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From Gaza to Salameh: A Palestinian refugee's journey home

A Palestinian refugee from Gaza journey’s to his family’s hometown in present-day Tel Aviv. Standing on what used to be the village cemetery, he feels the ghosts of the past as he must reckon with the currently reality.

By Eitan Bronstein Aparicio (translated by Charles Kamen)

On International Human Rights Day, he took advantage of his basic rights and returned to Salameh, which today is known as Kfar Shalem. It is the first time he has visited the place where his parents were born. His father was born in 1936 and was 12 when he, along with the rest of the residents of the town, was forced to leave his home and move to the Gaza Strip where they still live today. I won’t mention his name so as not to endanger him.

He’s excited as we make our way to Salameh, growing quiet for a long time as we go from the village mosque and the mukhtar’s house. He spends some time on the exercise equipment in a local playground while his four-year-old nephew plays on the slides. The playground was erected on Salameh’s cemetery, of which nothing remains.

The son of refugees from Salameh stands outside the village mosque. Today Salameh is known as 'Kfar Shalem' and is part of Tel Aviv. (photo: Eléonore Merza)

The son of refugees from Salameh stands outside the village mosque. Today Salameh is known as ‘Kfar Shalem’ and is part of Tel Aviv. (photo: Eléonore Merza)

When we arrive at the mosque he calls his father. Even before he tells him where is, his father asks whether he has already visited Salameh. He tells his father that although the village in which he was born has become a neighborhood in Tel Aviv, some of the original buildings and the winding village streets preserve its memory. His father doesn’t speak at length. “It must not be easy for him,” he says and asks me about the village school. His father, who had been a pupil there, asks whether it’s still standing. I take him to the school which today houses the offices of the National Insurance Institute. When the construction plans are complete and the remaining residents who currently live in Salameh’s buildings are evacuated, only the mosque will remain. Its dome was damaged by rioters in 2000 and has yet to be repaired.

I tell him about the struggles of the neighborhood’s residents, almost all of them Mizrahis, against their eviction by both the state and Israeli capitalists. We pass a ruined house on Street 4848, where a resident died as a result one of these violent incidents. I have no idea how much this interests him.

They slept in our house in Tel Aviv – only an hour’s drive from where they live today (assuming there is no delay at Erez Crossing), but based on his reactions it seems like a parallel universe. He is astonished by the variety of fruits and vegetables in the Carmel Market, not to mention the prices, which are double those in Gaza. Together we sit down in front of the television to watch a Champion’s League soccer game. “We also have a set like that, but the recent attack on Gaza destroyed it as well,” he notes bitterly. That gives him the opportunity to tell about their living conditions. “Palestinians in Gaza build their homes the same way they raise children. It never ends because they must continually rebuild after the destruction caused by Israel. After we finished building a new section of the house, the summer attack destroyed all the doors and windows. A tank shell penetrated the kitchen, destroyed the stove, the refrigerator and the range hood.”

The son of refugees from Salameh returns to his family's village. (photo: Eléonore Merza)

The son of refugees from Salameh returns to his family’s village. (photo: Eléonore Merza)

“Where were you at the time?” I ask, assuming they’d found shelter in a safer location than their home. “We were at home,” he replies. “It’s very expensive to live somewhere else, we didn’t have the money, and for the entire family to live in an UNWRA school would be unbearable so we decided to remain home.” The non-material damage can only be imagined, based on what he is willing to share with us.

The conversation meanders between the horrors in Gaza and the fascinating soccer game on the screen. Basel is subsituted for an Egyptian player, he tells me. Gerard scores a great goal and for a moment it seems Liverpool will move up to the next round. My wife Eleanore wants to photograph us pretending to be happy about the goal. We agree willingly and both laugh, trying to forget the difficult day. He is well-informed about European and African soccer teams and is a Barcelona fan. “Like your son, as I saw in his bedroom,” he says. “When Barca plays Real Madrid, Gaza splits into two camps,” he adds an important detail. This human moment lasts, and the atmosphere is pleasant. The tense end of the game connects us, two fairly typical soccer-loving men. I tell him that Sosa, the fidgety coach giving instructions to the Basel players, led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the championships last year. “But you seem to want Liverpool to win this game,” he says. “I don’t really care who wins, I just want to see a good game.”

When we part the following day his nephew is happy to return home and we hug warmly on the corner of Allenby and Mazeh in central Tel Aviv. The taxi driver understands very well what is happening and concludes: “It’s a cruel world.”

Eitan Bronstein Aparicio is the founder of Zochrot. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Sentenced to life at birth: What do Palestinian refugees want?
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    1. Pedro X

      More mythic imagery of the innocent aged Palestinian driven from his own land by the Jews for no reason. The truth is much different. The Arab Palestinians embarked upon an existential battle to destroy the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine and lost. The catastrophe was self inflicted. If the Arabs had not initiated the war in response to the partition resolution of the United Nations not one Arab or Jew would have had to leave his home.

      The parents, grandparents and adults of Salame took active part in an Arab attempt to conquer and destroy the Jewish people in 1947-48. For five and one half months a civil war raged in which the people of Salame took part in attacks on Tel Aviv and the villages surrounding it. The Jewish residents of Tel Aviv and its villages were bombarded and shot at by snipers without mercy.

      The Jews fought and hit back at Arab targets. A psychosis of flight gripped Palestinian villages and by early April 1948 60 or more villages were abandoned. In April the Jews scored numerous successful attacks and the Palestinians continued to flee their communities, instead of standing their ground and fighting. Palestinian Arabs only had to hold their ground until May 15, 1948 when the British would withdraw and the Arab countries enter the war. they did not.

      Jewish populations under similar circumstances chose to remain and fight for their homes. By April the Palestinian Arab society disintegrated while Israeli society gelled and formed the state of Israel.

      In 1972 Muhammad Izzat Darwaza wrote:

      “The Arabs failed their fateful test not because of numerical or material inferiority –for the Jews had no edge in either category. They failed because of the spirit that had guided them for quite some time and continues to do so….A spirit of laziness, neglect, incompetence, indecision, divisiveness, delusion, humbug … lack of seriousness, willingness to sacrifice, and solidarity … and no true belief in the cause for which they are fighting.”

      In short the Palestinian Arabs lacked a national identity to defend. They were not a separate people from the Arab world and retreated to areas controlled by Arabs when their planned victory over the Jews did not materialize.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jan

      The question that needs to be answered is this. Had the Arabs of Palestine stayed and not either fled or be driven out how could there have been a Jewish state with a large percentage of the population not being Jews?

      Seems to me that it was necessary to get rid of as many non-Jews as possible in order to have a state as ethnically pure as possible.

      Pedro, you note that the great flight of the Arab population came in early April, 1948. What you neglected to write is that the impetus for the flight was the massacre on April 8 in Deir Yassin by the terrorists of the Irgun and the Stern Gang who killed close to 100 men, women and children. It was that massacre that made the Palestinians fear that the same fate could befall them if they stayed.

      Reply to Comment
      • Thank you Jan for posting the historical footnote to Ex’s hasbara.

        Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        Philip Mansour: The Ghosts of Deir Yassin

        Ghosts of Deir Yassin
        They pretend that it’s forgotten
        But somewhere small flowers grow
        On the weathered stones of destroyed homes
        Somewhere the light’s still in the window
        You see that we are rising our day is surely coming
        No longer in the shadows
        Of the ghosts of Deir Yassin
        They change the names on the signs
        But it’s in our hearts these words are written
        Of the children who don’t know their homes
        They will walk the streets from which they are forbidden
        You see that we are rising our day is surely coming
        No longer in the shadows
        Of the ghosts of Deir Yassin
        Of the old ones now passed on
        But it’s their blood our hearts are pumping
        They will walk with us when we return to their towns
        Whose names will live again
        You see that we are rising our day is surely coming
        No longer in the shadows
        Of the ghosts of Deir Yassin
        You see that we are rising
        You know the fear is gone
        We will return
        You see that we are rising our day is surely coming
        We are no longer in the shadows
        Of the ghosts of Deir Yassin

        Reply to Comment
      • Joel


        The Arabs massacred about 100 Jews after the Arabs overran the Etzion Bloc, near Jerusalem.

        The Jews did not bolt in panic.

        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        What you failed to mention that there were Arab fighters fighting in among the Arab residents when the Irgun began a military operation to take the village of Deir Yassin as part of the operation to free the Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem road.

        The Irgun suffered 41 casualties including 4 dead. Some Arab fighters were dressed in women’s clothing and fired at the Irgun fighters. House to house fighting took place, with the Jewish fighters throwing grenades into houses. Benny Morris suggests that two dozen Arabs were taken from Deir Yassin and executed in a quarry.

        The Arabs inflated their losses and claimed women were raped, even though there were no rapes. The Arab stories had the effect of destroying Arab morale and aided in the general Arab decision to take flight.

        The Arabs had their share of killings, 39 at the Haifa Rifinery in December 1947, 60 in the bombing in Ben Yuhuda Street in Jerusalem in February 1948, 60 killed in the Yehiam Convey in March 1948, executed soldiers on Qastel on April 7, 1948, 79 doctors, nurses, patients and the hospital director on April 13, 1948 to name some of the killings. Safed was attacked by Arabs shooting and rolling barrel bombs down from high positions of strength on Jewish civilians below, yet it was the Arabs who ran away and not the Jews from Safed.

        The simple fact was that the Jewish people were fighting for home and country, while the Arabs were not.

        Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        On April 18, 1948 the Palestinians massacred 79 doctors, nurses, patients and a hospital director who were in a convey making their way to the hospital on Mount Scopus. This was an all day affair. The British stood by doing nothing, watching the Arabs shoot and burn to death occupants of the vehicles.

        In the aftermath, the Jews did not run away from their homes and they did not give up medicine or Mount Scopus.

        Judas Magnes, a supporter of a bi-national state for 30 years left Mount Scopus in disgrace and died in the United States. To his dismay he found that the Arabs did not want peace.

        Reply to Comment
        • Baladi Akka 1948

          You ‘forgot’ to mention that the convoy was also bringing military aid to the hospital on Mount Scopus used by the Haganah (reminds me of pro-Isralis regularly justifying the bombing of hospitals in Gaza because Hamas-use-them-to-fire-rockets-and-blahblah).
          The convoy was mixed civilian and military (human shields, someone said ?) and there were Haganah fighters, and at least one British soldier among the killed.
          Funny how the narrative change when you ‘forget’ such ‘details’, right ?

          Reply to Comment
          • Joel

            The point was, that the Jews didn’t panic and run once there had been a massacre.

            You see Baladi, the Jews had no where to run in 1948, and, I know this may sound like a shock to you, they still haven’t run after 60 years of war and terror.

            Can you deal with it?
            I don’t think so.

            Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            @ Joel
            “The point was (….)”
            Does that mean that you’re also posting with the pen name Whitplash ?

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel


            You cannot answer to the fact that despite real massacres, and the Arab leaders threats to annihilate the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, the Jews did not panic and run.

            I just returned from furniture shopping here in Central Israel. Stores and roads full of Jews making a living and planning for the future.

            You cannot accept this patently obvious fact. The Jews are still here and no one here is planning on leaving.

            Reply to Comment
          • Baladi Akka 1948

            So I guess that means you ARE posting with the pen name Whitplash too….
            Good to know.

            Reply to Comment
          • Joel


            I’m not Whiplash.

            Get a life.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Tomer

      Gee, will this magazine soon post tales of woe of Mizrachi Jews visiting their parents’ old homes in Egypt?

      The tragedy of the Jewish Nakba has been forgotten by Leftist Historians.

      Reply to Comment