end of the day. The soldiers would execute anybody found with weapons. My grandfather said: “Once my father and his brothers were arrested because the soldiers found bullets inside the house. But how come? They didn’t have any bullets, how were they found in the house? They didn’t even have money to buy food, how could they buy bullets? Punishment was death, but at the last minute a good, rich and powerful Arab man was able to save them. Everybody was relieved.”

“People were poor, hungry and desperate. They couldn’t even work in the fields to get their food. They were prevented from doing so. The Turks wanted people to beg them for work for a very poor salary.”

“After the end of the First World War, Turkey left Palestine and Britain came in. The situation became different. People started to find jobs and to plant their fields. After a couple of months our village was flooded with vegetables and fruit. People sold large quantities to different places, especially Jerusalem. Apart from helping the men with cultivating, the women were responsible for selling the vegetables and fruit. On top of that, they were good housekeepers. Oh, Amal, your grandmother was a great woman, she sacrificed her life for all of us. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I hope that you will be as good as she was because if you are, your husband will certainly love you.”

I caught my grandpa at that point and asked him: “Does that mean that you were in love with my grandmother?” His face reddened, he panicked and quickly changed the subject: “So, our situation became better after we sold vegetables and bought what we needed. But do you know to whom we used to sell them? The customers were all English. They earned a lot and the Palestinians, too, were busy collecting money. A few Palestinians were greedy; they sold their lands to the British in return for large sums of money. You might not believe that, but I am telling you that there were mean Palestinians who sold big parts of Palestine to Britain. Maybe some of them were put under pressure or forced to sell their lands. The transactions happened with the help of middlemen.”

“Later, English soldiers started torturing Palestinians. The soldiers were totally indifferent, they used to hit people and take their property. Even women were treated badly. Your grandmother once went to sell some vegetables in Jerusalem but English soldiers took them and kicked her away. When I had heard such things I became very upset and wanted to kill them. I was afraid for her so I prevented her from going there again, but for how long?“

“There was not a single person in the village or in the whole of Palestine who was not harmed by Britain in one way or another. In 1917 Britain had declared Palestine to be the national homeland for the Jews [the Balfour Declaration]. After that the number of Jews increased. They left the countries of their residence all over the world to come to live in Palestine. As I said, Britain bought or took lands from Palestinians for Jews to live in. As a result, the Palestinians’ anger exploded in the revolution of 1936.”

“The rebels’ demands were two-fold: the canceling of the declaration about the Jewish homeland in Palestine and a cessation of the buying or taking of Palestinian lands. But these demands were refused. The people and the rebels became even angrier. The first thing they did was punishing the Palestinians who sold their lands to Britain. There were a few people in our village that sold their lands to Britain, and those people were put in prison or even killed by the rebels. One night most of the village men sat together in the public square when suddenly a couple of rebels rushed in and asked for certain people. They then took them and beat them heavily. No one was able to defend them because he would have received the same treatment. As they were the traitors of Palestine, I think they deserved it.”

“The second thing the rebels did was cutting off any connection with Britain by obstructing the roads and the railway that connected the village with other areas. People in the village supported the rebels and stood by them. They gave them a home, security, aid and food. Women did a lot. They used to cook for the rebels every day. One woman would observe the road in order to announce when the soldiers approached the village. She would shout a secret word for the people to know that danger was near: “It’s cloudy, it’s cloudy, everybody!” Upon hearing that, the people took the food away, hid it somewhere and extinguished the fire as if nothing had happened. If they were caught cooking that big amount of food, the soldiers would know that it was for the rebels and would throw it away.”

The British High Commissioner knew what the rebels did and that they had cut off the lines of communication between Palestine and Britain. He informed the British Prime Minister, who decided to send troops to Palestine and re-occupy it in 24 hours. The next morning the village was full of British soldiers who arrested all adult men from Battir, Al-Khader, Hussan and other nearby villages. The men were put in a square without food but their families would send the food secretly. That happened a lot. More than once people were followed by planes and shot by machine guns. People were killed just like they are killed these days.”

“Britain violently suppressed the revolution. In World War II, America defeated Germany. Now it was time for Britain to leave Palestine but not before making sure that the new Israeli state was strong enough to become independent. Glubb Pasha ruled Jordan at the time; he took the West Bank and incorporated it into Jordan. The situation didn’t become much better. It was occupation, too.”

“In 1948 war came over Palestine. People started to flee. Some people went to nearby cities. My family and I went to Beit Jala. I put my family in a safe place, the house of a friend who, by the way, was a Christian. I went back to Battir. Like others, I used to put the lights on in the houses so that the soldiers wouldn’t feel that the village was empty. If they thought so, they would occupy it. During the day we used to put some clothes on the lines and irrigate the fields. If the soldiers saw us they shot at us and then we ran away. No one was injured except once, when my cousin was seriously wounded. We tried to save him but to no avail. He died on the same day. The hardest thing was to tell his wife about his death. He was just 25 years old.”

My grandfather’s tears poured out, and mine also. I felt it was enough. He then gave me the summary of his life: “I was born in war. I have lived in war. And I feel that I will die in war.”

I wanted to make my grandfather feel better, so I asked him about social life in those days. He said:

“That was the positive side of our lives. We were living together like one hand. We all woke up early and went to the fields. Your grandmother used to bake that delicious bread and bring it to us in the fields; it was really delicious even though it was very simple. We spent the whole day working, then returned home very tired. But our tiredness was bodily, not emotionally. That means we were happy. When we laughed we did it from the bottom of our hearts, not like today. Many times we slept in my brother’s house and stayed up late at night chatting and laughing until we slept with a big smile on our faces.”

“During the harvest days we used to help each other and work till the last person finished his field. Life would have been impossible if we hadn’t done that. My daughter, nowadays I sleep on a bed, I don’t work, I eat the best food there is and my body is at rest, but I tell you, I don’t sleep during the night.”

After that long conversation, I felt that my grandfather became quieter. Then he told me in a very calm voice:

“Thank you darling, I feel I put a heavy burden away. I feel much better now and I think that I will finally sleep tonight.”

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: nancy@alami.net or aei@p-ol.com

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