A few months ago I attended the debut play by the Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil. The play entitled “Plan D” was a look at the lives of a small family living in a generic Palestinian village during the spring of 1948. I was moved by the play, and it haunted me for a while afterwards, actually I still think about it every now and then. It was disturbing in the most subtle of ways, and it certainly got into my head. One of the things that bothered me and the people I was with was the fact that the family in question never fought back. They heard whispers of something coming, and knew that their neighbors had disappeared. Playing it safe, they decided to camp out in the hills near their home, and keep a lookout to see what unfolded. The father eventually goes back to check on the house, and upon entering the kitchen he sees a man seated at the kitchen table grinning at him. The father leaves back to the hills, and takes his family to Jerusalem on foot, when asked what prompted his sudden departure he said “I felt like I never existed”. I asked Hannah afterwards about this, I mean we were brought up to believe that we fought back, and only when we ran out of ammo did we leave, to catch up with the Arabs, form an army and return, assuming a timescale of a month or two at most. Hannah said that that part was based on a true story. I was stunned.
This year I went back to Jordan, my first ‘proper’ visit in 9 years. I spent loads of time with my Aunts and remaining Uncle, and found them to be unusually open and chatty about their experience of the Palestinian Nakbe. I say unusually, because I have found that my relatives tend to speak about the pre-Nakbe period or they focus on politics or life in Irbid. They tend to avoid massive chunks of their experiences, namely their experience of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and their times in the refugee camps of Karami (Jordan). With Hannah’s play still playing on my mind, I pressed my Aunt for more details of our village and what happened there.
My Aunt was eight at the time and she remembers how she used to play with the European soldiers, who gave her sweets, and how one day when she skipped up to them they angrily told her to get lost “rookh!”. Confused, she returned home. Not long after, her sisters and younger brothers, along with their Mum and elders moved to the hills surrounding the village. They left behind the young men.
No shots were fired when my village was invaded, or so my Aunt says. The Iraqi army, from whom the Palestinian ‘fighters’ took orders, entered one night and told the Palestinians not to fire, as people walked into the village. Who these people were, what exactly the Iraqi army said or did and how the Palestinians reacted I may never know. My grandfather and eldest Uncle are dead, and they would have been on the front lines so to speak. My Aunt does remember that her brother in laws father remained in the village, and was never seen or heard from again and she remembers whisperings of what happened in Deir Yassin. Someone said that they saw his dead body in front of his house.
So my Aunt remembers, starting the long walk to Jerusalem. Along the way, her heavily pregnant 16 year old sister goes into labour, in the middle of a valley with planes flying over their heads. No army was formed when they arrived in Jerusalem, and thus began the refugee camp years. She remembered later meeting someone whose village had also been invaded. The villagers were locked up in the village hall. One girl caught the eyes of the soldiers and was dragged off, only to be returned later looking sullen. They came again for her, and the girl was terrified, she kicked and she screamed, her parents clung to her, but the soldiers dragged her off. She was never seen again either.
These stories are rarely told and are rarely heard. Rape is viewed as the failure of the man to protect his womenfolk. This may be why so many people left the villages, the idea was to get the women to safety. This was deemed more important than land.
This vagueness I have regarding the history of my own village pains me really. And is why the oral history project, spearheaded by www.palestineremembered.com is so important to us and future generations.
Here is commemorating the 62nd year of the Nakbe