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Nina Bazouzi Cullers and her mother, Nada Adranly, 1936, Jerusalem


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

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The Nakba as Experienced by a Jerusalem Child

Living through the Nakba: Tales of a Palestinian Youth, by Nina Bazouzi Cullers (Harrisonburg, VA: self-pub., 2021)

One may think of the Palestinian Nakba, in geopolitical and abstract terms, as a process in which states and other actors maneuver, ethnically cleanse areas to create space for the newly arrived settlers, and draw new borders. Living through the Nakba reminds us that the Nakba was above all else a catastrophe on the human level, that it affected hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young children who had to live with fear and uncertainty, relying on adults who were themselves struggling to make sense of a world that had become unrecognizable.

This self-published memoir is a moving account of one Jerusalem family’s traumatic experiences and the effort it took to reshape their lives. Nina Bazouzi Cullers states her purpose very clearly in the introductory pages of the book:

I am publishing my memoir to show the evil, disappointment, insecurity, injustice and despair that we experienced as a result of the Nakba (catastrophe), which plagued us and 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. . . . I miss my country, my way of life, and my wonderful tradition. A tradition based on honor, dignity, generosity, good will and hospitality. I urge all Palestinians to remember our past, our history, our family values and to instill these values in their children. Teach them our tradition, our art, our songs, our poetry and remind them that they came from honorable, brave people who cared for humanity. Tell them stories about our past . . .1

“I miss my country, my way of life, and my wonderful tradition.”

Nina Bazouzi Cullers

The memoir tells the story of a family who lived in the Palestinian neighborhood of Qatamon undergoing an existential crisis as seen through the eyes of an observant and sensitive child who struggles to make sense of it, to find her way in a new environment, and to help ease the strain on her parents. But underneath this narrative is a story written for the author’s children and grandchildren, all raised far from Jerusalem, to tell them where she came from, who her people are, how she grew up, what shaped her, and what was important to her. Looking back on events that occurred more than 70 years earlier, she tries to explain—for them and for herself—how the adults around her and the child that she was coped with their new situation. No doubt this became even more urgent a need when she found herself living in exile. As she states: “It never occurred to me until I became an adult and moved still farther from my roots, that there is a basic need to ascertain one’s identity among strangers.”2

Interactive Map British Mandate Jerusalem (1917–48)

An interactive map of Jerusalem during the period of the British Mandate

“I urge all Palestinians to remember our past, our history, our family values and to instill these values in their children.”

Nina Bazouzi Cullers

The author offers a summary of events that shaped the history of Palestine in the 20th century. She assumes the reader might not know that history and is careful to explain the roles of the major players. On an anthropological and historical level, she offers a snapshot of different Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhoods and the communities of people who once lived in them, how children played and the toys available to them, the ways they observed the occasions that mattered to them—marriages, religious holidays, and death—and the social conventions they observed.

Roughly the first third of the book introduces Nina’s maternal and paternal families, explains their roots in Jerusalem and their life in Qatamon, and describes the outbreak of violence in what became West Jerusalem following the family’s permanent displacement in 1948. Nina’s parents, Nada Adranly and Shafiq Bazouzi, are Greek Orthodox Palestinians who trace their roots in Jerusalem’s Old City for several generations. Both were taken out of school when their fathers died and were brought together by their influential uncles who happened to be good friends: on the Adranly side, Wasif Jawharriyeh and on the Bazouzi side, Khalil Sakakini. It appears to have been a successful match. Because they were denied the option of completing school, they were determined to provide the best education they could for their three children: Nina, Nelly, and Hanna.

Backgrounder The West Side Story, Part 2: The Darkening Horizon: Jerusalem’s New City under the British Mandate

In the face of rising Jewish immigration, Jewish self-separation, and the looming end of the British Mandate, Jerusalem began to implode, placing the New City in peril.

Jerusalem residents Nada Adranly and Shafiq Bazouzi get married in 1935.

Wedding photo of Nada Adranly and Shafiq Bazouzi, 1935


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Nina Bazouzi Cullers and her mother, Nada Adranly, 1936, Jerusalem

Nada Adranly and baby Nina, 1936


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers 

Nada Adranly and Shafiq Bazouzi married in 1935 in a celebration that lasted three days—not uncommon at the time. Soon after the wedding, they moved to Qatamon, where they established their independence as a married couple at a slight distance from both sets of families. Nina describes a gracious and comfortable middle-class life: her carpenter father able to provide a decent living and her mother, a creative and capable homemaker.

Despite the unrest in the country, Jerusalem was relatively insulated—at least until the bombing of the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946, by the Zionist Irgun forces. Because it housed the British civilian administration, which employed many Palestinians, the Arabs of Jerusalem were rocked by the blast; everyone lost someone or knew someone who lost someone in the explosion. The author herself lost a relative in the attack and can still remember the “unfamiliar ghastly sound” her mother made when she heard the news.3 Writing more than 70 years later, she said:

The death of Ibraheem Farraj brought a lot of grief to our home. My parents and relatives talked about nothing else for days. . . Sorrow soon gave way to fear, a fear that gripped us and haunted our existence.4

Jerusalem resident Nada Adranly and her children, in Qatamon neighborhood, 1944

Nada Adranly and her children in Qatamon, 1944. Left to right: Hanna, Nelly, and Nina


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Palestinian Jerusalem family celebrates in Qatamon, Jerusalem 1948, days before the neighborhood was conquered.

A final Christmas at home in Qatamon, January 1948. Days after this photo was taken, Nina and her family fled the shelling in their neighborhood and took refuge with relatives in the Old City. Not intending to be gone for long, they took little with them. The children would later miss the long-awaited Christmas gifts—a doll for Nina, a doll stroller for Nelly, a scooter for Hanna; their mother would lament the wedding gifts and furniture she had left behind. Family photos had to be reassembled in later years from those in the possession of relatives.


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

“Teach them our tradition, our art, our songs, our poetry and remind them that they came from honorable, brave people who cared for humanity.”

Nina Bazouzi Cullers

The bombing of the Semiramis Hotel in early January 1948 forced the family to flee Qatamon, which was under attack by Zionist forces, and seek what they thought would be temporary refuge with their relatives in the Old City in East Jerusalem. The explosion had shattered windows in the children’s bedroom; their home was no longer safe. The author recalls the anxiety that took hold of the adults sheltered in her grandmother’s Old City home. The war had a pronounced effect on her parents, as she recalls. Her father became more subdued and uncertain; Nina’s mother developed rheumatoid arthritis, which flared up and caused her a lot of pain for many years. Twelve-year-old Nina became aware of the need to spare her mother aggravation.

By April, Qatamon was in Zionist hands and was emptied of Palestinians, who were never to be allowed to return (see The West Side Story).

The second third of the book describes the four-year period after the 1949 Armistice Agreement was signed. One would think that once a ceasefire is declared, the worst would be behind them; but in fact, that’s when the real ordeal began for Nina and her family (see The West Side Story, Part 4: The Erasure of the New City and Its Transformation Into Jewish West Jerusalem). Nina recalls: “Hope and the support of family and community is what sustained us in 1948. When the siege was lifted and the Armistice put an end to the fighting, we realized that we did not have a home to go to.”5

The focus then shifts to the family’s attempt to find their footing in a new reality away from their home. They moved first to Beit Jala and stayed with Nina’s aunt and uncle. In a poignant scene, she recalls the two families going to a high point in town with binoculars, where they could see Jerusalem and try to identify the houses of people they knew; she describes the endeavor as one of “sadness and emptiness from great loss.”6

Personal Story The End of Arab Qatamon—A Memoir

A vivid memoir attesting to what it was like to live through the violent transformation of the New City of Jerusalem into West Jerusalem in 1947–48

“When the siege was lifted and the Armistice put an end to the fighting, we realized that we did not have a home to go to.”

Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Nina’s family would move a few times before they settled in a house on Batten Road in the nearby Palestinian town of Bethlehem, which fell under Jordanian rule at that time. The moves were prompted by the parents’ desire for proximity to the best schools they could find for their children. As Nina puts it, “They hoped to spend their time, effort and money on giving us the best education, which they believed was the passport to a good and happy life.”7 For the father, work was intermittent, and the family sometimes needed help from relatives to get by. He found it humiliating to take food rations from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) center and changed his route so that the neighbors would not see the UNRWA-labeled food supplies. Eventually, the son was sent to pick them up; he was instructed to be discreet about it, to take a route that would avoid the neighbors.

Nina’s mother had an additional challenge that does not seem to have concerned her husband too much. She wanted to be accepted by her middle-class neighbors as one of them. In Qatamon, they were known; there was no need to prove themselves to anyone. But in Bethlehem, that was not the case.

At first the neighbors eyed us suspiciously. Then Mama, aware of the fact that the local Bethlehemites were not happy to have refugees around them, started proving to the neighbors that we were respectable people.8

The narrative describes a mindset that is unfortunately common throughout much of the world: prejudice toward refugees.

Luckily for Nada Adranly, she had two aces up her sleeve: her uncle, Wasif Jawharriyeh, and her husband’s uncle, Khalil Sakakini. She name-dropped both of them liberally, as situations arose.

Counting as kin of such established figures of learning and culture helped lubricate society’s wheels for her; her neighbors could begin to see her not as a shiftless person but rather as someone like themselves whose fortunes had taken a downturn through no fault of her own.

With that acceptance, her new environment could begin to take on the shape of home. Nina’s mother met other transplanted Jerusalemites, which eased her sense of difference. They recreated the traditions that were familiar to them, and they hosted formal receptions.

Bio Wasif Jawhariyyeh

A musician and diarist who created an invaluable account of life in Jerusalem from the late Ottoman to the British Mandate periods

Nina devotes a chapter to describing the meticulous preparation for these social events, where specific foods and drinks were offered to guests in a precise order. By this phase in her life, her family could travel to the Old City for weekend visits with grandmothers and other relatives, and these visits rejuvenated the Bethlehem transplants. She describes these visits in terms of the elaborate meals that were prepared for them and the love that she felt enveloping her, where everyone knew exactly who she was and took delight in her academic accomplishments (and later career promotions).

Bio Khalil Sakakini

An educator, political and social figure, and intellectual whose diary of over 3,000 pages covers 45 turbulent years in Jerusalem and Palestine in the early 20th century

Headshot of Palestinian Jerusalem teacher Nina Bazouzi in 1957

Teacher Nina Bazouzi, ca. 1957


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

In the last third of the memoir, Nina relates her experiences in the workforce. Although she was a good student and had the option of getting a scholarship to a university, the dutiful daughter who internalized much of her parents’ stress decided to work to help her family economically. She became a teacher at an UNRWA school, and within a few years, was promoted to school principal and later, to supervisor of new teachers. In an amusing, extended anecdote, Nina recalls that she was invited to join other teachers to visit Egypt for teacher training sessions; there, she listened to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser deliver a lengthy speech through which she dozed, waking up to learn that he had just announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal.

In this section, we learn about socializing and courtship between men and women in the 1950s and early 1960s. For this reader, it seemed surprisingly liberal; as long as couples socialized in groups, they could spend time together without social censure.

Jerusalem residents Nina Bazouzi and her brother at the Bethlehem Nativity Church plaza, 1961

At Bethlehem’s Nativity Church plaza, 1961. Nina is standing next to her brother, Hanna.


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Jerusalem resident Nina Bazouzi and friends celebrate a birthday in Bethlehem, 1956 or 1957

Celebrating the birthday of friend Mimi in Bethlehem, 1956 or 1957. Nina is center right, next to a woman in a white blouse.


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

The memoir ends with Nina’s departure for Lebanon’s Beirut College for Women with a full scholarship. But violence altered the trajectory of her life; this time, the 1967 War made it impossible for her to return to Bethlehem. Once again, she found herself unable to go home. As a result, she made her way to the United States, and for the first year or so, she was unable to establish contact with her family in Bethlehem.

Nina wrote her memoir decades after the 1948 and 1967 wars that tore Palestine apart, once she had managed to immigrate to the US. Yet Jerusalem remains “the home of my soul”: “It is in this city that I learned to feel. My spirit was nurtured under its domes, in its homes, and by its people. A blend of peace, excitement, and sorrow grips me whenever I step onto its sacred ground.”9

A funeral held on both sides of the Jerusalem armistice line marked by barbed wire, 1960

A funeral in the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa, 1960. The armistice line ran down the middle of the road, splitting the town in two—one side under Israeli control, the other under Jordanian control. In the photo, mourners separated by barbed wire are gathered for a funeral.


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Graduation photo taken for Nina Bazouzi’s college yearbook, 1967

Graduation photo taken for Nina Bazouzi’s college yearbook, 1967. Nina’s June graduation from Beirut College for Women coincided with the outbreak of the 1967 War; years later, she would describe the effect of that war as “throwing me completely off course.” Her future looked bright: The family planned to meet in Lebanon and vacation after the graduation, and she had a job offer in a teachers’ training institute in al-Bira, near Ramallah, in the West Bank. But when war broke out, her graduation ceremony was canceled, her family could not join her, and home once again became beyond reach. She went to the US and did not see a single family member until 1971, when her mother visited her.


Courtesy of Nina Bazouzi Cullers

Living through the Nakba describes with rich detail the effect of war on families, especially on children, and the specific experiences of Jerusalemite families who lived through the 1948 War and its searing aftermath. For Palestinians who experienced it, the Nakba continued to reverberate long after the guns were silent. Even if they can forge new paths and regain their footing, the trauma of the Nakba is never far from the surface. As Nina put it to me in a conversation: “The Nakba left an imprint on our psyches. To this day I am afraid to live alone. When I hear the anthem Mawtini, it brings tears to my eyes. This is what we lost. It is ongoing.”10

But the memoir does not end on a despairing note; it calls attention to the many caring people Nina met in her life who saw something in her that they found worth uplifting. They undoubtedly saw what readers sense when they read her words: sincerity, intelligence, generosity of spirit, and a determination to forge ahead with courage and heart.

“When I hear the anthem Mawtini, it brings tears to my eyes.”

Nina Bazouzi Cullers



Page 5.


Page 8.


Page 88.


Page 88.


Page 119.


Page 131.


Page 64.


Page 145.


Page 249.


Phone conversation with the author, February 7, 2023.

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