Al-Ahram WeeklySpecial pages commemorating
50 years of Arab dispossession
since the creation of the
State of Israel
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

1948-1998
50 Years

 

Ghost city

Abdel-Qader Yassin, veteran Palestinian political activist, recounts his last sight of Jaffa in 1948
"On the night the UN issued the partition resolution, fires and demonstrations broke out across Jaffa. Everything changed. Since then nothing has ever been the same. I was ten years old at the time and I had four sisters and an infant brother. My parents, together with the rest of our family, decided to leave the neighbourhood where we used to live, El-Manshia, which was now on the front line, as we were very close to Tel Aviv. We moved to a hotel downtown called El-Inshirah and stayed there for around four months until the fighting broke out again in April.

"The Jewish families who were close to the front line retreated then too. So there was a void that was immediately filled by the fighters from both sides. From the night we departed El-Manshia till the time the fighting started again, Jaffa was like a ghost city.

"Tel Aviv was the major point of Jewish convergence. It was the headquarters of the Jewish Agency and the Zionist leadership. Limited fighting broke out from time to time between the Arabs and the Jews, but it was always contained. Before the partition resolution, it was common for the Arabs to visit Tel Aviv. But once the resolution was announced, everything changed; instead of normal life, there was mutual boycott and two warring parties.

"The partition resolution was like a war signal. Even though Jaffa was not included in the would-be Israeli state, we knew the Zionist gangs would not stick to the declared borders. Being so close to Tel Aviv was another factor that intimidated most of the fleeing families, who were expecting a fierce Jewish assault. I remember visiting El-Manshia with my father three days after the partition resolution and seeing three Haganah fighters dressed in black crawling towards the Arab quarter. They were beaten back by Arab fighters, but anyone could see that a war was coming, even before the Haganah launched its attack against Jaffa in April.

"On later visits, some of my fathers' friends who had remained in El-Manshia told us how the Arab fighters suffered from lack of ammunition. Each fighter had only five bullets. The machine guns they used were either the British-made 303s or Italian ones brought from Egypt's Western desert by the National Committee in Jaffa.

"I used to read the three daily Jaffa-based Arabic papers: Al-Defa'a (Defence), Phalestine (Palestine) and Al-Sha'ab (The People). It was evident from the material they published and from what I heard from the older people, that the balance of power favoured the Jews. They had advanced weapons, well-trained fighters and ample ammunition. The Arabs, on the other hand, were running out of everything. To make things worse, the British troops handed over their military camps to the Zionists prior to their departure from Palestine.

"My father, like many Palestinians, didn't join the Arab fighters simply because there weren't enough weapons. The vast majority of fighters used to buy their weapons with their own money, as the Palestinian political leadership could not afford to supply us. On top of that, most of the available weapons were really old.

"Nevertheless, morale in Jaffa was quite high. Despite the scarcity of weapons and ammunition, victory seemed very close at certain points. It was so close that on 19 March, America's UN representative asked the UN to cancel the partition resolution, because he felt that the Jews might be defeated. But on 9 April the Jewish gangs deliberately committed the Deir Yassin massacre to demoralise the Arabs, and it worked.

"We all heard about the massacre. I remember that I read extensive coverage of the horrors in our press, which republished a story from the New York Times. Besides this terrifying news, the Arabs in Jaffa feared they would not be able to defend their honour if they were attacked by the Jews. They were afraid that their women would be subject to the humiliation of Deir Yassin. I was young, but I sensed just how much this worried the people in Jaffa. Having four sisters was enough reason for us to leave, as the Jews considered everything and everyone in the villages they invaded as theirs.

"When the Zionists launched their onslaught on Jaffa, they surrounded it on three sides, leaving the fourth, which was the port, free. Then they bombarded us with mines, as Menahem Begin?? later admitted in his book, The Revolt.

When the shelling began, everyone rushed to the port, including my family. I can still remember the noise of the bombs, getting closer and closer to the port, as the weak Arab defence gradually collapsed.

"When we left Jaffa, we all thought we'd return when the Arab armies liberated our land. The scene of that departure is still clear in my mind. Thousands gathered at the port and the only thing that could absorb this huge number were the barges that were used for transporting the ships' goods. We were packed into hundreds of these small barges like sardines and took off. Some went to Egypt, like my family, and others sailed to Gaza. I recall that Jaffa had 70,000 inhabitants. After the Jewish offensive, only 5,000 remained.

"In Egypt, all the Palestinian refugees followed the news day by day, and it was my daily task to read the papers for the illiterate. I remember reading that those who had remained were besieged in the neigbourhood of Ajami and were prevented from restoring their destroyed homes. Later on, as more Palestinians flocked to Egypt, we were told that when the Jewish gangs entered the Arab quarter after the fall of Jaffa, they slaughtered a number of innocent and unarmed civilians. Those who managed to stay alive did so only by playing dead among the corpses, so that the Jews wouldn't notice them. Once the Jewish fighters walked away, the Palestinians ran to the port and took the first boat or ship they saw.

"I never visited my home in Jaffa again. Many of those who wanted to see their homes after 1976 couldn't do so. The Jewish families who had occupied their homes denied them entry, so they died of grief. But I don't want to die."

Interview by Amira Howeidy



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