I WAS BORN in 1937 in Arrabeh village in the Galilee at the height of the Palestinian peasant uprising against the British Mandate and its sympathy with and accommodation of the designs of the Zionist movement on their land. On my 11th birthday, Israel was officially declared an independent state, marking the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe.
Al-Marah stands out in my memory as the village square where the conquering Jewish forces gathered all the men of our village in the summer of 1948 to choose the most physically fit and line them up against a wall—the same one I now look at. One soldier knelt behind his Bren gun poised to mow them down, or so everyone assumed at the time. We had heard that such massacres had occurred in other villages. Instead, the men were spared and put in trucks to be taken to hard labor camps as prisoners of war. My father was not taken as a POW, probably because of his age and frail build.
The fear and anxiety of the moment has totally evaporated from my memory. What remains is a sense of anger and revulsion at the way those soldiers manhandled my father, insulting him publicly with a slap across the face that sent his traditional headdress, the seat of a man’s honor, rolling in the dirt. The next day they added a further insult, undercutting his authority within his own private domain. Our traditional walled courtyard with its gate opening on the village square was selected to house the cattle looted from the village farmers overnight, until the army trucks arrived to haul them away. Though two armed guards stood at the gate, one old woman made her way in and wouldn’t stop embracing her milking cow, calling it by its endearment, “Hamami”—”pigeon,” and begging my father to free her cow for her. When he tried to intervene with the two soldiers he was insultingly shoved back into the one room our family was cooped in. The old woman spent the night with us singing dirges for her cow till daybreak, when an army convoy arrived and she saw her Hamami forced with a rude twist of its tail up a wooden plank to the back of a truck and driven away. Her wailing and beseeching of my father: “Please, Abu-Mohammad, make them let Hamami go!” still rings in my ears.