Upon leaving Ben Gurion airport, instead of turning right and hopping on a bus to Jerusalem, we turned left and caught a taxi to Jaffa. I was going to meet my friend Judith, who I met on a previous visit 2 years ago. Judith is an Israeli Jew, she is also a huge opponent to the occupation and the current Israeli government.
The reason I was staying with Judith, was for her to introduce me to two elderly men who reside in Jaffa, so they could tell me their Nakba stories. The Nakba (the catastrophe) was in May 1948 as Israel was created and Palestine diminished by over half, with many of her occupants displaced or worse. (look up Deir Yassin for example). However, Judith received a call for people to help on a project connected to the Nakba. She asked if we would like to go, and of course we said yes.
So Saturday morning, we were up bright and breezy and waiting on the corner of two main roads for our lift. The streets were quiet with it being shabbat. All of the shops were shut. Suddenly we heard a beeping of a horn and Judith said, “Oh that must be Adel. I have actually never met him before. He is an Israeli Arab.” Elaine and I looked at each other. Here we were with a woman we barely knew, getting into a car with a man she didn’t know, to drive to outside Ashkelon which is only a few miles away from Gaza. They spoke in Hebrew to each other, no-one translated. Elaine and I sat in silence.
We joined a main artery out of the city and sped across this land of Israel. This was the first time since being on this slice of land that I had ever gone so fast. Palestinian roads are not serviced very well, there are checkpoints, there are hills and bends. This was straight and smooth and soon on the right hand side I could see the high rise buildings of Ashkelon in the distance.
We pulled off the main road and pulled into a layby. Another car pulled up behind us. Both drivers got out, had a little chat, then the other car overtook and we followed. It wasn’t far until it pulled off a road onto a dirt track. My mind was racing overtime. In my head we were going to a Nakba event, I thought we would be meeting people, yet here we were being driven to lord knows where by who knows. I decided that being as we managed to get into the country far too easily, ‘they’ had now decided to kidnap us and take us for questionning in some far off place where no-one would find us. It didn’t help when we drove up to an military facility area that was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers.
We were told we were there and we should get out of the car. Out of the facility ahead, came women soldiers, still in their pyjamas, with a gun slung casually over a shoulder. Again, Elaine and I looked at each other, probably both thinking the same….”where the hell are we? And what is going to happen here?”
One of the group who had been in the other car had approached the soldiers, then came back to us. She spoke in English. “It’s only the fucking battery for the Iron Dome.” she laughed as she said it. “The fascist bastards said we can’t take pictures of it, so probably best if you don’t, anyway, let’s introduce ourselves.”
We went around the circle and bar Elaine and myself, everyone else there were Israelis, the majority were Jews. The reason we were there was to re-find a village that had been destroyed in the Nakba, Hamama. Ashkelon was expanding and this area was going to be developed, and the development would go right over the top of where the village used to be. The organisers of this group set out to map and tell the history of the village and villagers from this place, so Israel can’t wipe it completely out of history as it so tries to do.
From Google Earth, they had carefully mapped out co-ordinates to where the southern most house of the village would be. Our challenge was to find that and the village square, with clues from stories from people from Gaza who used to live in the village, to someone who drew a map from memory of their birthplace and who lived where.
So, off we all went, co-ordinates put into smart phones to see where the south house would be. To begin with we headed towards the military base, but we soon realised we were heading away from where we needed to be, so we turned on our heels and headed back towards town.
It was apparent that this area had become a nature reserve. There were all types of birds flying around. There were ducks nesting on the pond and no doubt newts and other wildlife. It was such a peaceful, lush place, however, hanging in the air was the stanch of raw sewerage.
After about an hour and half of walking, back on forth, over man-made hillocks, down near natural ponds, we found we were as near as damn it to the Google Earth co-ordinates. Under where we stood were the remains of the Southern most house in the village. We mapped the spot.
The home-owners name was also mapped, Abu Sultan.
This area was raised from the land below, I couldn’t help but wonder if the mounds were created by the remains of the bulldozed homes, just left in piles, and where nature has taken over and claimed for herself?
We sat and had luch, then made a moving video about the village with excerpts read out from a book called From Hamama to Montreal, written by a former villager. Off we then headed to find the village square.
Up ahead was a wall of cacti, many over 5foot tall, and with thick trunks. This gave us a clue really as to where the village square might be and what was being hidden behind these prickly pears.
We then again matched up the co-ordinates for the Google Earth images and where we stood and again mapped them. We looked and looked, but there was little evidence of any of the village left. We found a few bricks in the undergrowth, but everything had almost gone, as if nothing had ever existed here.
We headed back towards the direction of the cars, happy to have found something and hopefully mark it down in history, but sad that so little remained. I am sure that if you stood there for just long enough the sounds of the past would have been carried by the wind.
I would like to thank Judith for taking us on this amazing day and to De colonizer research / art laboratory for social change for allowing to take part in their research. I felt hugely privileged to have spent time with these Israelis who have taken time out to research so much of what their fellow countrymen want to ignore or deny.
Please have a look at the video made from the day. Scarred Hamama