An Arab veteran of 1948 recalls Palestinian 'catastrophe'
While Israelis are celebrate on Thursday their Independence Day, Palestinians prepare to mark what they call the 'nakba.'
Mahmoud Jadallah recalls the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as if it were yesterday. As he guides a visitor through the village he once defended against Israeli forces, the names of outposts and passwords his Arab fighters used trip off his tongue.Skip to next paragraph
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But the day that the Jordanians told them to stop fighting is clearest. The war was over – for the moment, at least – and an armistice had been reached between Israel and Jordan. "The Jordanians came along with us and said, 'OK, we don't need you anymore. You can go home. We're in charge now. They're a state, and we're a state.'
"One of our soldiers couldn't believe what had happened. In front of everyone, he put his rifle under his feet and broke it, destroyed it. He said, 'Losing the soil of this land, which is mixed with our blood, this is something I cannot take,' " Mr. Jadallah recalls.
A Jordanian officer chastised the soldier. "This weapon you broke, you should have sold it to buy food for your family." After that, says Jadallah, no one said a word, and the only sounds were of people crying.
While Israelis kicked off the 60th anniversary of their independence Thursday, in celebrations that are expected to continue in the coming weeks, Palestinians are beginning to mark the same series of events as the nakba, or catastrophe.
Just south of Sur Baher, the former Arab village south of Jerusalem where Jadallah fought, young Palestinian demonstrators in Bethlehem carried an enormous key through town Thursday as a symbol of their longing to return to homes they – or more specifically, their parents and grandparents – lost in 1948. But it is the older generation of Palestinians who most intimately knows the details of the sea-change they lived through 60 years ago, and who have the most telling tales to share. And many, like Jadallah, feel almost as frustrated with the state of today's political realities – especially the searing split within Palestinian society between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – as they did six decades ago.
"It was like an earthquake that falls upon people and shakes them up. After it's over, people start looking around for what's left," Jadallah explains, looking out from his balcony toward the semiarid mountains leading out to the desert to the places where he's seen many an army pass: from the British to the Jordanians to the Israelis.
An Arab fighter's journey
"It was known that the British were going to withdraw, and that's why we were planning to have an army. The idea was for us to go to Syria and come back able to train others," he explains.