I spoke to Aisha but looked at Mariam, a strange triangular conversation. ‘How did they meet?’
Mariam looked misty-eyed, gazing out of the window as she talked. ‘At a market in Nazareth. The families took a long time to come to terms with the fact they were in love and wouldn’t marry anyone else, Mariam says. My father was born here on the farm, in 1946. She says he cried all the time as a baby but when he was two they were forced to leave the farm and my father fell silent. She worried about him, he was so quiet and still.’
Olives Page 178
Many Palestinian families found themselves on the road in 1948, the year of Israel’s foundation. It’s not a story people like to tell outside the Arab World, the mass migration of some 700,000 people from their homes. Many were farmers, villagers – simple, traditional people who would have barely understood what was happening around them beyond the simple existential threat of men coming to drive them away or kill them.
They were encouraged in this by hearing tales of massacres – just over a month before April 16th, ‘Al Nakba day’ or Israel’s foundation day, depending on which side of the wall you figuratively stand, over a hundred villagers had been massacred by Zionist paramilitaries (or terrorists if you prefer to use the term the British authorities used to describe them. Your terrorist is my paramilitary!). The men from the Irgun and Lehi entered the village and systematically murdered the villagers, throwing hand grenades into houses and lining prisoners up on the heights of the quarry and shooting them to let their bodies fall into the quarry.
It’s an act that always brings the little town of Oradour to my mind, although the scale is different (ten times as many died in Oradour). But then I have always found comparing massacre as a numerical exercise is frighteningly inhumane. Call me squeamish.
Condemned by Jewish authorities, the Deir Yassin massacre undoubtedly struck fear into other Arab communities and is credited with being a pivotal event in the decision of the surrounding Arab countries to attack Israel.
And so the family in Olives took to the road, leaving their farm behind as they sought safety, taking their silent baby with them as they fled the killing and the clearing of land that was to take place and take away so many people’s homes.
The ruins of Deir Yassin were settled and apparently a few houses remain as part of a mental hospital today. An insane irony, perhaps.