Seventy years ago, my world and that of nearly a million other Palestinians was changed forever by the establishment of the State of Israel. Expelled from our homes and land to make way for a Jewish-majority state, transformed overnight into refugees in exile or internally displaced people, our lives were turned upside down and shattered.
Seven decades later, Israel continues to systematically uproot and displace Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank, part of an effort to erase our presence on the land and replace us with Jewish Israelis that has continued relentlessly, year after year, since 1948.
I was born in 1939 in Nazareth, Palestine, the sixth of nine children, and grew up in a small town nearby called al-Mujaydil. I have fond memories of my childhood, of playing with my cousins who lived in the neighborhood, and the smell of fresh almonds, lemons, and rain. But in April 1948, everything changed.
My father was returning from Haifa when the car he was in was stopped by members of a Zionist militia, who tied up, blindfolded, and abducted him, along with the other passengers. We had no idea where he was or whether he was alive or dead. The mass expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist paramilitaries was in full swing, with tens of thousands already driven from their homes, and terror and chaos was spreading through the country. My mother, convinced that my father had been killed, held a funeral for him.
After three weeks, my father was suddenly released without explanation. When he returned home, he learned that Zionist fighters were approaching our town. Fearing for our safety, he decided to flee with us to Nazareth, where he hoped to find temporary refuge before returning home soon. Six weeks later, the city was attacked. I can still vividly recall bullets landing between my feet. My father decided to move once more, and we set out on foot to the north, on a nearly 50-mile journey to Lebanon.
With the passage of time, we realized that the neighboring Arab states were not going to liberate Palestine and allow us to go home, so in 1950 my father decided that we would return on our own. Making his way to Jordan, he walked across the border into Israel through the West Bank, arriving back in Nazareth. The rest of us followed shortly thereafter, making the journey on foot as well, except for my eldest sister, who stayed behind in Jordan because she had a young child and feared being killed by Israeli soldiers on the journey, as many Palestinians who tried to return had been.
Upon returning, we discovered that the roughly 150,000 Palestinians who remained inside what was now Israel were treated as unwelcome foreigners in our own country. Although we were given citizenship, most of our land was taken from us and we were put under military rule until 1966. My mother was even prosecuted for “infiltrating” back into her own country and was ordered deported, along with me and my siblings. We were only given a reprieve and spared a second expulsion as a result of protests by Palestinians who feared Israel planned to expel all those who still remained.