70th Anniversary of the Nakba: It Was A Warm April Day In 1948 In Jerusalem

By Lama Z. Khouri

 

234503-1192125-1_320x400.jpgMy mother is finally mustering the strength to tell me about the day she left the home of her birth.

“I am 12 years old.  Nadia [her sister], our neighbor Lily, and I are playing hopscotch in front of the house. Your grandfather and grandmother are going in and out loading the car and getting ready to head to Amman. Our dog is strangely excited or agitated, I’m not sure which. Every time a suitcase is loaded in the car, she barks at the bag and her whole body shakes, as if the bag is a collaborator in some conspiracy. Maybe she knows what we do not anticipate.”

She pauses.

“My brothers are playing marbles. At 15 and 17, they aren’t getting into mischief, as they used to do. My father is roaming around, seemingly busy, but doing nothing. He seems to be all in a spin. My sister, Hala, is with my mother. She is barely two and not allowed to play outside.”

“Are you sad to be leaving?” I ask.

“No!” she says emphatically. “I am relieved. Zionist gangs are terrorizing the Arabs. They are laying mines in markets and in the backyards of houses. My mother spends the night on the roof of our house to make sure no mines are laid in ours. Going to school is dangerous – we could be caught in the

left to right Mother, Lily, Nadia 1948

Left to Right: Mother, Lily and Nadia in 1948

crossfire. When the sun sets, we run back home and pray to be alive the next day.”

“Why are you leaving?”

“The Zionists have bombed King David Hotel, which was owned by the British, as if to say: ‘even the British won’t stop us.’ The last straw was when we got news about a massacre in Deir Yassin — hundreds of Palestinians murdered, and in the most atrocious ways. We were told that the bellies of pregnant women were slit open. Yesterday morning, British soldiers knocked on our door and told us to leave for two weeks. The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous. They said we can come back in a week or two when the danger has subsided.”

She stops talking, lost in thought for a moment, then goes on.

“I think my mother knows that it will be longer than that because she has packed winter clothes. My father asks her: ‘why winter clothes, when we will be back in two weeks?’ She doesn’t respond. My uncle, aunt, and their daughter left to go to Amman a couple of months ago to seek safety. I sing to myself: ‘Ami bi Amman, ou kullo aman’ [my uncle is in Amman where it is all safe]. But, when we get to Amman, we receive news that the Zionists have invaded West Jerusalem and taken it over. We are told that we cannot go back to the house, because it is occupied by someone else. When we return a year later, we have to live in a one-bedroom apartment in East Jerusalem and barely scrape by. My two sisters and I sleep in my parents’ room and my two brothers in the living room.”

My mind stays with the dog, as if it is too painful to think about the betrayal which the Palestinians would have had to contend. I have heard about her before. My aunt Nadia loved her. Nadia hated meat and would sneak her lunch to the dog.

“What happened to the dog?”

After a moment of silence, my mother continues, but as if she hasn’t heard my question.

“My mother looks sad and sullen. I feel the heaviness in my parents’ hearts but I don’t particularly care to know why. Two weeks earlier a stray bullet entered the house and missed my head by this much.”

She makes a space of about an inch with her fingers.

“What happened to the dog?” I ask again.

Left to right Hala, Nadia, Mother, Cousin In front of the house they lost in 1948

Left to right Hala, Nadia, Mother, Cousin In front of the house they lost in 1948

“Nadia is crying,” she responds. “She wants the dog to come with us. When we finally are seated in the car and close the doors, the dog stops barking, lays her head between her paws and begins to whimper, as if she knows she won’t see us again. As we pull away, she runs after us until she can’t catch up.”

“Why don’t you take the dog with you?”

“I think because there is no space. And my mother says the dog needs to stay to guard the house.”

“But how will the dog survive if there is no one left behind to care for her?”

My mother has a dissociated look on her face, as if she doesn’t understand or something is amiss. She repeats:

“The dog has to stay to guard the house. My mother has placed the sewing machine behind the entrance door, with a mortar and hammer on top. She thinks if someone tries to enter, the hammer will fall, and they’ll get scared, thinking the house is occupied.”

For days following this conversation with my mother, I think about the dog, my heart heavy. Why was she barking? What might she have known that they didn’t know? Could she have known what was coming, the betrayal and deception? How did she fend for herself when they left? What happened to her? In dark moments, I imagine her roaming the streets emaciated looking for food. It is easier to feel sad for the dog than for the Palestinian people, homeless and destitute. I wonder how the dog felt when strangers entered the house. In my daydreams, I wish that there had been another 12-year-old girl, who might have fallen in love with the dog and protected her. Perhaps this girl wouldn’t have liked meat either and would have also sneaked it to the dog. Most likely, the dog, who was supposed to guard the house, barked and growled at the intruders. My worst thought is that they shot her dead.

I always found it peculiar that my mother could not recall the dog’s name. Perhaps the trauma is too great to remember it. I fantasize her name was Lady, perhaps because of the Disney movie The Lady and the Tramp. Was this Palestinian Lady forced to become a Tramp?

“What did you take with you when you left?”

A moment of silence. “The Christmas decorations,” she mumbles.

“All of them?” I ask with astonishment.

She goes quiet and looks lost in thought, staring at the Turkish coffee cup next to her.

“Mama?”

She forces the words out, as if barely able to breathe.

“The North Star.”

 

Lama Khouri is a Palestinian  psychotherapist, who was raised in Jordan and now resides in New York. She is the Executive Director and founder of Circle OASIS, which is a not-for-profit serving Arab immigrant and refugee school-aged children and their families. Lama comes to the field of mental health following a 14-year career at the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, where she was a Political Affairs Officer.

17 comments

  1. What a poignant article, Lama. I always look for your articles.
    It is so real and heart wrenching. Depicts the suffering of the Palestinian people through time.
    Thank you for raising our voices.

  2. You have captured the unmetabolized emotion of trauma in this tender article about a horrific event

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of events through a conversation between a child and her mother .The simple innocent questioning in contrast with the tragic events described catches one ‘s breath . One feels the fear that the Palestinians had suffered with the grandmother’s sense of urgency , the child ‘s mother ‘s heavy heartedness seeps through subtly but heavily.
    One can only have felt such a mix of emotions through a very well written piece of work.
    I thank you for sharing .Do let us the dog ‘s name When your mom recalls it !!

  4. I feel very sad and horrified. You write so movingly. Your family house was majestic. You convey the Nakba to my heart.

  5. Ah, Lama, tears rolled down my face as I read your poetic, heart-wrenching Nakba story of your Mom’s which is your story as well, and your children’s and their children’s children.Tears roll down my face as I am now in Palestine and Nakba continues. I have seen the black smoke coming from Gaza. Behind the smoke are the massacers, the 1000’s who have been shot and maimed. Your story made me wonder if there are dogs who have lost their loved ones. Whose voices they will never hear again. Who might die of broken hearts. It is all so unbearable. For 70 years and counting. We eat watermelon tonight and appreciate how delicious it is. And how mixed in the sweet juice is our act of resistance. We are crying. We are laughing. We are still
    hoping.

  6. Simple yet deep story of the Palestinian Naqba. Wishing that the North Star will guide all the Palestinians back to their homes, including your family Lama

  7. This IS beautiful , you really capture the right tone, the thoughtful pacing as your mother answers , and your quiet wistful responses.It is so different reading these words and thinking about the reality of their context in juxtaposition with your telling me about it on a bright cold winter day by the river. Thank you for sharing. Food for thought indeed.

  8. Nothing feels more heavy on the heart than the feeling of betrayal and unfairness. Loved the story and didn’t want it to end . A longer version maybe one day? Much love .

  9. Lama, your beautiful piece is heart wrenching and so sad… you write and convey so movingly the tragic loss of your home, a haunting childhood memory and the past that is still alive in the present and tragically unresolved…

  10. So hard to find words. I keep revisiting the image of such a beautiful home… both visually and as a place of intimate sharing and safety…..all so shattered by fear, greed and erasing the humanity of another person of Semetic origin…..Truly those of us with origins in that region suffer the myth of the tower (babble, babble, babble) and emotional blindness. So sad and tragic…………..Thank you Lama for helping to open our eyes with such simple, direct and powerful images.

  11. Lama you have a rare talent for writing in such a moving and persona way. This article captures your Mother’s fear of not returning home, her huge sense of loss as well as the hope that she held on to, as she takes the North Star with her to guide her to safety.No wonder she is traumatised, She has lost her home and her homeland and her beloved dog. What’s amazing is that she recalls the details after all this time.I can feel and hear the trauma in her voice as she recalls the day her family left everything behind. For sure, this incident has affected her and her children and her children’s children. Keep writing, you bring history alive. mk

  12. A friend shared this article with me. I am Cambodian. I was forced to leave my homelands tragically too, We both share tragic past that can’t seem to leave our souls. God bless you and thank you telling your story.

  13. All I can say is that I cried when i read this article. I hope your mam found happiness in Jordan.

  14. Thank you so much for the article. It reminded of what my father went through with his stents when they left Al-Bassa. God Bless his Soul

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