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Home > Palestine in Focus > People
Untold stories: Mahira Dajani
IMEU, Apr 17, 2008

To interview Mahira Dajani contact the IMEU at 714-368-0300 or

Mahira Dajani.
Mahira Dajani knows what it is like to lose everything.

Born into a large, wealthy family in what is now West Jerusalem, Dajani fled her home in 1948 during the Palestinian "Nakba," or catastrophe.

In April 1948, 16-year-old Dajani returned home one afternoon after completing her high school exams to find her mother and younger siblings gone. Her father told her that they had fled to Hebron and that she should go, too. Word had reached the family of the massacre in Deir Yassin, where more than 100 Palestinian men, women, and children were killed by Zionist militias, and they were worried about what may happen in Jerusalem.

"I thought I'd be there two or three days and then return home," Dajani recalled, "I didn't take anything except for what I was wearing. I left for Hebron and never returned."

Her two older brothers stayed behind to guard the house while the rest of the family reunited at her aunt's house in Hebron. Further tragedy struck when on May 18, while her mother went to pray for the safety of her children, Dajani's 22-year-old brother was shot in the head by Israelis as he was defending their home.

As the Israelis approached Hebron, the Dajanis decided to flee again. They left for Damascus, but upon reaching Jericho decided to wait. Following the ceasefire, the family moved to Ramallah, where Dajani worked at a high school teaching Arabic, English, religion and sport.

Now living in East Jerusalem and volunteering at an orphanage, she recounted when her father took them back to visit their home in 1967. "We found only a marble basin and the ruins. Our house was demolished. My treasured books given to me by my teacher were nothing but a pile of burnt paper, which broke my heart. I left everything. Someone took my jewelry, one with my name on it. We don't know what happened to it."

Sixty years later, Dajani is seeking understanding. "We want the whole world to know about us," she said, "Even now, when I go to my old home, I feel like a knife is going through my heart. The people in America should press on their government to give us our rights; to not make us suffer. We hope one day they will feel for us and help us obtain our rights."

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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