These excerpts are from the 36,000-word “life history” of Um Jabr Wishah, who lives in the al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip; excerpts dealing with life in her village before 1948 appeared in JPS 138 (winter 2006). A future issue of JPS will carry Um Jabr’s account of organizing prison visits in the 1980s and 1990s.
Um Jabr describes what befell her family and fellow villagers during the 1948 war. Her account covers mainly the period between the conquest of her village, Bayt `Affa, during the Israeli army’s July offensive, and her family’s settlement in al-Bureij refugee camp outside Gaza City in 1950. Bayt `Affa, located between al-Majdal and Faluja, was within the area allotted by the UN partition plan to the Arabs but lay close to territory allotted to the Jews, notably the narrow corridor linking the coastal area to the north and the Negev area in the south (where some twenty-five mostly military Jewish settlements had been established, including twelve in one night about a year before the UN partition resolution). The Israeli July offensive and subsequent offensives against the Egyptian forces resulted in the conquest and annexation to Israel of the majority of the Gaza district’s rich agricultural lands, including forty-five villages. Um Jabr’s odyssey, compelled by the changing course of the fighting (typical of the experiences of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees at the time) took her to one village after another. Um Jabr does not give dates, but from the evolution of the fighting it is clear that within the space of some three months, her family moved from Bayt `Affa to Karatiyya to Faluja to Barbara to Hiribya. It was probably during the latter part of October, when Israel launched its all-all assault code-named Operation Yoav, that the family fled to the besieged Gaza City, which became part of the Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip after the armistices of 1949.
Um Jabr’s “life history” is one of seven collected as part of an oral history project, as yet unpublished, of seven women living in various parts of the Gaza Strip who were old enough to have clear memories of the pre-1948 period. Each woman was interviewed a number of times, with the interviews being conducted in the second half of 2001; Um Jabr was in her early 70s at the time. After the tape transcripts were transcribed, the memories were set down exactly as they were told; the only “editing” was integrating details or elaborations supplied during subsequent interviews at the appropriate chronological place. The “life histories” were collected by Barbara Bill, an Australian who worked with the Women’s Empowerment Project of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program starting from 1996, and Ghada Ageel, a refugee from al-Bureij refugee camp now working on her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter in England.
Information Center in Jerusalem.