Wisam Hashlamoun, APA Images (via Mondoweiss)
“It’s Not My Village Any More”
Aiysha Jima Zidan, a villager from Deir Yasin, describes her experience living through the massacre of April 9, 1948, and its aftermath.
Excerpted from Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians, ed. Staughton Lynd, Sam Bahour, and Alice Lynd (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1994), 24–26
We were farmers. We had twenty-one grape vines. We used to have plums, wheat, and olives.
Before 1948, my family worked in the stone business: breaking the stones, making the cement blocks. My uncle and my father worked together in this business. When I got married, my husband was employed by the British army at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Abdul Khader Husseini, the Palestinian leader, was coming to Deir Yassin. On the way to Deir Yassin, he was killed. Early the next morning, they attacked Deir Yassin. I don’t know why he and his troops were coming. I would guess that he was coming to talk to the men of the resistance in town but I don’t know about politics.
For six months we had been seeing the Israelis right there in front of us, not far from us. We had security patrols. For example, if you had two men in your family, one would sleep and one would guard. Our patrols were at the outskirts of the village, watching.
Soon after midnight, those who were patrolling our village saw the Israelis come to us like rain. They flooded the village. They came from an entire circle surrounding us.
That night, my husband was working in the King David Hotel. I had my son, Mahmoud, four months old. In the adjacent house were my uncle and his wife. But in my house it was only myself and Mahmoud. I was seventeen or eighteen years old.
The attack began at about one o’clock in the morning. I was lying down and I was breast-feeding Mahmoud when I heard the tanks and rifles, and smelled the smoke. I saw them coming. Everybody was yelling to their neighbors, “If you know how to leave, leave!” Whoever had an uncle tried to get the uncle. Whoever had a wife tried to get the wife.
I held my baby in one arm, and I crawled on the floor against the wall until I could get down from the third floor and out of my house. I left with no shoes. I couldn’t even get a blanket on my son. We fled the village. We were alone, but everybody was fleeing with us.
We got to Ein Kerem. No one there resisted. They left in front of us. Most people had left by the time we arrived. We slept in Ein Kerem. Those that remained in Ein Kerem brought us a little water or bread or a piece of cheese, but not enough to feed the families.
At dawn, Arabic buses took us from Ein Kerem to Jerusalem. When we got to Jerusalem, we found the other buses that came from Deir Yassin, and we started asking, where is this person, where is that person. “Where is your mother? Where is your father?” There was the mother who had lost her son, the boy who couldn’t find his mother.
We began to understand exactly what had happened in the village. We found out that they had asked people in each house to come out with a white flag. When the door would open, they would enter the house. They would search the women and steal their jewelry, drag their kids out and put the women and children in buses. My uncle’s wife was taken by the Israelis when they came. The males were killed on the spot.
These are old thoughts; this is hard for a woman.
Then, we began our own diaspora. We were spread out all over, some in Abu Deis, some in Ein Yabrud, some in Bireh, some in Ramallah. Until now, we are spread out.
We did not know what it meant to live away from our village. We would collect grass and weeds, and we would make a roof over our heads these nights.
We always used to be clean and neat. When we lived under these manmade roofs, I had to go to the well to get water. When I came back, I am embarrassed to say, I would find that my kids had urinated in their pants and they were dirty. But what could I do? I needed water. I had to go. We didn’t know how to live like this.
We used to breast-feed our children. But, to be honest with you, my breasts dried up from everything we went through. There was an Arab committee that worked with the UN. They brought us some flour here and some milk there.
We stayed in improvised huts for a long time. If you were lucky, you left with a little ring or bracelet that they didn’t catch you with, and you would sell it and buy a barrel of oil or some bread or some four, to enable you to continue.
Let me tell you how we made bread. We would find in the waste baskets a cylinder of metal. We would go to the fields and gather dead leaves and put them under the metal, light it, and we would make “scharash,” the round bread that we eat in the morning. Then they opened up a bakery here in town. We didn’t have any money, so how could we go there? We would go to the field and gather two big baskets of dry straw, and trade the straw during the time it took to bake the bread.
Excuse me for saying it, but some of my own people used to go and beg. The beggars lived off a piece of meat from this house and half a loaf of bread from that house. People lived; they are amazing! Should I lie to God? No, they did beg.
When we fled our village, we were too far from the King David Hotel for my husband to go there to work. Many workers who had been working there were no longer employed. They started working in stone. We needed to raise our kids and this was the only thing we thought of. We are still working in stone. This is our livelihood now.
After about a year and a half or two years, we sold all of our jewelry as a group—I and my uncles’ wives and everybody—and we said that we wanted to build a house. We bought a piece of land in El Bireh. We dug, and every piece of stone that came out of the ground, we used for this house. It was a collective work. For example, this month, we worked on the part for your family. Then everybody came and finished the part for my family. This was a field here. Now it is a town.
Now, thank God, we are living and we have a house. But our houses in Deir Yassin are lost to us.
I went back after thirty-five years. My grandmother and uncles said, “We have to go back to Deir Yassin and see it thirty-five years later.” I tried to convince them that it was just going to open up bad memories, they said they wanted to go. They wanted me to show them which houses were whose.
The older houses were demolished but our house was still there. I told them, “This was my neighbor’s house, this was my uncle’s house, and this was my house.” The individual living in our house now would not allow me to cut a rose from the garden. I told him, “This is my father’s house. This is the house I was raised in. let me just look inside.” And he refused. He said that the house is now a home for mentally retarded persons.
I went to the cemetery. I was looking for my mother’s grave. She died when she was thirty years old. I couldn’t find it. Only three graves were showing out of the whole cemetery. The rest were all bulldozed. You couldn’t tell whether there was a grave there or not.
Another individual who was with us went to the graves that were there. When he left in 1948, there were flowers around his family’s grave, and it was taken care of. When he went back to see his family’s grave, he didn’t want to look at it.
My stomach is tight every time I talk about this. People go back every once in a while but I don’t want to see it. They have changed the whole town. They changed the landscape. It’s not my village any more.