Stealing the River, ‘Trespassing’ on Our Own Land

Hussein and Ghada Mubaraki (father and daughter) - Abu Snaan, 1948 Palestine

What did military government mean? The military rule was made because of the people who fled… If there wasn’t military rule we could have gone home. They made the military government so that all people were [permanently] exiled from their villages. - Hussein Mubaraki

 Like approximately 300,000 other Palestinian refugees, Hussein Mubaraki and his daughter Ghada live within a few kilometres of their family village. Classified as ‘Present Absentees’, while free to live in Israel, the Mubaraki family are not allowed to live on their ancestral lands in the village of Al-Nahr in the Western Galilee.

Between 1948 and 1966 all Palestinians remaining in the new Jewish state lived under military rule, bound by curfews and geographic limits just as the Palestinians of the 1967 occupied territory are today. Permission to go beyond such boundaries – even to visit family – required lengthy waits for permits which were very often refused. It was this tight military enclosure – resulting in the killing, injury and imprisonment of those who dared to trespass – that prevented the return of the refugees, even those carrying Israeli ID cards and citizenship.

Ghada was born in 1958, 10 years after the occupation, in the coastal town of Akka. With the vast majority of the original Palestinians of Akka displaced to Lebanon or further afield, in 1958 many of the Palestinians in Akka were internally displaced like the Mubarak family. The inhabitants were crowded into the Old City as Jewish immigrants moved into the homes of the depopulated newer neighborhoods.

There was never a time when Ghada was unaware of where her father Hussein’s family was from. She grew up on stories of al-Nahr, its water (the name means river in Arabic), its fertile lands, the orange trees. And with that were the indescribable memories. Her aunt, her father’s younger sister, was only 12 years old as they fled the village. She was carrying the youngest brother, a newborn, an uncle whom Ghada would never get to know; for as they fled the child was shot in its older sister’s arms. Like many families taking flight, they had no choice but to bury the baby and carry on their way.

Sitting on his sofa in Abu Snaan village Hussein pulls out photocopies of the title deeds (tabo) to his family land, his first Israeli identity card which named his place of birth as al-Nahr in Hebrew script, and even correspondence of his father with British Mandate Authorities. Hussein Mubaraki has kept all the evidence of the 77 dunams of orchards and arable land that they owned within the 6000 dunam village.

Unlike the village of Saffuriyya (see Ziad Awaisy profile), only a handful of al-Nahr’s inhabitants managed to remain in the Galilee. I ask Hussein why he thinks his father Ali did not end up in Lebanon.

The people who were old back then they said this – ‘There were people when the Turkish came here, and the people remained in their homes. And when they waved the white flag…there wasn’t a problem… And the Turkish went and the British came and the people who raised a white flag stayed in their homes. When the Jewish came they recognized neither white nor black flag! They wanted the land. Why?-to bring the Jews from outside.

In early months and years, Palestinians on either side of the border did not know what would happen – a new war? New expulsions? There were indeed further expulsions – in 1949 some 700 refugees were forced onto trucks in Kafr Yassif by the army. Hussein’s parents were taken from their shelter in Abu Snaan village (next to Kafr Yassif) and placed behind the iron fence in which refugees to be deported were gathered. It was only after intervention by a local leader that they were some of the lucky few who escaped this transfer.

Even in such frightening circumstances, people continued to resist in whatever way they could, even if it meant, as in the case of many political activists, that they risked their own expulsion.

In Kafr Yassif there were communists. When they put the people in the army trucks they came out and lay down in front of the trucks to prevent them from sending people away… [But to no avail] we were just 150,000 Arabs left here then…

Ghada was brought up hearing the story of how in the first months of exile, her grandfather watched as bulldozers dug up his trees before his own eyes. Her grandfather and father, like all Palestinians remaining in Israel, were forced into the only work available – manual labour for Jewish employers – in their case being forced to work on their own land for the benefit of Jewish companies.

You saw our land today? Did you see the bananas? They make gold from our land – that’s land with water! They came from Europe and it was free for them! They took our land and now I must buy bananas and eggs from them!! We pay money for the fruits of our land! He’s a king and we are nothing.

The words of her grandfather and his watching of the destruction of “our land” echo today in Ghada’s head as we get out of the car and stand at a locked gate trying to reach the land which is now deemed ‘private’.

‘How did he feel as he stood here back then? I shiver when I think of it… All his life he kept the ‘tabo’ [land deed] and he said; “Take care after I die that it’s your right, this land is your right, it’s for you, for all the family; maybe one day they'll give it back to us. It was his dream you know that maybe he would come back one day to his village."

Under military rule the only day of the year that Palestinians in Israel were allowed to roam the land freely was the day of their Nakba – the day when Israelis celebrate ‘independence’. As a child she recalls the whole family going to drink water from the stream and to pick fruit on this day. Her grandmother would describe every part of the land to her – where they slept, where they ate, where they sat.

And then one day the family came and discovered that the water had been diverted to the neighbouring moshav (Israeli agricultural settlement). In the early 1970s – although military rule over Palestinian citizens had ended, Israel found other ways of keeping the refugees from even visiting, let alone returning, to their lands and villages. One Nakba Day visit, internally displaced villagers of al-Nahr found a locked gate and soldiers barring their way.

How the people cried when they stopped us…. They didn’t let us go inside. I was about 11 or 12 years… at that age how I felt sad… I belonged to this place… Even though I wasn’t born here, but I felt that they had taken something from me, it’s my right, this land is my right.

Although born a decade after the Nakba, the village was always something that belonged to Ghada. She watched her father greeting the other people of the village whenever he saw them, always talking about life in al-Nahr. She recalls as a young girl becoming angry and shouting at her father – ‘Coward – why did you leave our village?’ And then my father explained to me slowly and quietly how they had no choice – there was nothing they could do.’

Despite the end of the military rule that her parents had suffered, growing up in Akka and attending school in the 1970s was not an easy time. Born into an Egyptian family living in Akka during the British Mandate, Ghada’s mother Nefisa was active in the Communist Party during the 1950s, leading women’s demonstrations and at times arrested for her activities. With the example of her mother and father, Ghada learned about Palestine, the Nakba and to struggle for her rights as a Palestinian in Israel – yet she quickly realised this was something that many of their neighbours were too frightened to do.

They [her parents with the Communists] went to all the houses and said ‘Don’t put your vote for the Zionist parties.’ People - they were afraid you know and they didn’t like … the Communist people… And my mother she visited people; she tried to convince them not to be afraid of the Israelis. And that’s how she was – very strong.

Under pressure and threats from all sides - from Israeli security police to charities to Jewish employers - Palestinians in Israel were subjected to a new Israeli second-class identity. Those who questioned it faced severe penalties. Enrolling at the Terra Sancta school in Akka, the young Ghada discovered that she would be punished for even saying that she was from al-Nahr – ‘You are an Israeli!’ she was told sharply by the head teacher. History teachers could not teach about Palestine (and still can’t) – teachers with Communist affiliations knew they could be fired. Ghada recalls demonstrations when two teachers were dismissed by the Ministry of Education for ‘political activity’.

Despite the dangers, politics and Palestine were always part of her life. Demonstrations and strikes continued – ‘I remember so many’ – from a funeral parade for Egyptian leader Nasser, to protesting assassinations of Palestinian leaders to a march against the Akka visit of Meir Kahane, a Zionist leader who advocated the transfer of the Palestinians who remained.

Married to a fellow activist in Nazareth, sadly Ghada was widowed at a young age and returned with her young son to live with her parents. By this stage her family had moved to Abu Snaan village – a village which was home to many internal refugees and crucially for Hussein, where he could buy a small piece of land which was impossible in Akka. ‘For him he missed the land, to be part of it.’

Today Ghada’s son, Hussein and Nefisa’s grandchild, lives in Sweden. But Ghada has no doubt that he will always know where he comes from, his heritage and his rights. For this is what she brought him up to know and to struggle for.