- Posted October 1, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Hatim's story: Autobiography of one who resisted the Palestinian Exodus of 1948
Hatim Muhammad Ibrahim Alsalman was born in 1930 in a suburb of Haifa City in northern Palestine along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. His family was a large one. His father and mother raised him alongside his 6 brothers and three sisters. His childhood was a normal one and life was fairly simple, despite the fact that Palestine was a territory of the British Empire at the time. He went to a good school where he had a close circle of friends who also lived in the same neighborhood as him. Even when World War II started, life was care free and full of youthful innocence. He was 9 years old when the war broke out. However, all of that was worlds away for young Hatim. It hardly affected his life in Haifa. In his eyes, life changed for the better. This was largely because the British government was attempting to prevent any possible unrest or dissent within Palestine by creating more jobs there and boosting the economy. In Hatim’s small world, everything was prospering. Great Britain even went so far as to promise to give Palestine its independence after the war was over.
Reality turned out to be quite the opposite.
Throughout the course of the war, a stream of Jewish migrants flowed into Palestine. However it was not until 1947 that everyone began talking about the British Mandate for Palestine. This plan expressed that the British Empire had decided to favor “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
“I was so mad at Britain and the whole world,” Hatim recalls, “and people who were around me were so sad and angry too.”
First came the flyers, telling non-Jewish residents of Haifa that they would be provided with safe passage by the empire if they left willingly for Lebanon or Syria. Then came the loudspeakers, telling residents to go down to the ports and board the ships that were waiting to take them out of Palestine or risk getting shot. It wasn’t long after that before “Jewish gangs” came to take property from the people living there by force.
“They were armed soldiers,” Hatim said of these gangs who overran the communities in Palestine and seized property from whoever resided. “They were heartless killers who killed babies, kids, pregnant women, old people and men.”
Hatim was only 15 at the time, but when he heard rumors that an armed resistance movement of roughly 500 people had developed in Haifa, he quickly moved to join them. He was among the youngest members of the rebel group. Just a handful of others were teenagers. Hatim’s role among the rebels was to watch the roads that connected Haifa with Yafa and fire on any British or Jewish soldiers he saw driving on the road. They resisted the Jewish attempts at control for three months. They were fighting not only against the Jewish people, who were as well armed as British soldiers, but also against the British themselves, who were killing or arresting any Palestinian who took part in the effort to expel the Jews from Palestine.
But after that time they came to the realization they had no more weapons or ammunition. The leaders of the Haifa rebels decided they would go to the West Bank to join the rebels there. After 3 months of fighting, Hatim was miserable when confronted with the reality that he would have to surrender his hometown to the Jewish and British forces and even more to lose his country.
“I was the saddest guy in the world, and wished to die in my town rather than leaving it.” In the brief struggle to keep control of their home, some of Hatim’s friends and family were killed. With the help of troops from other Arab countries, the rest of his family was able to escape to the West Bank and then to Jordan. It seemed like everyone around him was losing not only their friends and family but everything they owned.
Even after the fall of his hometown, Hatim was not ready to give up just yet. Thousands of Palestinian rebels were seemingly everywhere, so Hatim quickly learned of organized movements to take back Palestine in other parts of the Middle East. He went to Lebanon to join a resistance movement there. However, the Lebanese military would not permit them to reenter Palestine on the grounds that they thought Hatim and his fellow resistance fighters were not well armed enough to stand a chance against the Jews. After that, he went to Syria because he heard another group was forming there that was planning an attempt to take back Palestine. But, as before, they were prevented from entering Palestine by the Syrian military.
Finally, Hatim went to Jordan to find his family and settled into a Jordanian refugee camp for Palestinians in the city of Irbid. At that point, his hope was stronger than his mental and emotional shock because he had heard that other “Arab armies promised to liberate Palestine, and we [would go] back to our homes.” But, in the end, “the Arab armies betrayed us.”
“The whole world was biased to the Jewish occupation to Palestine,” he said, “because the Jews were supported by Great Britain, Russia, USA and the rest of Europe. Arab presidents and kings betrayed us because they did not allow the Palestinians to fight at that time to liberate Palestine. They ordered their armies to retreat from the war.”
It was in the refugee camp, situated along the now-Israeli border that Hatim stayed. It was there that he got married, found a job, and raised a big family of his own. It is in that same camp that his grandchildren live today. But even to this day, at the age of 83 with most of his eyesight gone, Hatim has yet to abandon hope of touching his hometown again.