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Memories of Journey into Exile

Life in Palestine

The first generation (grandparents) reconstructs life in Palestine before 1948 and is crucial in the transmission of the 'image' of Palestine, the experience of the uprooting, expulsion and refuge. They spoke of feelings of security and happiness in Palestine.

We ate cow butter and ox butter. We had in our house 7 cows, 4 oxen, some sheep and a horse. We had land that we cultivated with corn, wheat, sesame, watermelon, cucumber and eggplant. We never complained of illness like we do nowadays (Lebanon, 1st generation, female).

I was born in Bi'leen in 1930 and own in Bi'leen 300 dunums of land. I have the land deeds ... to prove ownership. We used to plant wheat, barley, lentils… (Jordan, 1st generation, male).

I finished four years of schooling. Teachers' salaries were very low, our homes were mostly made of mud although some were made of concrete. My father had 6 dunams of land. We used to cultivate wheat. After the British came, we started to grow fruit and vegetables. We used to take the produce to a market in Majdal (Gaza, 1st generation, male).

We were shepherds, we ploughed, harvested, threshed grain and picked olives. We were farmers - we didn't plant grapes, we planted barley, corn and wheat. God blesses these three seeds. There were supplies of milk, yogurt, oil and cheese … I was taught by a person who used to receive an amount of corn or wheat in return for teaching me. There was no money, we used to exchange wheat corn and barley (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

Al Nakba (1948) - The Catastrophe

The recurrent theme of each families' experience of Al Nakba appears in the narratives and life histories of all households. The grandparents related their experiences of the fighting and their journeys into exile to their children and grandchildren. In some households, these stories told to the interviewer were heard for the first time by some of the third generation. In other households, they were familiar family memories.

People fled because they feared for their lives. Women and children fled first, while men stayed to defend the village. However, all they had were 10 rifles. What could they do? They later followed to Lebanon (Lebanon, 1st generation, female).

Before they entered, they occupied the minarets of the mosque and began shooting at people. When the Jordanian army unit was pulled out of the town, the local militia stopped fighting (Syria, 1st generation).

My grandmother told me how they left Palestine. Jews came to Palestine as foreign tourists, their numbers kept increasing, the British helped them. Palestinians were told to leave for a day or two and then return. They left and never returned (Lebanon, 3rd generation, male).

There was a big British camp in Sarafand. When they withdrew, they left the tanks, cannons and guns for the Jews. We only had old rifles. Some people sold their wives' gold to buy guns to defend themselves. Jews used to live in a high area and they placed cannons to shoot down at us (Gaza, 1st generation, male).

There were also more recent events such as the 1967 war (Al-Nazha) and the 1987-1993 Intifada that had profound consequences for many of the families in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

Al Nazha (1967)

In 1967, we fled from Aqbat Jaber at the sound of the Athan (morning prayers), we had nothing with us, and we walked while I was carrying my daughter who was 8 months old. We arrived in Amman barefoot (Jordan, 2nd generation, female).

I was young when I participated in the Intifada, then I became afraid of it. My brother Ameen was jailed administratively three times and my eldest brother was jailed before the Intifada. They came at night to arrest Ameen. He was jailed in Al Naqab prison and in Al Daharya prison where we used to visit him. We were very happy to see him but bothered by the bars that separated us. My mother used to spend the whole visit crying. Visits to Al Naqab prison were forbidden but my mother used to send him letters (West Bank, 3rd generation).

Life in the camps in the beginning was very difficult. In Gaza and the West Bank, most of the families were given tents to live in on arrival. Some families were given shelter by other families. They talked about the hardship, the overcrowding, the lack of money and services. There were cross-generational traumatic experiences in these households owing to the repeated experience of violence and political instability particularly in Gaza and the West Bank. Different generations in the same families had experienced separation from family members; seeing people being beaten wounded or killed; being under curfew; being imprisoned; tear gas inhalation; day or night raids and home demolition.

Last updated Sep 23, 2011