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A War without Chocolate

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Betty Dagher Majaj, born in Lebanon, lived in Jerusalem during the Nakba and throughout her adult life due to her marriage to Dr. Amin Majaj, a Palestinian Jerusalemite physician. As a nurse married to a physician, she became a firsthand witness to the violent and turbulent abortion of the New City and its replacement with West Jerusalem, and to the Palestinian Nakba as a whole.

In her autobiography, Majaj relates in detail what it was like to live through the 1948 War and its aftermath in Jerusalem.

Excerpted from A War without Chocolate: One Woman’s Journey through Two Nations, Three Wars and Four Children (Kindle Edition, self-published)

Chapter 10: Strong Winds Bend the Cedar Tree: The 1948 War

War makes a poor wedding present. War changes everything, and those changes have proved pervasive and irreversible. The signs of war were hard to ignore well before it was called a war. Violence had been escalating leading up to the United Nations partition vote of November 1947.

Amin’s family had deep roots in Palestine, and some of those roots were torn early in the hostilities. Marie Majaj, wife of Amin’s cousin Najib, was the young mother of a two-year-old boy and five-month-old girl. On January 7, 1948, Najib and Marie set out to the Old City to visit Marie’s grandmother for the holidays. On their way back, a barrel full of explosives planted by a Jewish underground militant group exploded just as they arrived at the bus stop by Jaffa Gate. They were knocked to the ground, and as Najib struggled to get up, he saw that he was surrounded by bodies and human debris. Despite injuries to his leg, he frantically looked for his wife and found her lying beside him on the pavement covered with blood. She was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries to her chest. Doctors tried to save her life but she succumbed to her injuries, leaving two young children motherless.

As a doctor, Amin listened to tales of expulsion and injuries from an increasing stream of displaced people from outside his family as well, unaware that the suffering was merely beginning. Deir Yassin was a peaceful Arab village community of stone cutters on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. They lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors. April 9, 1948, was a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, and many people had returned to spend it at their homes with their families. Just before dawn, commandos from the Jewish Irgun and Stern paramilitary forces attacked the village. We heard news of killings and other atrocities committed against innocent men, women and children. Reports of the rapes of village women and young girls struck directly at the heart of the proud and honor-bound villagers. Later that night, fifty-five surviving children were taken and abandoned along the Old City walls of Jerusalem. It is believed that the aim of the Deir Yassin massacre was to induce the flight of Arabs from the lands wanted for the future state of Israel.

The account of the massacre was announced over Arab radio. Instead of stirring neighboring countries to come to their rescue, it started an exodus of nearby villagers. Fearful of dishonor befalling their own women at the hands of the Jewish militias, they left their homes with whatever personal belongings they could carry and fled for their lives. This eventually fueled the ensuing exodus of hundreds of thousands of frightened Palestinians to other parts of Palestine and abroad. They hoped the nightmare would end soon and they would be able to return to their land and homes. They are still waiting, over sixty-five years later, the right of return seeming further away with every passing year and every new Israeli settlement.

As soon as 1949, Deir Yassin land was being used to build Jewish villages. The remains of the town were used to construct the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, using the stones of the demolished homes. The Yad Vashem: Never Forget holocaust museum is within sight of the remains of the village, but they have forgotten to mention the tragic story of Deir Yassin.

“As soon as 1949, Deir Yassin land was being used to build Jewish villages.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

Still-standing house in the village of Deir Yasin, site of a massacre in 1948

House from the village of Deir Yasin that remains standing today


The British ended their Mandate of thirty years on May 15, 1948. The power vacuum quickly turned violent as militias from both sides rushed to occupy the positions vacated by the British. David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, a day before the Mandate was to end. We heard news and stories as the trickle of refugees came through in search of a safer place for them and their families. The stories grew more real and more horrific, and the trickle turned into a stream and eventually a flood. Jewish militias forcibly evacuated Palestinian villages, and the grim procession of innocent refugees ground its way towards the relative safety of the east of Palestine, Jordan or Lebanon. The shock is still with me. I will never fully recover from the experience of former friends and neighbors suddenly turning inhumane once given the means and the excuse of war.

The true dangers of our situation became clear and real to us when we went to Ramallah to visit Amin’s cousin Souraya, who lived in the town of Lydda, where Amin’s family once lived. We huddled together in her father’s house in Birzeit near Ramallah while she told us her story.

Newly established Israeli forces occupied Lydda in July of 1948. Yitzhak Rabin issued an expulsion order on the third day of the occupation stating, “the inhabitants of Lyyda must be expelled quickly without attention to age . . .” [2] All the Palestinian inhabitants were ordered to leave. Souraya, her husband and five children, still lived in the city and begged the Israelis to let them stay in their own home under the occupation. Their pleas were refused along with everyone else’s. People were given a brief time to pack two suitcases. One mother, in the panic and terror of being forced out of her house at gunpoint, grabbed a pillow instead of her baby by mistake. Families could take only as much as they could carry and committed the horrific stories of their exile to memory to relate later.

Palestinian refugees being expelled from Ramla during Operation Danny

Refugees being expelled from Ramla during Operation Danny



The Israeli soldiers ordered the Palestinians from Lydda to march north towards Ramallah, a terrifying journey under heavy gunfire. It took these thousands of ejected men, women and children almost a week to reach Ramallah on foot. When they took a short rest, they tried to find some shelter from the blazing sun beneath whatever trees they could find. Many were so desperate for water that some of them resorted to drinking their own urine. Souraya and her husband lost two of their children in the turmoil only to find them again weeks later among the crowds of refugees.

Amin went to visit his cousin and her family shortly after their arrival in Birzeit. They had found refuge in her brother’s house. Souraya had her poor feet stretched out on a stool to try to reduce the painful swelling that resulted from her forced march as she recounted her story. Years later in 1967, when she was able to access Israel legally, she bribed a policeman to escort her back to her home in Lydda with the hope of finding the stash of gold she had buried under the olive tree in her courtyard – but everything of value had been stolen long ago.

After the conversation with Souraya, Amin came to the conclusion that Palestine and Jerusalem were no longer safe. He hired a taxi while John gathered together the women (Bahia, Hanneh, Margaret and me) and we started our journey towards my parent’s house in Beirut. Communication was limited, and most of the common roads were blocked by war or authorities hoping to stop the tide of war. Open roads were choked with the slow, sad migration of refugees.

The border with Lebanon, Ras el Naqura, was closed by the authorities, which prevented us from traveling north by the usual coastal road. We had to take a different route through Jordan. This road was rough and wound down through the barren hills from Jerusalem, then across the plain to Jericho. From Jericho it was only a few miles to the Allenby Bridge, which spanned the Jordan River and was the crossing into Jordan. By traveling this way, we joined the stream of refugees. Some were traveling by car to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Some were trudging on foot from Jericho across the bridge. For us to reach Lebanon this way was a much longer journey. We were traveling on our Palestinian passports issued by the British Mandate.

Zarqa is a town just outside of Amman, Jordan. We stopped in Zarqa, where my mother-in-law Bahia’s brother, Baseem, lived with his wife and two boys. Baseem had left his father’s house in Maaloufieh, north of Jerusalem, and escaped to Jordan, where he had joined the army as an officer. His brother Timothy had also left his home to go to Lebanon with their mother and sister, since it was their mother’s country of birth. The family welcomed us with a meal and, while we took a rest, Hanneh told us she had decided to stay with her Uncle Baseem and his family in Jordan. We, the remaining members of the family, took our leave, climbed back in the car and continued on to Beirut through Syria. We arrived late at night, exhausted after such a long and stressful trip, still suffering from shock. My parents greeted us and we were greatly relieved at having arrived safely.

Amin stayed in Jerusalem. He was one of the few remaining doctors around and needed to stay to help in any way he could.

Instead of starting a new life with my new husband, I felt worlds away from him. We all feared for his safety in Jerusalem and would wait with great trepidation for news of him. Fortunately, our family house was large enough to accommodate all of us, and we settled in for the time being to await developments. It was a turbulent and confusing time. I had been married for a year and was crowded back in my father’s house with remnants of my husband’s family.

Amin was a young doctor, barely out of medical school. In normal circumstances, he would have found himself established under the guidance of an experienced doctor in a well staffed and equipped hospital. Most of the larger and better staffed hospitals were in parts of the city already occupied by Jewish forces and were off limits. Many of the foreign doctors were evacuated when the hostilities started. War had created a desperate need for doctors and created a vacuum that the young, but talented and brave, Amin marched into with his head held high.

“War had created a desperate need for doctors and created a vacuum that the young, but talented and brave, Amin marched into with his head held high.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

Back in Jerusalem, Mother Martha was searching for a doctor to run the newly established hospital in Bethany after receiving Red Cross certification. Amin stepped into that position with the assistance of a handful of novice nurses from the convent.

The first patient admitted to the Bethany Hospital had a gunshot wound and was transported on another man’s back. As gunfire along the road intensified, more patients were brought in, many of them women. Amin became fully occupied with so many wounded, and it soon became apparent that the few untrained nurses were inadequate for the number of casualties he was dealing with. Their work consisted mainly of providing care for wounded Jordanian soldiers and helping Amin treat minor injuries to the best of his knowledge. The more severe cases were carefully loaded into his little Fiat car and driven to the government hospital at the Austrian Hospice, in the Old City of Jerusalem, where they could receive more specialized treatment including surgery. Amin would deliver patients, pick up supplies and assist in surgeries while at the Austrian Hospice, then drive his little Fiat back through the firing line to Bethany.

People still got sick during the war, they still gave birth and they still needed medical attention. Due to the shortage of doctors, Amin was the only doctor available to treat the sick in several villages around Bethany and, although he was a pediatrician, he had to attend to all sorts of different medical conditions. Some of the villagers were not convinced that a pediatrician like Amin was qualified to treat full grown adults. He would later joke about when the patients’ families used to greet him, saying, “We hope you will be a doctor for adults, some day,” thinking that it would be a promotion for him as though he would grow up along with his young patients!  He most dreaded being called to deliver a child, as maternity was a field in which he lacked experience. But nature does not wait for convenient times to call. He helped bring new life into the world at a time when death and suffering were a part of daily life.

Bethany, called El-Eizariya in Arabic, is on the main road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Jesus rested here on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus is reported to have traveled the road from Bethphage, near Bethany, to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and that road was a lifeline for the little hospital during the war. Some of the supplies for the hospital could be bought in the village, but for other necessities someone had to make the almost daily trip along the road, which had become a battlefield. The road was under heavy gunfire from the Jewish militia based on top of the Notre Dame Hospice. They tried to prevent anyone coming into Jerusalem from the Jordanian side. The great Notre Dame Hospice stands opposite New Gate, just outside the Old City walls. It was badly damaged during the fighting for possession of Jerusalem during 1948 when it was taken and re-taken several times. Mother Martha knew how dependent the hospital was on Amin, but he was the only one who could make the journey. Amin made the trip to the city in his little Fiat, which was one of the few possessions he had left. He spoke of that Fiat with great affection for the rest of his life. Amin drove through St Stephen’s Gate as far as he could into the Old City, searching for a sheltered spot to park his car, before continuing on foot to the Austrian Hospice. The Hospice was in the heart of the hotly contested Old City, and bombs frequently landed near the hospital while Amin and Dr Tleel treated patients. The hospital in Bethany and the hospital at the Austrian Hospice were trying to cope with all the injured and sick of the Arab side of the city. All the better equipped hospitals were situated on the western side of Jerusalem and had fallen into the hands of the Jewish militias, making them inaccessible to the Arab population.

Case Study The Fragmentation of Jerusalem’s Eastern Palestinian Towns

Jerusalem’s eastern Palestinian towns, including al-‘Izariyya and Abu Dis, have been completely separated from one another and from Jerusalem by the Separation Wall.

Notre Dame Hospice in Jerusalem, approximately 1900–1920

Notre Dame Hospice, approximately 1900–1920


Library of Congress, Matson Collection [LC-DIG-matpc-05458]

Amin and his little Fiat also brought supplies for the nuns at the Russian convent at Gethsemane along the way on his almost daily drives. Mother Mary and her assistant Mother Barbara relied on him to bring their food and kerosene, so he made a short stop at the Russian Gethsemane convent before he continued on to Bethany with the medical and domestic supplies needed for his hospital. He also brought reports of what was happening in the battle for the Old City of Jerusalem, as he was their only contact with the outside world. He told stories of the old Arab men who sat calmly, unmoved and numbed by the horror of events, drinking coffee in the coffee houses opposite the Austrian Hospice with shots flying, exploding bombs and chaos all around.

The most hazardous part of the road back to Bethany was at Silwan (the ancient Siloah of the Bible). He drove the dangerously twisting road without any lights at night. The possibility of going over the edge seemed better than drawing the attention of a sniper. Mother Martha waited on the terrace anxiously, often until late at night, watching for his safe return through the big iron gates before she went to bed. The Arabs worked at night to heighten the walls protecting the road, and this eventually improved the safety for travelers.

Meanwhile, I was in a Beirut hospital recovering from painful kidney stones and was unaware of the conditions that my new husband endured. The first acknowledgment I received that Amin was alive was when a telegram arrived at the hospital. He said, “Come immediately, I need you to run the hospital I have started.” I was in a hospital, a patient myself, and had no idea how to send a reply to the telegram or how to get to his hospital. A desperate Amin waited three days for my reply, then finally drove to Jordan, flew to Beirut and met me in the hospital. Fortunately, I had passed my kidney stone, and Amin was determined that I was recovered enough to get dressed and return with him to run a hospital.

“Come immediately, I need you to run the hospital I have started.”

Amin Majaj to his wife, Betty

Bethany’s community united in the face of the danger and cooperated with the staff of their new hospital. When the word went out that food was needed, the villagers came daily in a little procession carrying various offerings and contributions of food. The wife of the owner of the main shop in the village volunteered to cook for the hospital, which she did for long periods without receiving any payment. The village was united while the war raged around it, and many came to volunteer their help.

Desperate times can yield stories of great hope and kindness, but mostly, they create stories of misery. The flood of refugees escaping the fighting grew almost hourly. Many of them stopped at the hospital on their flight towards Jericho, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria looking for safety, and they told us of their experiences. One particularly tragic event stayed vividly in our minds for a long time and highlighted the reality of the situation that many of these desperate people faced. It concerned a well groomed man and his two sons, refugees from Jaffa, who had been chased from their home during the takeover of the ancient port and town by the Jewish Militias. The man had lost his wife and had no money left. In his despair, he decided the only course left to him was to end his life and the lives of his two young sons. He shot his sons first and them himself, but the tragic suicide/murder partially failed because one survived, a child who was then an orphan and blind for the rest of his life.

Through the chaos, we developed a kind of routine. Our family and the refugees at the convent would gather on the balcony after the evening rounds to drink coffee as it grew dark. Exhausted after the stress of the day, we enjoyed the cool breeze and looked out with hope at the surrounding hills and plains of the Jordan Valley. We discussed the rumors that reached us during the day, and it was a welcome but short time of relaxation. Around eight o’clock, shooting began and we retreated to the relative safety inside. Mother Martha would then tuck all the convent’s little orphaned children into bed and give them a good night kiss.

We stayed at the makeshift hospital in Bethany for almost nine months while Amin worked tirelessly attending to his patients’ needs with great understanding of the terrible hardships they suffered. Not only did he carry the whole responsibility for treatment of wounds of varying severity, his trips into Jerusalem remained the only way for us to maintain contact with the outside world. On one of his expeditions, Amin was told that Archdeacon Rennie MacInnes, at St George’s Cathedral, had been wounded when the Cathedral Close received two direct hits, and the poor man was stranded there without medical attention. The first shell had fallen on a hostel room and the other landed on the garage that housed the bishop’s car. The Archdeacon was wounded in the leg while trying to escape from the Cathedral Close to the American Colony nearby. Unable to move, he had to stay where he was at the Cathedral, lying on the ground bleeding and in great pain, until the second day. Although his wife was a doctor, she could do little to treat him without any medical supplies. His general condition was deteriorating and, when Amin heard about his dilemma, he volunteered to go and fetch the wounded man and take him to the French Hospital near the Notre Dame of Jerusalem. Although the hospital was right in the center of heavy fighting, it was still functioning. Later, it became inaccessible, making it impossible for staff to maintain medical services, which eventually forced its closure.

Amin had great faith in his little Fiat, but he realized that even his trusty Fiat could not withstand driving along the front lines of the war. He knew that the Arabs had salvaged an armored car from the British. This vehicle was highly prized by the Arab Authorities. It was so highly valued that they prohibited its use so it would not get damaged! However, as there was no ambulance to be found, the only vehicle that could possibly be used to evacuate the Archdeacon was this armored car. Amin bravely asked and was granted permission to use it, but there remained the problem of finding someone capable of driving it. With some difficulty, he managed to find and recruit a driver and also two stretcher bearers.

“The flood of refugees escaping the fighting grew almost hourly.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

The medical team set off in the armored car through East Jerusalem to St George’s Cathedral on Nablus Road. They found their suffering patient and quickly loaded him into the most protected part of the car and headed back up the road towards New Gate. They did not have a great distance to go, but as they drove through ‘No Man’s Land’ that was so fraught with danger from gunfire, it must have felt like eternity to them. The sudden appearance of an unrecognized armored car provoked a frenzied response from the Arab soldiers and shooting erupted from all sides. Amin urged the driver to slow down, and they frantically waved a Red Cross flag from the car. They were forced to stop at an Arab blockade and Amin had to use all his powers of persuasion to be allowed past the soldiers. The armed men were deeply suspicious, fearing some sort of trick, as they knew nothing about this vehicle. While the argument raged, the stretcher bearers bolted away with their patient, making for the hospital close by. A doctor and two nurses relieved the brave stretcher bearers of their cargo and immediately attended to his wounds. Thanks to their care, Archdeacon MacInnes made a complete recovery.

Now that his patient was safely delivered, Amin faced the problem of the return trip with the driver in the car. As their patient had disappeared, they were no longer able to produce evidence of their good intentions and unexpected presence in the restricted area. It was a dangerous and frightening journey for them down the road, beneath the high walls of the Old City, but they made it safely back to St Stephen’s Gate with no further mishap. Amin was greatly relieved when, at last, they relinquished the armored car to the authorities and he could return to Bethany in his beloved Fiat. This brave rescue of the Archdeacon was reported in The Church Times, a magazine for the clergy in England, and Amin was later offered a decoration for his heroic actions by the British. He gracefully declined, saying he was only doing his duty as a doctor.

Amin’s contribution to the wounded and his tireless work at the hospital in Bethany inspired Lady Sterling, Mother Martha’s sister, to write in her memoirs:

The greatest service to the Bethany Hospital was to interest Dr Amin Majaj in it. The days of miracles are not past and in Dr Majaj the hospital had the right man. Neither Abbess Maria (Mother Mary as we called her) nor Mother Martha were to know then what a pillar of strength this young doctor was to prove in the dark days that were to come.

Within the compound of the school in Bethany is a large grotto carved out of the rock. It is used as a chapel built over the stone which bears an inscription in ancient Greek to the effect that in this spot Martha met our Lord after the death of Lazarus and He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life”. John 11:25.


Amin’s little hospital in Bethany was closed nine months later and the patients moved a few kilometers to new premises at the Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives.

Augusta Victoria Hospital, June 30, 1920, with the British flag flying over it

Augusta Victoria Hospital, June 30, 1920, shown with the British Union Jack flag flying over it


Library of Congress [LC-DIG-matpc-10458

The horror of war is unspeakable. The aftermath of war is unspoken. The strong win, not necessarily the just. There was now a new border running through the old neighborhood. Markets, jobs, friends, family and opportunities were now unequivocally separated by guns, guards and barbed wire. Jerusalem was divided. The East side of Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan and the West side was part of the new state of Israel. The area now known as the West Bank was lodged between the new state of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Some Palestinian leaders realized they had little power. Most of the productive lands and important transportation links were now in the hands of Israel. These Palestinian leaders convened a historic conference in Jericho in December of 1948. They formally asked King Abdullah of Jordan to unite the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan into a single state under his leadership and protection. In April of 1950, the parliament of Jordan passed a resolution to unite the territories in an attempt to safeguard what was left of Arab Palestine from Zionist expansion. After the unification, Jordan contained one and a half million people including a half a million displaced refugees from what became the modern state of Israel.

“Jerusalem was divided . . . Most of the productive lands and important transportation links were now in the hands of Israel.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem, 2018

Austrian Hospice, Old City of Jerusalem, June 15, 2018


King Abdullah was shot dead by a Palestinian nationalist at the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem when he was attending Friday prayers on July 20, 1951. His son Talal ruled for a short time but had to be replaced due to illness and the throne went to Abdullah’s grandson Hussein.

We left the little hospital in Bethany and returned home to Jerusalem. Everything in our house was still intact and had not been damaged by bombing or gunfire. Amin had appointed a man to guard the house during our absence before he left for Bethany. The man, who we suspected to be a burglar, lived in the neighborhood, but Amin saw good in people that others could not. Amin had treated his children for free and gained the man’s loyalty, and in his gratitude, the alleged burglar agreed to look after our house. Amin’s unconventional and trusting ways worked again and the house was safe.

Several weeks later, this former caretaker came to visit us and asked if he could retrieve a box from the attic above the kitchen which he had forgotten to take with him when he left. He reclaimed it but not before we insisted on knowing what it contained. He opened the box and we found ourselves staring into a box full of hand grenades! I was shocked. How many hours had we spent in the kitchen innocently unaware that explosives lay hidden directly above our heads. We could not help but wonder what else he might have hidden and many months went by before any of us felt really secure again in our home.

During the turmoil of those years, many of those who had been affluent in Palestine soon became poor and hungry as they lost their incomes and assets. One and a half million refugees were scattered, not only to neighboring countries, but to every corner of the globe during the Palestinian Nakba (The Catastrophe). Jewish militias and fear for their lives forced many families who lived in Palestinian cities, towns and villages to abandon their homes. But they left with fervent hope they would be able to return when the situation settled down. Their abandoned houses were immediately occupied by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and other Jews from the rest of the world, and the rightful owners have never been able to reclaim their property. Throughout the entire country, Palestinians who lived in the countryside were forced to leave their homes. More than four-hundred villages were depopulated and many destroyed by the Israeli occupying forces. The Jewish Holocaust survivors, fleeing from atrocities committed against them, occupied the houses of the Palestinians that were vacated when they were forced out of their homes at the point of Jewish guns. There is a deep sense of irony that these fresh victims of brutality would freely accept the bounty of the brutality against Palestinian families without a second thought or acknowledgment.

“They left with fervent hope they would be able to return when the situation settled down.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

A concrete wall now divided Eastern Palestinian Jerusalem from the Western Israeli side of the city. It stretched from in front of Damascus Gate north for five kilometers. The remaining division consisted of a fence of barbed wire and created a No Man’s Land between the wall and the New Gate of the Old City. The Mandelbaum Gate, behind the East Jerusalem YMCA, was the only entry and exit point for diplomats and tourists. This border post was named after the former owner of the ruined site of a house that had been bombed and was now the site of the post. In reality, the Gate was just a couple of huts and a sandbagged checkpoint with guards. We had full access to all civil services in Jordan but we were totally separated from Israel by the wall. The only exception to this segregation was that Christians from Israel were permitted to cross into Jerusalem through the Mandelbaum Gate for one night of the year–on Christmas Eve. The Old City remained in Arab hands and we could still roam the beloved, ancient streets and alleys.

Mandelbaum Gate, the crossing between West and East Jerusalem after the 1948 War, 1964

The Mandelbaum Gate, which served as the crossing point between West and East after the 1948 War until 1967 (shown here November 30, 1964)


Alamy Stock Photo

Chapter 12: Broken Branches: The Aftermath of the 1948 War

The war and the depopulating of Palestinian villages resulted in many orphaned children, many from Deir Yassin, who took refuge in Jerusalem. Among the horrors of war are acts of charity and bravery that restore part of the honor and meaning of being human. A Palestinian woman, Hind Husseini, came across the fifty-five refugee children from Deir Yassin that she found wandering around the maze-like old streets of Old City of Jerusalem. Not having many options, she gave the children shelter and food in a charity she headed in a nearby Convent, and eventually moved them into her home. The Husseini family is one of Jerusalem’s largest and one of the most influential families. She turned her large house into an orphanage, and Amin used to treat the children under her care free of charge. The number of children grew rapidly as orphans from different villages and cities poured into Jerusalem. Hind bought up property from other members of her family to extend the orphanage. She raised money from all over the world. The seemingly endless need was only matched by the boundless energy and determination of Hind. Her orphanage, Dar El Tifl (home of the child), grew to become a well established home and school for orphaned Palestinian girls and later a university and museum for Palestinian culture. It still flourishes today as an example of what can be accomplished with one kind act and one kind heart. Hind was a quiet woman who let her good works speak for themselves.

When my father-in-law died before the 1948 war, his eldest son John gave up his job as a government official and took over the management of the business selling charcoal and wood for fireplaces. After the war, the business was trapped in No Man’s Land between New Gate and Damascus Gate. With no way to access the business and no way to retrieve the equipment, the family business was lost.

When we were first married, there were few Arab pediatricians in Jerusalem. Amin had rented and equipped a new clinic, using his own money, and opened his practice. It was in a modern building in Mamilla, an area across Jaffa Road opposite the Old City. After returning from Bethany after the war, he could no longer access his clinic. With his practice and the clinic gone, Amin had to start again from scratch, and we set up his new clinic at home.

With the loss of so much during the war, it seems unlikely that I would consider us fortunate. But the Majaj family was never forced to become refugees. Our home in East Jerusalem remained undamaged during the fighting and we emerged uninjured.

Those years were particularly hard for many of the Arabs of East Jerusalem. Many people suffered a similar fate, and many people lost their source of income when they were separated from their businesses by the partition of the city. However, out of the disaster of the war and the fragmentation of so many lives, gradually an Arab-Palestinian Jerusalem community bonded together in the Arab West Bank and started to grow under Jordanian sovereignty while the rest of Palestine, beyond the barrier, became the new state of Israel.

Bio Hind Taher al-Husseini

A formidable figure who dedicated her life to the care of orphans, education of girls and women, preservation of Palestinian culture, and social service

“Those years were particularly hard for many of the Arabs of East Jerusalem.”

Betty Dagher Majaj

East Jerusalem became the new commercial center for the Palestinians after the loss of West Jerusalem. Our neighborhood went from being a quiet residential area to being close to the new commercial hub of Palestinian Jerusalem.

Later, in 1960, Amin and Hanneh decided to convert the front part of the yard and build five shops with two flats above them. The new building helped to shield our house from the now busy street outside and helped keep our garden an island of tranquility. The building was engineered and built by Yousef Khoury, a friend of the family. Prior to building, the Jordanian municipality needed to widen the street, so they acquired a strip of 2.5 meters of our land to widen the road and create a sidewalk. Two of the original cypress trees that my mother-in-law had planted still stand in the middle of the sidewalk today.

The war had changed our city and our lives. We were not the first to have our lives upended and in many ways we were fortunate. The landscape of our lives was forever changed and we were changing with it as we adapted to this new reality.