By Nazek Dhamra
In the first few days of June 1948 my mother woke me up early after her dawn prayers and may be around the sunrise time. She asked me to go check the fig trees if they made some early fruits so we can taste before somebody else get them. She usually goes there herself and waters the small and weak trees from the water well in our small garden in the suburbs of our town to the west. Though the hot season started earlier that year, but it was still dewy in the morning. I thought to disobey but it wasn’t usual in the family and I was raised to obey parents. Being 12 years of age I remembered that I have to be helpful to the family and act like an early man even at such early hour of the day. She asked me to pray first but this I did not do. I just walked out and haven’t even washed my hands, mouth and face as everyday. May be I wanted to do something unusual or to express my own decision my way. However I had the plan to wash from the cool water well over there. I started my way out thinking that mother hasn’t ever asked me such a mission before, but continued walking away weighing the unwelcome eerie job.
Before I left home, she told me to give water from the well to anybody asks for it as charity. I didn’t grasp her weird advice in that very early time of the day. I just walked out unpleased and not convinced without saying anything. But after a minute or two I started to recall the last thing she said that I did not like. I thought I am mature enough to know how I am supposed to act in such a situation. Water was a valuable commodity for rural people. While I was thinking of the water well, I remembered that I shared humbly with men in my soft fingers digging inside the easy to cut clay. It was so slow work, but making moderate size water well for our family took over three months. However they could finish it by the beginning of September. So it was ready to fill with water from the rain of winter season. I also shared mom and dad easing and paving the currents and water streams to run down to the well side-hole beside the round well aperture. After that I used to go alone to our small garden. I adored my land and felt very thankful that we have land to cultivate. I started also to feel privacy in our small garden far and away from the eyes of the family and people. I used to check my manly organs and be proud I am going to be a man and make family like my dad. I tried many times to convince my female friend to accompany me so we may play and eat what is found in our semi rocky valuable land which is a mile away from our house, but she was unable to go that far, because her mother warned her that her father and other family members will punish her with no mercy.
After I walked about 200 yards in my way out I noticed unusual movement in the streets of the village. Many people are in the streets moving, standing or sitting in front of their houses. Overlooking the narrow plain down where I saw strange creatures like humans. With my curiosity I hurried walking through and between the mini gardens that most families insist to have around the town. Our garden is located in the opposite mountain. The plain size is at least one mile long with 200 yards width between four small mountains through which a dry valley in summer, but runs in winter from north to south. They call the plain “Olive valley”. There is not one live tree in it but it was covered with very old and large olive trees. The Turkish army cut all the trees when they lost the war to Britain in World War 1 between the years 1914 and 1918 to run the train instead of coal running out and away of Palestine back to their country Turkey through Bilad Al Sham which is Syria now. Arab Palestinians always complained that they lost a great wealth by defeating Ottoman Turkey but they got rid of cruel Turkish foreign rulers. However everybody was thankful to Britain that time. After that Palestinian people did not show hate to any peaceful foreigner to come and live peacefully with them in the Holy Land.
I remember I was trotting in big paces. I cannot tell how long it took me to find myself in the heart of the plain. But because it was down the hill, I guess it did not need more than 3 to 5 minutes. Looking astonished to people all over the plain on ground some with thin cloth under them or a small blanket, most of them are uncovered. Some women, children are all still sleeping on the dry dark brown soil. It does not make clothes dirty in summer and it is almost like beach sand. What surprised me most that I saw many male individuals from my town walking through and giving food or water to people. I advanced with astonishment through the laying hundreds of families on the sand of the olive valley with two or three yards apart separating each family from the other. I saw white young fresh buttocks and women wearing short night gowns still sleeping. Before anybody explained what is the matter to me I stopped many times to look at the partly appearing breasts, shoulders and thighs of young girls and lads still crouching laying or sleeping. I tried to shrug looking because as a rural Moslem I felt it is nauseating and detesting. One of our neighbors told me that inhabitants of Lidda and Ramleh and Jaffa were subject to adios dismissal from their homes without even giving them time to pack up for the torture trip. And most of them could not even manage to carry part of their money with them to buy food or basic needs, hoping as promised they will be allowed back to their homes within days. He said “They arrived here last night walking and some of them bare footed or their shoes were torn out in the way to here. Our village is helping them with some food and water. We all have to feed them and do our best to help any family likes to stay in our village. But most of them, though they are worn out and exhausted of the 15 miles they walked, will continue marching to big cities like Ramalla, Albeera, Nablus, Jerusalem and Jericho east in Palestine, where there is electricity and permanent water supply.” With more astonishment I continued walking through the flat plain watching hundreds of Palestinian refugees. Males and females, olds and youngsters, were lying desperate or hiding their faces and not caring other parts of their body. I felt embarrassed and shy and very much shocked for the suffering of my people.
In 1946 my uncle took me to Tel Aviv to buy a special high quality shoes. It was my first visit to this city in my country Palestine. I found Jewish stores and people are very good and interesting. They were very nice to me and I loved them. In my mind that time I welcomed more Jewish to come to Palestine if they can make good cities like Tel Aviv, modern with clean streets, and beautiful blond, or whiter girls. When I lived in Al Lid (Lidda) city for two months in summer school vacation at grandfather’s house in 1944 with my mother I enjoyed the old and historical part of the city more than the crowded down town which is always busy. It is full of stores with all kinds of people coming from villages of all sides of Palestine to sell or buy their needs from Lidda city or Ramleh city. Everyday mother’s father used to give me one piaster or half piaster (3 to 5 cents) and gives the same to his grandson Azmi. My younger mother’s brother was married and living with my grandfather in the same wide and big historical house in Lidda. Our grandfather Deeb though religious Sheikh and Moslem but renting and living in the heart of Christian neighborhood. The very old big house belonged to Al Halta Christian family. My cousin Azmi who was two years younger than me and I used to run to buy something from the small stores around there, but I used to prefer buying kisba which is the product of sesame dregs after grinding the seeds by very big stone wheels. I still remember the old and historical ruins of aches in that area. It was built back away in history during the Mamlook reign before the ottoman rule four or five centuries back in history. I liked kisba because mom liked it. She taught me to add sugar to it then she said it is very nutritious. She added that farmers feed the milking cows with kisba so they make more milk and stay very healthy. I always yearned to re-visit those old and historical places in Lidda or the Holy places in Ramleh as memorials to me.
In the olive-plain, watching people miserable, helpless and desperate I didn’t know what to do or say. I asked an old woman “Do you want me to bring you some water?” She raised her eye brows up with bitter feeling looks, but she seemed surprised or embarrassed what to say. I saw tears in her sleepy and weary eyes with no words to come out clear. She tried to say something, but failed. When the tears ran down her cheeks, she muttered saying in a soft low shy voice, pointing to her older male companion “They did not give us safe time to dig out my gold treasure. It was hidden under the threshold of our beautiful and strong house. I am tired son and my husband is very weak and sick and may be needs some food.” That moment I became like a genie. I jumped up flying back home told my mother while grabbing two big loaves the kind of hand prepared breading art that mother was always proud of and two big chops of white fresh cheese mom made last night. My mother said “yes to help needing people” and added “I am afraid that we will be refugees like them son. Would you take water with you from home or will bring it from the water well at our little farm (alhareeka)?”. I jumped out and away running back to the old lady before they leave up to the mountains in their way to Ramalla the nearest city to our village which is 12 miles up atop the high mountains. In my way searching for the lady I passed by a beautiful girl around the age ten years looking sad and exhausted. Her parents were trying to calm her, by embracing her and talking to her. She was very unhappy and as a pampered she was weeping. I hear her saying “I want to go back home to bring my toys, books and other valuable things to me.” I wished to talk to her and be her helper and friend, but being a rural boy it is taboo to advance aggressively to a girl or lady especially in front of one of her male family members. I asked myself right at that moment what would I need to carry with me if Jews came and dismissed us from our antique and historical home. And what about our little farm (alhareeka) that we started just 5 years ago? Our young trees will not be able to live long without watering few times every summer. I jumped for the third time to bring a bucket of water from our water well up in the western hill to the needing Palestinian refugees leaving their homes forcefully under threat of life and by obnoxious armored Israeli force. I found myself sitting aside in solitude startled and bewildered of what is happening to my people. Jewish comers where not hated or fought by Palestinians realizing that they were running for their lives and seek to live in peace with the locals in Palestine. What mistake or sin my people did to foreign settlers?
– Nazek Dhamra lives in North Carolina. Contact him at: [email protected] (This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.)