Nakba day: Remembering life before occupation

Nakba day: Remembering life before occupation
4 min read
14 May, 2015
Feature: Jumaa Hassan Abu Hadrous has spent most of his life in exile following the 1948 Nakba.
Palestinian Abu Hadrous has spent 67 years in exile [Shadi Alqarra]
Jumaa Hassan Abu Hadrous is an 80-year-old refugee living in Gaza's Maghazi refugee camp.

He has lived here for 67 years, ever since Jewish fighters forced him and his family to flee their home in Jaffa.
 
The event is known by Palestinians as the Nakba ["the catastrophe"], when as many as 900,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes when Israel was declared a state in May 1948.

Fleeing for their lives

Despite never attending school, Abu Hadrous has memorised, by heart, a number of verses from the holy Quran. He is also well versed in Arabic literature. 

The elder is also well known for his tales of life in pre-1948 Palestine, something few of the refugees in the camp have ever experienced.

"I spent my childhood right there in the Karm Altout suburb of Jaffa during the British mandate of Palestine. My home is located about one kilometre and a half away from Jaffa's downtown, known as the Watch Square," Jumaa remembers.

He spoke about his childhood memories playing in an orchard in Jaffa managed by his uncle.

"You are reminding me of a real life, a real joy and a real place that is full of smells of fruits, especially that of Jaffa's orange orchards," Abu Hadrous said, tears forming in his eyes.

His father, Hassan Abu Hadrous, owned dozens of livestock, which he kept at their home in the Jaffa suburb.

"Our livestock was not for sale, but rather for producing milk, which was to be sold out for the local market. I recall that my father used to sell out six litres of milk for half a Palestinian pound," he said. 

His father would encourage Abu Hadrous to drink milk in return for one piaster, he said, flanked by two of his 66 grandchildren.

As he grew older he became an avid reader, and would read the newspaper to young men at Saqqa cafe, as they drank their coffees.

In his free time he would go to the local cinemas in the city. "The last film I watched at the al-Sharq cinema was  Phantom. It was a real life in a real modern Palestinian city," he added.

In Jaffa there were taxis, public transport, and a bustling social scene. In the villages, life was different.

With the Mediterranean Sea on one side and stunning nature on the other, the rural belt around Jaffa was a peaceful and idyllic escape from the bustle of city life.

In 1947, his father bought a new house but he was to lose it during the chaos of the Nakba.
 
     Justice is in a deep sleep, but one day, justice will wake up and we will all definitely return back to our own homes.
Jumaa Hassan Abu Hadrous


The following year, Palestinian residents in the city were in a state of panic as Jewish militias launched attacks across Palestine, including in Jaffa. 

"Then my own neighbourhood was attacked. I remember the militants riding on armoured vehicles firing mortars at homes. People were killed in big numbers on the streets of my own neighborhood," he remembered.

Exodus

He said that the last Israeli assault on Gaza, in June 2014, reminded him of the mortar fire that fell on Jaffa in 1948.

When war broke out, children in Jaffa began to scream, he wrote in a memoir.

The killings escalated and word spread of further massacres. Fearing their own safety, the Abu Hadrous family fled Jaffa, leaving most of their belongings behind. The livestock stayed behind and strayed onto the streets.

The family, meanwhile, began the long road to Gaza, one of the first of many difficult moments Abu Hadrous was to experience, ahead of a life of exile.

"Two British armoured vehicles escorted the van of our neighbour, Abu Jouhar. He took me, my family and other families to a military checkpoint guarded by Israeli militants," the Gaza resident said.

Historians have since said that this seemingly humanitarian gesture by the British could be more accurately described as collusion in the ethnic cleansing of Jaffa.

"Afterwards, we turned into refugees in small refugee camps," he said. 

Their first temporary home was in Cairo's al-Abbasiya district, where his family was given shelter for a year.

They spent another year in al-Qantara in the Sinai, until they were transferred by Egyptian authorities to Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza.

This has been Abu Hadrous' home for the past 67 years, despite his heart remaining in Jaffa.

"Justice is in a deep sleep, but one day, justice will wake up and we will all definitely return back to our own homes," the elderly Aby Hadrous wrote in his memoir. 

"God will allow justice to prevail, one day."

He had the chance of returning to his home city in 1970, when a shortage of manpower in Israel forced Tel Aviv to "invite" Palestinian workers to fill the gaps.

The young man returned to Jaffa to plant flowers, but the shock of seeing the city completely changed made him despondent. He soon returned to Gaza.

"During my first visit to Jaffa, I was surprised when I found out the area I grew up in was transformed. What made me realise was a tombstone of a sheikh who taught me the Quran during my childhood," he said. "The only thing left was that tombstone."

Even after fleeing Jaffa he was not able to escape Israeli bombs, and his home in Gaza was hit by three tank shells last year.

"I told myself: 'I will not leave again.' I would prefer to die in my home rather than allowing them to kill me once again."