Survivors of the Nakba recall their refugee journey

24 May 2012

24 May 2012
Damascus, Syria

Resourceful and determined, Palestine refugee families have struggled over the years to keep up traditions, carve out lives for themselves, and to provide a better future for their children against tremendous odds.

Wardeh Abbas, Subhi Qaoud, and many others are optimistic about the eventual return of Palestinians to their homeland. “If not today, then tomorrow”, said Wardeh, reassuringly. “If not for us, then for our children or grandchildren.”

Wardeh Abbas was born in ‘Alma, Palestine in 1927 and lived happily until she was 21 years old.

My husband and I decided to flee Palestine in the face of increasing violence. We moved out with our four children. We stayed for a while in Reihaneh near ‘Alma. When the violence escalated we went on foot to Salha in Lebanon, fearing for our safety. Then our journey ended up in Beit Jin in the Mount Hermon.

The image of my wedding is still vivid in my thoughts. I remember riding up on a horse with my husband. We were surrounded by all our loved ones wishing well for lifetime. They ululated, making a sharp, loud, but pleasant sound, then heaped best wishes for me, my family and the groom. My dowry was an olive grove, which was lost due to the 1948 war.

We remained safely in Mount Hermon until 1954, when we traveled to Quneitra. We had a car and a washing machine there. We remained in Quneitra and we were forced to leave again because of the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. I packed a few things of our bags. I had six golden pounds. I sold one pound to buy a coat on my way from Quneitra to Yarmouk on 5 June 1967.

My husband died of a heart attack at the age of 45 as a result of his sorrow of being uprooted from Palestine, leaving behind nine children, the youngest of whom was two years old. My sister remained in Palestine. I saw her one time only in Amman. She passed away three years ago. We look with great bitterness and sadness at our mosques and churches which were destroyed after we were expelled.

I would never trade Alma, Palestine for any place. Up till this moment my soul is still living there.

Subhi Qaoud, 76 and retired, still remembers the day he was driven from his home in the Palestinian city of al-Ramleh 64 years ago and became a refugee.

When Ramleh was occupied by the Israelis, I was nine years old and was arrested along with other youngsters and imprisoned in Sarafand jail. I was the youngest one among the prison inmates.

My father fled fearing for his life and his children, as my mother and some of her relatives had a hasty and untidy exit from Ramleh as well. We used to see some of the inmates killed in front of us.

My brother and I were released in an exchange of Israeli prisoners in Jordan. We did not know the whereabouts of our parents and family. Searching for my mother, I had to travel to Damascus sometimes on foot and sometimes on a donkey back, or on a tractor.

The moment I arrived in Damascus I went immediately to the Alliance quarter, the first place which provided accommodation to Palestinian refugees in Syria in the early days of the Nakba. I found a lady with her baby daughter on her lap begging. I was thrilled and overwhelmed when I recognised that she was my mother.

In order to earn an income to help my mother to raise her daughter, I worked as a labourer in a bakery in the Alliance quarter. Then I joined the glass factory where I worked for 30 years. I met my wife in 1958 in the Alliance, and we have five children. Although we coercively left Palestine in 1948, Palestine is still running in our blood.

Sixty-four years have passed since the Nakba took place, but the hope to go back is still alive.

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