The Story of Aida Aweidah

Originally published in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , May/June 2008

THE AWEIDAHS were the last to flee their neighborhood of Qatamon in West Jerusalem. Hassan Aweidah was a self-made man who owned the Modern Hotel (aka Hotel el Asry) in Jerusalem. He and his wife Fatima Imam al-Hussaini had three children: Ghalib, Sa’eb, and Aida. Seventeen-year-old Aida attended the Schmidt school for girls and had done well, planning to continue her studies and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. In the meantime, she spent most of her days playing piano and taking care of Blacky, the family German shepherd, who was Aida’s faithful shadow. Then came a knock on the door.

At their doorstep, in black plastic bags, were the bodies of a close family relative and his newly wedded wife in pieces. Alarmed, Hassan sent his family to Ramallah for a few days—just until things quieted down, he said. Much to Aida’s dismay, Blacky was staying behind. No matter, said Hassan, they’d be reunited again soon. Aida never saw Blacky or played piano ever again. For Aida Aweidah, time stopped on the day she left her home in the spring of 1948.

After the Nakba, Aida’s dream of becoming a doctor remained elusive. She would marry a man from Nablus, Niazi Kanaan, and settle in Amman, Jordan. She hardly ever spoke of her life in Jerusalem. Eventually, she proudly saw her own daughter off to college in London. Years later, Niazi, on his deathbed, turned to her and said: “Aida, I want to walk all the way back home to Nablus.” He died the next morning, and she followed five years later.

Fifty-eight years after that spring day in 1948, I returned to the home my grandmother never returned to. I found the house still standing, full of memories and yet devoid of its original inhabitants. Aida’s home is now the property of the Israeli government, and remains under lock and key. An Israeli flag hangs outside, not too far from a chopped-down olive tree. I searched for signs of Aida that day in the garden and in the archway of her front door, but to no avail. Aida’s piano may be gone, but it is not forgotten; the notes still echo on, even after her death.

By Dina Mikdadi, New York City.