- May 15, 2008
Sixty long years have passed and Vera John still vividly remembers her home in the city of Jaffa, where she lived a happy, idyllic childhood until Jewish militants arrived.
“It was a three-room house with a big yard with three old citrus trees,” says the 66-year-old Palestinian.
“We used to enjoy pleasant afternoons under the trees’ shade in summer time,” she adds with her eyes closed, trying to visualize what life was like then.
Vera, a Christian, recalls how Muslims and Christians in Jaffa, the largest city in Palestine at that time, were living peacefully together.
“We had a very peaceful life until the Jews came,” she says bitterly.
“When they started coming in the 1940s, they targeted Arabs in general. It did not matter to them whether we were Muslims or Christians.”
Jewish gangs committed routine hostilities against Jaffa residents, the same as in other Palestinian villages and cities.
“The most horrible attack was when they brought an orange truck, full of explosions, and left it beside a charity for children. It exploded and killed about 100 Palestinians, mostly children.”
On May 15, Palestinians, whether inside the occupied territories or in Diaspora,commemorate the Nakba Day, when Israel was created on the rubble of Palestine.
On April 18, 1948, Palestinian Tiberius was captured by Menachem Begin”s Irgun militant group, putting its 5,500 Palestinian residents in flight. On April 22, Haifa fell to the Zionist militants and 70,000 Palestinians fled.
On April 25, Irgun began bombarding civilian sectors of Jaffa, terrifying the 750,000 inhabitants into panicky flight.
On May 14, Jaffa completely surrendered to the much better-equipped Zionist militants and only about 4,500 of its population remained.
Vera broke down in tears when share remembered Jewish gangs” assaults.
“Their attacks against the people of Jaffa were horrifying.
“People thought they might not attack and kill children and women, but they did,” she said.
As the attacks grew fiercer, Palestinians had to defend their homes and lands.
Vera”s father left them to join his Muslim and Christian compatriots in defending their city.
However, they were poorly–equipped and outnumbered.
“Most fighters left their positions and returned to search for their families in order to take them and flee,” she recalls.
“Others returned just to send their families to safer places far from Jaffa before they return to fighting.”
Her father was not one of those who returned.
“He was a fighter and he decided with many of his Christian and Muslim comrades not to leave their positions.”
Then one bloody night, the Jewish militants attacked Vera”s home, killing her two sisters and brother.
Only the mother and six-year-old Vera survived.
“We took a van with a neighboring family and came to Gaza.”
Already heartbroken by the slaughter of their beloved ones, it was a long exhausting journey until they arrived along with thousands of refugees to Gaza.
Like other Christian families, they took shelter in tents pitched inside a monastery.
The one thing that solaced them was that Vera”s father survived the fighting and reunited with what is left of his family.
“We lived in tents for four years and then all Christian families moved to a new camp in the Gaza beach refugee camp beside their Muslim brothers.”
The beach refugee camp became Vera”s new home for some 37 years.
In its narrow alleyways, where Palestinians live packed in appalling conditions, she got married and gave birth to three sons and two daughters.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, defines as refugees the descendants of Palestinian who fled or were forced out of their homes in 1948.
The number of registered refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than 4.4 million in 2005, and continues to rise.
One-third of the refugees live in 58 recognized camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
UN resolutions guarantee the right of return of Palestinian refugees, many still holding the keys and titles of their homes in what is now Israel.
Like millions of Palestinians, Vera, now a widow with 16 grandchildren, returning to her home Jaffa is a lifetime dream.
“Its memory is engraved in my heart, and it will stay until the day I”m laid to rest.”
To keep the cause alive, the elderly woman always tells her grandchildren stories about their homeland.
“I always tell them that we have a home there in Jaffa and we must return back to it.”