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Home > News & Analysis > Analysis
Untold stories: Darwish Addassi
IMEU, Feb 20, 2008

To interview Darwish Addassi contact the IMEU at 714-368-0300 or

Darwish Addassi on a walk near his home in Walnut Creek, CA.
Darwish Addassi wishes his fellow Americans could spend a day in his shoes.

Maybe then they would know what it feels like to be a refugee. The 74-year-old retired chemist still remembers the day he was expelled from his home 60 years ago and became a refugee. Addassi has not been back to Lydda, Palestine since.

On July 11, 1948, when Addasi was just 14 and in the eighth grade, an "informal" Israeli military unit entered Lydda after days of encircling the city.

"My brother came into the house and he said 'Lydda fell,'" Addassi said. "The Israelis came and announced that we have kicked you all out."

His family's farm of oranges, grapefruits and lemons, more than 4,000 years old, was gone. Making matters worse, Addassi, along with the other men of his family, were rounded up and detained by the newly formed Israeli government. They were deemed a threat because before falling, Lydda was one of the few Palestinian towns to resist the takeover and to refuse to sell its land to the future Israeli state.

"They took about 1,500 of us to a place called Jalil," he said, adding that each prisoner was interviewed, numbered and put in a pen. "It was like a prison or a concentration camp."

For two days Addassi and his fellow prisoners of war did not get any food and were even forced to dig their own latrines. Forty men were crammed into each tent. "So if you sleep on your back the other guy has to sleep on his side," Addassi said.

Addassi spent nine months in detention all the while having no communication with his mother and two sisters who had fled to Jordan.

"We were part of the lucky refugees because we knew people in Jordan, influential people," he said. "They came and they took the whole family to Amman and they gave them a small house."

Still, the horror stories that Addassi heard from his mother and sisters about their journey are difficult to share. Stories of Israelis stealing whatever the refugees had - from rings to watches - and of people being killed for the few possessions they were able to sneak along, since they were not allowed to take anything with them, not even water.

After working in Jordan and Kuwait to support his family, Addassi moved to Chicago in 1957, with $2,000 in his pocket, to go to school. Now retired and living with his wife in Walnut Creek, California, the father of two enjoys making wine and trying to recreate the beautiful gardens he remembers from Lydda in his backyard, all while waiting for his right to return home 60 years later.

"If the Jews gave themselves the right to go back after two thousand years I should have that right, too," he said. "What would you do? Put yourself in my shoes. What would you do if someone came and kicked you out of your house?"

The "Nakba" ("catastrophe" in Arabic) refers to the destruction of Palestinian society in 1948 and the exile of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and homeland. It is estimated that more than 50 percent were driven out under direct military assault by Israeli troops. Others fled in panic as news spread of massacres in Palestinian villages like Deir Yassin and Tantura. Nearly half the Palestinian refugees had fled by May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence and the Arab states entered the fray.

Israel depopulated more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages, destroying most while resettling the remainder with new Jewish immigrants without regard to Palestinian rights and desires to return to their homes. Israel still refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and to pay them compensation, as required by international law.

Today, there are more than 4 million registered Palestinian refugees worldwide. The Nakba is a root cause of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's denial of its expulsion of the Palestinians and seizure of their homes and properties for Jewish use continues to inflict pain and to generate resistance among Palestinians today.

Read more untold stories.

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