Source: 

Wikipedia

Personal Story

The Baq‘a Zone Ghetto: A Memoir of a Palestinian Jerusalemite Who Remained in West Jerusalem after the War

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Excerpted from Jacob J. Nammar, Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian: A Memoir (Northampton: Olive Branch Press, an imprint of Interlink Books, 2012).

In the war of 1948, only about a dozen Palestinian Arab families remained in the part of the city that came under control of the State of Israel (and became West Jerusalem). One of those was the family of Jacob Nammar.

In his memoir, Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian, Nammar describes in vivid detail how the military forcibly confined the family to a closed ghetto area for two and a half years as they rapidly put in place the legal infrastructure to confiscate all the properties left behind by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who left, including the cherished Nammamreh home in the family neighborhood. The memoir, excerpted here, offers a rare glimpse into the catastrophic situation Palestinians in Jerusalem faced on the ground before, during, and after the 1948 War.

Excerpted from Chapter 1, “The House of Nammar”

Family Origins (pp. 1–3)

I was born on May 16, 1941, in Madinat al-Quds, “the Holy City,” known in the Western world as Jerusalem. I was born in the Nammareh neighborhood of Baq’a, or West Jerusalem . . .

My birth certificate was issued by the Government of Palestine’s Department of Health. It reads, “The above is true extract from the Register of Births kept at the Office of the Department of Health in the town of Jerusalem, with permanent address of parents in the District of Jerusalem Palestine” and it is printed in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Each of my brothers and sisters has an identical birth certificate. I have always treasured my birth certificate and saved it because the document confirms my birthright to al-Quds.

Jerusalem shaped my spirit, religion, heritage, identity, and earthly consciousness . . .

We were a family of ten—my father, Yousef Rashid, my mother, Tuma Marie, one half-brother, three brothers, and three sisters. We were all healthy, energetic, and (we were told) good looking. Mihran was the oldest, followed by Fahima, Daoud, Suleiman, Wedad, Fadwa, myself (Yacoub), and Zakaria, with each child two years apart . . .

The Nammamreh of Palestine (pp. 4–5)

Nammar is our family’s original name. The Nammar extended family, known also as Nammari, al-Nammari, or Nammamreh (plural), is a large family with relatives scattered throughout the world . . . including . . . of course, Palestine. 

For many centuries the Nammamreh of Palestine were one of the leading families in al-Quds . . .

My family owned several tracts of valuable properties in the Old City in Haret al-Nasara, the Christian Quarter, on al-Khanqa Street. This included several shops nearby in Suq al-A’ttarine, the spice market. In addition, they acquired land in 1870 from the villages of Malha and Beit Jala. In the late 1920s, the area had its own market, Suq al-Nammari, which served as a wholesale market for neighboring villages and a retail market for the local area. They owned several bayarat, or orchards, near Jaffa and a large house where once a year we vacationed and helped in the harvest of the citrus fruits. My family also owned a summer lake house in Tiberius, and some Nammareh owned properties in the ancient city of Nablus . . .

To secure their inheritance, the Nammamreh established various waqfs, endowment properties regulated by religious and secular laws, whose records were kept in the Old City court and administered by an elected family authority. These properties were nontransferable and forbidden to be sold for any religious, political, or historical claims. The aim was to keep the properties in the family for the benefit and needs of future generations. Each member of the family was entitled to receive revenues that they then passed on to their offspring.

“For many centuries the Nammamreh of Palestine were one of the leading families in al-Quds . . .”

Jacob Nammar

Jaffa orange grove

Credit: 

Mike Ickx, Flickr (via newmatilda.com)

Building the New City (pp. 6–7)

In the mid-eighteenth century, al-Quds proper referred to what is now known as the “Old City.” . . . As the Old City became overcrowded, several wealthy families ventured outside the wall, including some of the Nammamreh who branched out by developing a new suburb in the southwestern area of the city in the Lower Baq’a area. This was a bold undertaking since the land was barren, uninhabited, and filled with danger from robbers and wild animals.

However, the relocation from the Old City to the West New City created an exclusive community named Haret al-Nammareh or al-Nammariya—the Nammareh neighborhood. They built palatial homes with unique, spacious architectural designs including arched doorways, tile floors, ceilings, and large windows for an upper-class lifestyle. These qusur, or villas, were built from carved limestone with large cream and pre-white stones that kept them warm in winter and cool in summer. The red tiled roofs, which shone beautifully at sunset on the hilltop, stood next to each other on both sides of a straight line which became known as the Share’a al-Nammareh—Nammareh Street.

The neighborhood originated from the efforts of the pioneer family of Abdulla Ibrahim Nammari, whose five boys and girls built their own homes together in the neighborhood. This tradition continued to evolve and grow over the years as cousins moved in, followed by other members of the extended family—including ours—which created a vibrant neighborhood. Ibrahim and many other family members were architects for centuries, specializing in art and drawing. In 1807 an Ottoman Sultanate was signed by Suleiman Pasha appointing a Nammari group as chief engineers for the city of Jerusalem. Because of this, the architecture of the city reflected a sophisticated and organized style as if developed rapidly. Our cousin Rafeeq al-Nammari was appointed mukhtar, the chief or elder, of Baq’a as the community grew larger.

“They built palatial homes with unique, spacious architectural designs including arched doorways, tile floors, ceilings, and large windows for an upper-class lifestyle.”

Jacob Nammar

A Baq'a neighborhood home that appears to be an old, vacated Palestinian home

An “Arab-style” garden house in today’s Baq‘a neighborhood of Jerusalem

Credit: 

Real estate listing, T&T Investments

Excerpted from Chapter 2, “Our Way of Life”

Family Values and Education (pp. 11, 18–19)

We were all born at home in Haret al-Nammareh with the assistance of a midwife, which was customary as doctors were not readily available . . .

Over the years, my parents managed our large family well by teaching us love of God and of life, independent thinking, and the freedom to practice our religious beliefs. They emphasized the Ten Commandments and the traditional Palestinian value of respect for others, irrespective of their religion, race, or ethnicity. They taught us not to hate but to love everyone as children of God, and to believe in karameh—dignity and generosity . . .

Our parents placed great value on Christian upbringing and education. They enrolled us at French schools, which were the best private schools in the city . . .

Al-Quds was a sacred place, understood and accepted worldwide as having provided freedom and equality for multireligious education. On top of this, we were a multilingual family. We all were taught several languages at home in addition to the basic educational curriculum we learned in school. Even though my mother’s tongue was Armenian, we absorbed my father’s language of Arabic. My father, in addition to Arabic, spoke Turkish and some English and Hebrew, while my mother spoke Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, Italian, and some Hebrew. My brothers and sisters spoke at least four languages among them: Arabic, French, English, and some Armenian and Hebrew . . .

“My father, in addition to Arabic, spoke Turkish and some English and Hebrew, while my mother spoke Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, Italian, and some Hebrew.”

Jacob Nammar

Daily Life (pp. 20–11)

About once a month, on Sunday afternoons, Mama took all eight of us brothers and sisters to the Rex Cinema to see a film for twenty-five piasters, just pennies. The films were in black-and-white and in English, with poor sound quality, but we didn’t care and enjoyed them immensely. I loved two films in particular . . . Tarzan and Zorro . . .

As a child I often played in a beautiful densely wooded forest called H’oursh al-Namareh—the Nammareh Forest—adjacent to Naret al-Nammareh . . . This was a perfect place to hike, especially in the spring, to pick za’tar (thyme) and snobar (pine nuts). We picked red and purple poppies (called hanoon) and pink, white, and red cyclamen (qurn al-ghazal). These beautiful delicate plants were scattered throughout the terraced landscape of Palestine, blooming rainbow colors in the spring . . .

I loved the house where I was born. The front yard was spacious, with a large vegetable garden and many fruit trees planted by my grandfather, uncle, and Baba. We had figs, pine, saber (fruiting cactus), grapevines, and mulberry trees. In one corner of the yard we raised pigeons, chickens, rabbits, and sometimes sheep that Baba kept. Our home, like others in the neighborhood, had a well that stored the rain for our consumption. We were never hungry; food was in abundance. During spring, at dawn, one could find us on top of the mulberry tree eating the fruit, competing with the many local birds. Mother would wash everyone’s mouth and red-stained hands, as she disapproved of our excessive eating . . .

As or family grew, more rooms were added to our house. The front entrance to our home was made from solid arched wood framed in iron. We had only one traditional large metal key used for the entire family. As if was impractical for any one person to carry the key, Baba placed an oversized flower pot next to the door with a beautiful aspidistra plant under which we hid the key. It was our “family secret”: never mind that many of our friends and neighbors knew about it. Most houses were never locked; by custom, neighbors looked after each other and homes were secure. Life felt simple and authentic. The community was a large family, our collective consciousness was at ease, and our streets were peaceful.

Princess Mary Avenue in the Ba'qa neighborhood in Jerusalem's New City, with Cinema Rex visible in the background

Princess Mary Avenue (right) in the New City, with Cinema Rex visible in the background, on the left side of the avenue behind the Ford store

Credit: 

Library of Congress, Matson [LC-DIG-matpc-21003]

I loved going to school and the twenty-minute bus ride that brought me there. I would take the number four bus each day from Baq’a to Bab al-Khalil, Jaffa Gate, to the heart of the Old City and then walk to school. Since my father [as a tourism bus driver] was an associate member of al-Shareket al-Wataniya, the national bus company, he drove one of the buses and frequently took one of us with him sitting next to him on long journeys. Most bus drivers knew me, and when I proudly announce as I boarded a bus on my way to school that I was “Ibn Nammamreh” (son of Nammamreh), the driver would let me ride for free.

After school each day I returned to the bus stop, walking on the smooth cobblestones through the narrow streets of the exciting shopping district, past the crowded Old City’s famous Suq al-A’ttarine, the open-air spice market. I watched the women there, some flaunting their new Western clothes with decorative hats, while most dressed in their traditional, colorful, hand-embroidered dresses and scarves. There were large bags of dried beans, burghul, flour, sugar, and spices of many kinds. The sweet and strong smell of cinnamon, allspice and cloves led to the center of the market where a merchant sipped his strong black coffee while refilling the spice bags. The sounds of intense haggling going on between various merchants and customers drifted through the suq . . . The aromas of the market could cling to my body even as I arrived home.

The Number 4 bus, which shuttled between Jerusalem's Old City and Qatamon, shown here near Jaffa Gate in 1936

The Number 4 bus, which shuttled between the Old City and Qatamon, shown here near Jaffa Gate in 1936, before the Arab Revolt

Credit: 

British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library Facebook page

Social Life in Haret al-Nammamreh (pp. 31–22)

For centuries it had been customary for housewives to pass time in the afternoons by visiting and socializing with our extended family in Haret al-Nammamreh in a relaxed atmosphere and discussing family matters. The women would engage in conversation, play cards, and drink thick, freshly ground qahwa—Arabic/Turkish coffee with cardamom. It was a symbol of hospitality . . .

Neighbors and family members would customarily rotate from home to home to practice their traditions and help each other prepare elaborate dinners for their families, especially during holidays. We always celebrated the holidays, particularly Christmas, New Year’s and Easter.

Excerpted from Chapter 4, “An Attack on My School Bus”

An Abrupt End to Childhood (p. 46)

On one otherwise routine afternoon, the tranquility of my childhood was shattered when our bus was attacked on our way home from school. As we passed near the Montefiore Jewish Colony, machine gun fire broke out from the hilltop, forcing us to lie on top of each other on the floor of the bus while the driver sped ahead. We were terrified. I knew we had been hit because we heard the screams, crying, and panic of students for the rest of the trip. Upon arrival at Baq’a, we dreadfully discovered that two of our student friends had been killed and many had been wounded. I thanked God that, miraculously, my body had been spared, but I was shocked and spiritually wounded. This experience interrupted my childhood and changed my life forever. From then on we began to ride in a makeshift armored bus in an attempt to protect us from further shootings. My parents, along with the other families in Haret al-Nammareh, began to impose curfews and new safety regulations, limiting our schooling, and confining our activities to the neighborhood.

“This experience interrupted my childhood and changed my life forever.”

Jacob Nammar

Too Close to Home (pp. 47–50)

On the afternoon of July 22, 1946, my family heard a large explosion and saw towering columns of black smoke on a nearby hilltop overlooking Baq’a. We soon learned that the Zionist Irgun Gang, commanded by the notorious terrorist Menachem Begin, had blown up the south wing of the grand King David Hotel, the most luxurious hotel in Jerusalem . . . The explosion was traumatic for our family, since my oldest brother, Mihran, was working in the hotel at the time as a front desk clerk . . . Mihran remembers, “Four terrorists sneaked in the northern end dressed as Arab delivery crew with seven milk containers filled with 350 kg of TNT explosives . . . The attackers burst into the dining room, where they held me and other hotel staff at gunpoint as they planted explosives . . .”

This deadly attack killed ninety-one people and injured over one hundred . . .
Our family despaired when the new terror phase became a permanent reality. In the early morning of April 9, 1948, news reached us that Begin’s Irgun, together with the extremist Stern Gang under the leadership of Itzhak Shamir . . . attacked the 750 Palestinian residents of the village of Deir Yassin just west of Baq’a, massacring 110 men, women, and children, and mutilating their bodies . . .

As these events unfolded around me, even as a child I somehow sensed that my life would change . . . I felt fear and anger, and found it difficult to do my homework, or go to school . . .

The terrorist attacks on Jerusalem also spread to the village of Battir. I was dismayed to learn that the healthy, peaceful way of life in the village would not continue. The consequences to the community were devastating and many of their customs were destroyed. Battir had subsisted primarily from the fruits of the land and from trade with al-Quds. The village became cut off and the villagers made dependent on each other for survival. The hardships disrupted social life. One noticed how the columns of smoke from the old taboon ovens of each family home in the village began to die out one by one.

The King David Hotel in Jerusalem's New City just after the second bomb, Monday, July 22, 1946.

The King David Hotel in the New City just after the second bomb, Monday, July 22, 1946. The hotel housed the headquarters for the civil administration of the British Mandate in its southern wing. The bombing was perpetrated by the Jewish underground terror organization Irgun. 

Source: 

No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Imperial War Museum

The King David Hotel in Jerusalem's New City after it was bombed by the Irgun, July 22, 1946

The King David Hotel in the New City after it was bombed by the Irgun, July 22, 1946, killing 91 people of various nationalities and injuring 46. The area bombed was the southern wing, which housed the central offices of the British Mandatory authorities of Palestine, principally the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and the Headquarters of the British Armed Forces in Palestine and Transjordan.

Source: 

Wikipedia

Excerpted from Chapter 5, “The Day before My Seventh Birthday”

“Rumors Become Real Threats to Our Lives” (pp. 51–52)

The day before my seventh birthday, May 15, 1948, was one of the most horrible days of my childhood. That day marked the beginning of al-Nakba, the great catastrophe, the exodus of Palestinians from our lands. Zionists had converged on Palestine from all over the world. Through violence they spread panic and terror in the Palestinian population to force us to flee our homes.

That May rumors of the past months became real threats to our lives. Fear of potential massacres caused eighty percent of Palestinians to escape to neighboring countries. Refugee camps were set up by the United Nations in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the remaining Palestinian territories. Palestinians had become refugees for the first time in our history.

Throughout the country, fighting broke out between Palestinian civilians and heavily armed Jewish militias. Soon Arab soldiers from neighboring states joined the battle, but the Zionist forces had more troops than all the Arab states combined. Arab soldiers were in fact weak, disorganized, ill-equipped, ineffective, and easily defeated. Arab countries still under British or French colonial rule were prevented from joining the war effort. The conflict was not one between equally competing military armies but between heavily armed and trained Zionist paramilitary forces and volunteer Arab fighters who were unprepared to defend their own land.

“Before the War Had Even Started” (p. 52)

Al Quds, the “Eternal City,” was transformed into a phantom city. Before the war had even started and a single Arab soldier had entered Palestine, more than three hundred thousand Palestinians were expelled. Over thirty thousand from West Jerusalem were forced out. Terrorist bombings by Zionists targeted buildings in the city. Ordinary Palestinian citizens took up arms, streets were blockaded.

Zionist militias began to attack the large, middle-class Arab suburbs in West Jerusalem. Our neighbors in Haret Nammareh started to flee the highly equipped Zionist militias who had begun advancing toward our neighborhood. Raiding parties cut telephone and electric wires. My father heard the Zionists demand that we all leave immediately. Their loudspeaker-equipped vans drove through the streets, blaring such messages as, “Unless you leave your houses, the fate of Deir Yassin will be your fate!”

Even our relatives began to evacuate their homes. They pleaded with my parents that since the terrorists were approaching, our family, too should leave Haret al-Nammareh, if only for the sake of us children.

“Al Quds, the ‘Eternal City,’ was transformed into a phantom city.”

Jacob Nammar

“Since our home was on a hilltop, from our back yard we could see the advancing armored vehicles closing in on our neighborhood.”

Jacob Nammar

“My Parents Decide We Should Seek Temporary Refuge at the German Colony Hospice”

I vividly remember my mother and father debating what to do. They feared for our safety and security. Yet, Baba insisted that this was our home, and Mama agreed that we must remain sumud—steadfast. Instead of fleeing West Jerusalem, we resolved to seek temporary refuge at the German Colony Hospice to protect ourselves from the violence. The Colony encompassed a church, a school, a hospital, and a convent for the nuns, and it was only a fifteen-minute walk down the street. My mother was convinced that her longtime special friendship with the nuns would harbor and protect us. After all, for many years they had looked after most of our medical needs at their clinic.

As the sun was setting that afternoon, Mama was baking fresh khubz, pita bread, in our backyard cooking oven. Inside she was preparing chicken with rice and mlukhiyyi, a green leafy vegetable, along with waark e’nib, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice. Since our home was on a hilltop, from our back yard we could see the advancing armored vehicles closing in on our neighborhood. For our safety, Baba immediately split us up by sending Mama, all the girls, and the youngest boys to the German Colony leaving him, Mihran, Daoud, and Suleiman to follow us a little later when the food was ready.

The walk to the colony seemed endless, as we heard the sound of bombs and bullets nearby, and felt the earth shake beneath us. We saw the Zionists’ armored trucks and troops rushing in all directions, preoccupied and not paying much attention to us. 

We walked close together, holding hands tightly. Mama walked quickly, leading the way while keeping little Zakaria close to her. Wedad and Fedwa marched together. Fahima held my hand, dragging me firmly—one step of hers, two of mine. “We must keep pace,” she said to me, trailing close behind. “Yalla imshu, sur’a!” (“Let’s walk fast!”) Mama urged. We trembled and cried all the way. Yet, we reached the colony safely, and the nuns welcomed us.

“Baba and Mihran Fail to Arrive”

There, other Palestinian families were already taking refuge. Several hours later, to our astonishment, only Daoud and Suleiman arrived at the colony gate, crying. They explained that on the way they were stopped at a street corner by heavily armed men who spoke Yiddish and German—only one spoke Arabic. “Where are you going?” they had asked. Baba had explained that they were going to the German Colony to unite with the rest of our family. After searching and questioning them for an hour, the men allowed only my brothers Daoud, who was fourteen, and Suleiman, who was twelve, to join the family while detaining Baba and Mihran (then about twenty). Before being taken away in a military truck Baba had unsuccessfully pleaded with them to let Mihran go with my other brothers. “He is only seventeen years old and a minor please let him go!”

We spent many hours in agony waiting without any news and wondering about the fate of Baba and Mihran. The nuns insisted that we stay at the colony before venturing back home to the uncertainties ahead of us. Although the nuns did their best to comfort us, it was very difficult to sleep, eat, or even function normally. Since there were so many families seeking refuge, there were not enough places to sleep other than on carpets and blankets on the cold concrete floor. For an agonizing time we huddled together, hidden from the outside world. We could hear bombs exploding and gunfire in the surrounding area. Frantically we worried that Baba and Mihran had been caught in the gunfire, and we imagined the worst. We were frightened that our shelter at the colony might be bombed next. It seemed there was no end to the turbulence raging outside . . .

“We Reluctantly Head Home, and Are Shocked at the Sight”

After about a week passed, we reluctantly decided it was time to go back home. Two nuns insisted they come with us for our protection and accompanied us. Even though the streets were deserted and relatively quiet, we were wary as we walked back to our neighborhood. It was our first glimpse of the damage and destruction of buildings and homes.

On arrival we could not believe our eyes. Our home had been broken into and vandalized. Anticipating the war, my father had stocked large amounts of food in the house. It was heartbreaking to find all our food stolen—big bags of rice, flour, sugar, burghul, olives, olive oil, food cans, fruits, and kerosene . . .

“We Are the Only Family Left in Haret al-Nammareh”

Mama was completely outraged at Baba and Mihran being abducted by the Zionist militias and taken to an unknown location. Our family remained in despair. We were now alone, the only family left in Haret al-Nammareh. We could not distinguish between terrorists and Jewish civilians; they were all dressed in the same khaki street clothes. We saw trucks full of furniture, valuable Persian carpets, appliances, and mattresses being hauled away.

Walter Eytan was summoned by the acting American consul general to observe and to report on the state of one home in Baq’a.

Every single room had been smashed up . . . It was not merely a question of ordinary theft, but of deliberate and senseless destruction . . . A portrait had been left hanging on the wall with the face neatly cut out by a knife. As we went from room to room I felt more speechless and more and more ashamed.

There were reports of rapes and of lootings of rings and jewelry from the Palestinian dead.

“We saw trucks full of furniture, valuable Persian carpets, appliances, and mattresses being hauled away.”

Jacob Nammar

Excerpted from Chapter 6, “Confined to Prison Zone A”

“Jewish Soldiers Forced Us to Leave Our Home and Move to a Fenced Zone” (p. 61)

One day several Jewish soldiers came with a bunch of armed men to our home. They showed up under the pretense that they wanted to help us. They insisted that it was no longer safe for us to stay in Haret al-Nammareh and demanded that we relocate to another neighborhood. They said it was for our own protection, that it would be “only for a few days” and that we would be back “soon.” My spirit sank. After futile argument, my mother and all of us seven young children locked our home, secured the key, and against our wishes left out home. All we took were the clothes on our backs and a few personal belongings; everything else we left behind.

At that moment we realized we were the last of the Nammareh family to leave our neighborhood. We were escorted to Upper Baq’a and placed in a vacant dilapidated apartment building still under construction next to the railway tracks. When a train went by it was so noisy it shook the whole house.

“The Zone Was a Large Open Prison Camp” (pp. 62–64, 68, 72)

We quickly discovered that we had been forced under military administration into a fenced security zone (Zone A), confined with Palestinian families from other neighborhoods who had also stayed in their homes. There were also Greeks, French, Italians, and British, both Christians and Muslims. The military zone was a ghetto and a large open prison camp, surrounded by eight feet of barbed wire, with armed guards preventing anyone from leaving or entering. There was no communication with the outside world. We were free to move around in the zone during the day but we were under strict curfew at night. Innocently, we all presumed that this was a temporary arrangement and that we would return to our homes soon, since we all had locked our doors and saved our keys . . .

Our apartment building in the zone was designed to have two or three stories, but only the first floor was completed. The staircase leading up to the second floor was half-finished, with no rails. The lower level was divided into three small apartments, each with three small bedrooms and one old bathroom. Three families lived next to each other. Since the building was still under construction, there were no carpets, tiles, or window finishes. Initially there was no electricity or water piping. As space and furniture were limited, we slept in cramped rooms, two on each bed, and some of us had the luxury of sprawling on the floor. One of my worst experiences was going to the bathroom and waiting in line every morning behind a large family. The toilet was in the old European style, the squatting type without a seat and toilet paper. We washed with a water bucket. The bathtub was a large copper bowl, and the water was heated in a tin contained over a kerosene burner. Mama would mix hot and cold water with soap to pour over our heads, then some water would be reused for the garden. Bathing was limited to once a week . . .

“The military zone was a ghetto and a large open prison camp, surrounded by eight feet of barbed wire, with armed guards preventing anyone from leaving or entering.”

Jacob Nammar

In the zone we went from living a normal life to a dire state of poverty, unsure of when or from where our next meal was coming. To survive, we became completely dependent on charity distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, who doled out basic food rationing. I remember watching Mama standing for long hours in long lines to receive bags of flour, rice, olives, sugar, and, on occasion, canned foods. Since we were a large family, and food was scarce, Mama had to ration each meal by dividing the food into equal portions among us. We were always hungry . . .

There were no jobs, schools, or organized activities for children, so most of us played on the streets and generally misbehaved. In the streets we saw tanks, armored trucks, and soldiers with guns, which exposed us to the evils of war . . .

As a young child in the zone, time seemed unreal. There were no schedules or deadlines. I just existed. I was consumed with constant fear and the struggle to survive. My heart ached from missing Baba and Mihran, and waiting for their return. Mama tried every day to find out news about them. She went to the United Nations Relief Agency and asked the Jewish soldiers who guarded the zone. They knew that Baba and Mihran were held in a Jewish prison, yet they ignored her. We despaired, not knowing what was happening to them and fearing the worst.

A sign reading, “Baq‘a Security Zone, Entrance Forbidden, Military Governor, Southern Region.”

The Security Zone. The sign reads, “Baq‘a Security Zone, Entrance Forbidden, Military Governor, Southern Region.”

Credit: 

Wikipedia

Excerpted from Chapter 7, “Reunited: Keeping Our Family Together”

“We Became a Minority in Our Own Land, Completely Cut Off” (pp. 73–76)

A terrible consequence of the conflict was the division of the City of Jerusalem in two: East Jerusalem, which became part of the West Bank and Jordan, and West Jerusalem, which was controlled by Israel, with a “no man’s land” running from north to south between the two cities. Palestinians—Christian and Muslim—were prohibited from returning to West Jerusalem, even though they owned most of the homes and land there. Israeli Jews were kept out of East Jerusalem. Most Palestinian inhabitants fled or were forced to move—east, north, south and far beyond . . .

Our family watched in bewilderment as these events unfolded. More disturbing was to see thousands of new foreigners converge on our city. Since we chose to remain, we became the only Nammareh left in our neighborhood and among the very few Palestinians who stayed in the western part of the city. In this new Israeli state we became a minority in our own land, completely cut off from the Old City and from the rest of Palestine.

“We became the only Nammareh left in our neighborhood and among the very few Palestinians who stayed in the western part of the city.”

Jacob Nammar

“After Two and a Half Years, We Were Finally Freed, Only to Find Ourselves Homeless” (pp. 74–75)

Two and a half years after the State of Israel was established, the prison zone was dismantled. Undermining our rights as citizens, we were issued a Teu’dad Zehut, identity card, by Israel’s Ministry of Interior. Printed in Hebrew and Arabic, this ID differentiated Jews from Palestinians. It included a picture with your signature, first and family names, the names of your father and mother, your date of birth, religious ethnicity, height, eye and hair color, city, and home address in the zone. The objective of the ID was to privilege Jewish citizens over Palestinians. Aided by the passage of over thirty laws, with this ID we were targeted by the government officials who could discriminate against us when we sought access to our land and homes, to employment, or to education.

After receiving our papers, my family’s first instinct was to move back to our own home in Haret al-Nammareh where we belonged. But when we arrived in our old neighborhood we were astonished to discover that our home was already occupied by two new Jewish families from Eastern Europe who spoke only Yiddish. They considered us strangers and would not allow us back inside. After agonizing among ourselves for several hours, we were informed by a Jewish soldier, who was stationed outside the house to protect them, that our home had been given to them by the government and that they would not leave. The government had told them that our home belonged exclusively to them and that it had not been expropriated illegally from our family. The soldier explained, “These people believe that God promised them this land, so they came from Poland to claim it.”

“But when we arrived in our old neighborhood we were astonished to discover that our home was already occupied by two new Jewish families from Eastern Europe who spoke only Yiddish.”

Jacob Nammar

“They Informed Us We Were Now Considered ‘Present Absentees’” (pp. 75–76)

A week later we protested to the authority, but they advised us that under the newly promulgated 1950 property law we were now classified as and considered “Present Absentees,” the same status as “Absentee Land Owners” and “internal refugees.” The law states that “land and homes left behind by Palestinians as of November 29, 1947, are deemed ‘enemy’ property and are liable for expropriation by Israel authorities.” Even though we had remained, had in fact never left our neighborhood but we continued to be resident inside West Jerusalem, our home was not considered to be Israeli land dedicated exclusively for use by Jews. With Baba and my oldest brother Mihran still in an Israeli prison, there was little Mama or any one of us seven young children could do to defend ourselves, or our rights. We had no money to seek legal representation or any way of obtaining justice in the heavily biased Zionist courts. Israel was erasing Palestine . . .

We realized that we did not have a home or a place of our own anymore. We had lost not only our own home and possessions but the entire Haret al-Nammareh, seemingly overnight, and become foreigners in our own country. Like hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, we had been denied our legal right to return to our home, or to receive any compensation.

Years later we would be informed by a UN official that our land title deeds had been registered with the Ottoman archives in Turkey and with the British Government Land Registry in England.

But we saved our key, which over time evolved into the symbol of our home. Today, our neighborhood is one of the most affluent districts in West Jerusalem. Our home, which would have been mine and my children’s inheritance, has increased greatly in value.

Disappointed and demoralized, we were forced to return to the zone area in Upper Baq‘a to live in the same pitiful place . . .

Mihran was subsequently released after three years in Herzliyya Prison. Nammar’s father was finally released after five years in Atlit Prison in the north. He became sickly while in prison and never fully regained his strength.