The sad story of Battir, victim of the Nakba

This is an article which looks at the Nakba and the creation of Israeli from one former Palestinian villager, Hasan Abu Nimah, former UN Ambassador from Jordan.  Here is an excerpt:

That was soon after news of the April 1948 massacre in the village of Deir Yassin reached us. As Deir Yassin was not far away, some of the survivors arrived in Battir. They told of the horror they witnessed and the futile attempts to resist the onslaught. As the Jewish attackers intended, their deeds instilled terror in the hearts of Palestinians.

One afternoon in May 1948, Battir fell under heavy fire from the opposite slopes, across the railway line to the west, which had fallen to the Jewish fighters. We carried whatever belongings we could and headed east a few miles where there were vineyards and a small spring. I was only with my mother and my younger sisters; all the other members of my family had left separately. We too thought it would be a short escape, but we camped in that vineyard with many other people from the village all summer, our hopes dimming as the heat rose.

At first we slept in the open, under the trees. Then we built small shelters out of branches in an attempt to gain some privacy. We cooked and baked bread on an open fire. The one great relief is that the spring gave us a reliable supply of fresh water, but otherwise life was very difficult and dreadfully uncertain. When people started to fear that our departure might not be temporary, some of them risked their lives to return to the village to recover whatever belongings they could.

By the end of the summer, with life under the trees becoming unbearable, people started to disperse in every direction. Many joined refugee camps in the Jordan Valley. My mother, my younger sister and I went to Bethlehem where we joined my older brother who had previously been an officer in the Palestine police and had now joined the Jordanian army. In his tiny officer’s apartment, as well as us, he ended up sheltering my eldest sister and her large family as well as his own. It was hard, but we were grateful. We stayed in Bethlehem until the summer of 1949 when the war was ended by the armistice agreement.

Battir lay right on the ceasefire line, and it was now physically divided by barbed wire. Unlike hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians forced out of their villages, we did return home. But there we faced a totally new situation….

Instead of hearing the ordinary sounds of al-Walaja, after the war, we watched with dismay as the Israeli army blew up the deserted houses, as it rushed to eliminate any trace of Palestinian existence. One after another, we would see a house disappear in a cloud of dust and seconds later we would hear the loud explosion. This went on until the entire village was destroyed. (Some of the destroyed town’s inhabitants built a new village across the valley from the original site and this new village bears the name “al-Walaja” today).

Nor did the armistice provide much safety. Beyond the barbed wire, people had to move with extreme caution. Israeli patrols repeatedly arrested farmers, led them deeper into the occupied territory and then executed them. Villagers took great risks searching night after night in dangerous terrain until they recovered the bodies. The Israelis also made incursions deep into Arab-held territory with terrible tolls in death and destruction. Husan village a few miles south of Battir, and Nahalin experienced such attacks as did neighboring Beit Jala.

Villagers traveling early to market were also ambushed; one night I woke up to shrieks and wails to find that my sister Zahiyya had been brought home soaked in blood. Caught in one of these ambushes, she had been shot in her upper leg. She survived despite heavy loss of blood and no proper medical care.

When we returned to the village after the armistice, every house had been ransacked and emptied of its contents. Even doors and windows had been removed. Slowly we managed to replace and rebuild many of these things but there was much that was irreparable; we could not rebuild the same community atmosphere. That was lost forever.

But we are thankful that Battir, unlike hundreds of other Palestinian villages, did survive the Nakba — the catastrophe. That was only a respite. In 1967, it fell under Israeli occupation along with the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Forty-one years later, Battir is drowning in a sea of Israeli settlements and lies virtually cut off from what is left of its Palestinian environment by Israel’s relentless construction of settler roads and apartheid walls.

I was there last in the summer of 1966 spending my usual summer leave with my family. The 1967 occupation shut me out until I managed a brief visit in 1997, 36 years later. There was little that I could recognize and I have not been back again.


2 Responses to “The sad story of Battir, victim of the Nakba”

  1. 1 Non-Arab Arab May 14, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Oh come on, no Zionists trolling on this one? I’m disappointed 🙂 But then I guess when faced with facts and reality they generally don’t show up.

  2. 2 theradicalmormon May 14, 2008 at 6:58 am

    I don’t see how any Zionist can defend the Nakba unless they do it through Zionist reasoning which doesn’t hold up in anyone with a shred of ethics or morality. Still, real Palestinian history continues to be suppressed and relatively unknown which is unfortunate as it opens great big windows toward understanding current issues in Palestine.

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