Recollections of the Nakba through a Teenager's Eyes
PERHAPS BECAUSE I was sixteen at the time, and perhaps because I was in school in Jaffa, the epicenter of the political and military earthquake that ended in the destruction of Palestine and the dismantling of Palestinian society, the events of the catastrophe of 1948 retain a searing clarity in my memory sixty years later.
JAFFA: ORANGES AND EXPLOSIVES
From my youthful vantage point, it began on a morning in late fall 1947. I arrived at my school, al-Amiriyya, in Jaffa. On the wall facing the entrance of the school was a small blackboard where every morning something clever or interesting (referred to as hikmat al-yawm, or “wisdom of the day”) would be written in chalk. That particular day, 30 November to be exact, I glanced at the board, and what I saw there I will never forget: “Yesterday, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations decided to partition Palestine and establish a Jewish state in it.” I was stunned. What did it mean to “partition” a country? How could you establish a country inside a country? Why would the United Nations do this? Why didn’t they come and see for themselves that Palestine is our country? The whole idea was absurd and incredible.
I could not guess at the time that this was the day we, the Arab people of Palestine, set out on what the Palestinian writer Jabra Ibrahim Jabra later called a “journey through the cosmic absurd.” This reality was to unfold bit by bit until its cumulative effect doomed not only Palestine but the entire Middle East to a new era of injustice and turmoil that is hard to fathom to this day.
Muhammad Hallaj, a political scientist specializing in Palestinian affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was born in Qalqilya, Palestine, in 1932. After earning his doctorate from the University of Florida in 1966, he taught at Florida’s Jacksonville University and then at the University of Jordan in Amman. Hallaj returned to the West Bank in 1975, where he served as dean of social sciences and later as academic vice president of Birzeit University before becoming the first director of the Council for Higher Education in the West Bank and Gaza. While taking a leave to go to Harvard University as a visiting scholar in 1983, Hallaj was denied a visa to return to the West Bank. Among the positions he has held since then have been editor of Palestine Perspectives (1983–1991), member (and subsequent head) of the Palestinian delegation on Refugees to the multilateral peace talks following the Madrid conference (1991–1993), and executive director of the Palestine Center and the Jerusalem Fund. At the request of JPS, Dr. Hallaj shared his memories of the 1948 war and its aftermath, which he experienced as a high school student in Jaffa, and then in Qalqilya and Tulkarm.