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The Longest Moment (Jerusalem, 1948)

Contributed by Terra Sancta School For Girls on 11.03.2006:

Mary Hazboun

I made an interview with my grandfather about his old memories. It was really interesting. I realized I should have done it a long time ago. My grandfather’s name is Emile Harb. I asked him just one question: “What do you remember about your past?” He took a breath and started:

“I was born on 5 August 1930. At the beginning of the Second World War, I was nine years old and used to hear the news on the radio and listen to the stories of my father about the war. My family and I always supported Germany because my mother came from Hungary. When the Germans occupied France, I was happy; you cannot imagine my feelings. Germans were always my heroes, full of power and strength. My dream was to become a hero like them as any other kid with imagination and dreams would have thought. I didn’t know what would later become of us because of them. I was ignorant.”

“I used to buy tin soldiers and make plays about the Second World War. Each soldier cost 15 kirsh [100 kirsh = 1 pound sterling]. In the afternoon, I called my friends and let them sit in the garden. I took half a kirsh from each of them. After that, I started performing the play with my little soldiers. My friends would be very happy and anxious to continue the next day after hearing the latest news.“

“When America joined the war, I was sad and disappointed. I heard about the loss of the Germans, my heroes. Hitler killed his girlfriend Eva Brown and committed suicide. From 1917 till 1948, we lived a good life, peacefully, without war. The country was in a good condition – in my opinion of course. 15 May 1948 was the worst day, the day of the nakba. We lived in the Musrara quarter in Jerusalem. After the confrontations started we left home. We didn’t take anything with us except blankets. The Palestinians told us that we would stay a few days at another place and then return home.”

“We hid in the old city, the Christians in the churches and the Moslems in the Dar-Al Awqaf buildings owned by Moslems. We stayed in a room in front of Saint Anne’s Church. I was 18 years old. We initially stayed for three days, but then our stay was extended to two years. We were refugees. Our former house was occupied by the Jews. My father stopped working. We hadn’t anything except our blankets and the keys of the house. My father used to tell us: ‘Don’t worry, kids, as long as we have the keys our house is in peace’. Unfortunately our hopes did not match reality. Our house was destroyed. It was a big house, called Dar Al-Shiber, one of the most beautiful houses in Jerusalem. The Israelis destroyed it because it was located in no man’s land, on the border between them and the Arabs [near Road 1 and the taxi station in front of present-day Damascus Gate]. Terror spread in the villages upon hearing the news about Deir Yassin. Many villagers left their houses and ran away. In Jerusalem, my father used to sell cigarettes in a small booth so as to live and eat. The 1948 war killed 2,500 Jewish soldiers during clashes between Israel and the Jordanian army. The bodies were spread all over the hills of Latrun [to the west of Jerusalem] and Bab el Wad [to the east]. There was a Jordanian soldier who asked my friends and me to collect the corpses and put each in a coffin and give it to the Israelis. It would take a dinar to find a dead body. I was happy to find a job no matter what it was. We went and searched, and found frozen bodies in forests, caves and on the mountains. Each day we worked from 8:00 a.m. till 12:00 a.m. We worked for about a month until all the 2,500 bodies were recovered.”

“There was a day in 1948 I can’t forget. It was an unbelievable and horrible experience. That morning, I asked my father permission to go and feed the rabbits that were in our home before it was destroyed. It was the fourth day of the nakba, 19 May 1948. My father refused, but I didn’t listen and went with my friend ‘Issa El-Masri whose mother asked to bring some plates and cups from their house. While traveling we became frightened, our former houses were Jewish now. Unfortunately when we left the area to go back Jordanian soldiers saw us. Thinking we were Jews, they caught us. They took us to their leader who told us: ‘You are spies and you are going to be killed’. We screamed and said we were Moslems and Arabs, but they didn’t listen. They started beating us with their weapons. They took us to the street and put us down. One put his leg on my chest and a gun on my head. They started counting: One….Two…Three… Then one of them said: ‘A bullet is too expensive for these traitors, kill them with a knife’. I went out of my mind. They brought a long knife. At that moment God sent us an angel. An American or maybe a British soldier appeared and asked what was going on. I started screaming: ‘Please help us, we are Christians… PLEASE’. He stopped them and they took us to their office. The Jordanians said: ‘Jews always wear a sign like a star on their chest; if we find one on yours, we’ll know’. They made us take off our shirts. My friend’s turn came first; he had a tattoo of Saint George or El-Khader on his arm. Unfortunately for us, they didn’t know the meaning of the religious tattoo. We stayed for an hour explaining to them what it meant.”

“The most difficult time had yet to come. They informed us: ‘There is a street for Jews only, if any Palestinian walks in that street the Jews will shoot him. You have to walk in that street. If you are Arab, they will shoot you but if you are Jews they will know you and they won’t shoot. Then we’ll know that you are Jews and we’ll shoot you’.”

“Those moments when I had to cross that street walking slowly were the longest in my life. We looked insane. People started shouting: ‘You nuts, run, they will shoot you. What are you doing?’ We were ordered to walk slowly or they would shoot us from the back. God helped us to cross without any harm. The story wasn’t finished yet because the Jordanians were now certain we were Jews. They took us to court and put us in jail until they found out the truth. Fortunately, there was a soldier from Jerusalem who knew us well. I explained to him what had happened and we were released.”

I stayed till 12 o’clock that night hearing stories about my grandfather’s past adventures. He is amazing. I love him very much. These are only a few stories from many others that have to be written down some other time.

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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