For young Palestinians, Nakba Day is dedicated to remembering the catastrophes that our grandparents went through. But with every passing year, we realize how much the day belongs to our catastrophes too.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1929. Although Alzheimer’s disease eroded his memory during the later years of his life, he had a surprising knack for recalling his experiences growing up in Haifa under the British mandate of Palestine. He described the open plains he crossed with friends to swim at the beach; the diplomats and missionaries who traveled through Haifa’s German Colony; and the port and railway that linked Palestine to other Arab cities and the Mediterranean region. Although he couldn’t remember that he had repeated these stories countless times before, I never grew tired of hearing them; they breathed life into a world I could only read about in books and gaze at through black-and-white photographs.
Like all Palestinians of his generation, my grandfather lost that world in 1948. At the time he was living in Tira and studying at a British school in Tulkarem, but when the war broke out he joined a local resistance group to fend off Zionist forces from the village. The armistice agreement made Tulkarem part of the Jordanian-ruled West Bank, while my grandfather was made an Israeli citizen in Tira. For 18 years he lived under Israeli military rule, watching the village’s lands being confiscated and used to build new Jewish settlements. When he wanted to leave the village, he had to get a permit. When he wanted to walk to a neighboring field, he had to be searched at a checkpoint.
Military rule ended in 1966, and my grandfather – by then a historian and a teacher – was able to explore the land again. But the country he remembered had changed. Hundreds of villages and their inhabitants had disappeared. The main road going up Haifa’s Carmel mountain was no longer known by the Arabic “Shere’ al-Jabal” but by its new Hebrew name “Derech Hatziyonut.” When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza the following year, the soldiers who once guarded the entrance of Tira were now stationed near his old school in Tulkarem. The occupation was both a gift and a curse: it allowed my grandfather to reconnect with his Palestinian brethren, but at the cost of their subjugation under the same regime he had endured.
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