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Home > Palestine in Focus > People
Untold stories: Hatim Kanaaneh
IMEU, Jul 15, 2008

To interview Hatim Kanaaneh contact the IMEU at 714-368-0300 or

Palestinian-American doctor and author Hatim Kanaaneh, seen here outside of his home in Arrabeh, in the Galilee.
Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh remembers the day in 1948 that his native village of Arrabeh in the northern Galilee fell to Zionist forces intent on turning Palestine into a Jewish state. "Everyone had a white sheet hanging on a stick on their roof," he recalls sixty years later from his home in Arrabeh. "The village elders in the neighboring villages of Arrabeh, Sakhnin and Dier Hanna had met and decided that no one would leave. My father was among them."

During the previous months, the eleven year-old Kanaaneh had seen streams of refugees from Palestinian villages further south flowing through Arrabeh, intent on reaching the safety of the Lebanese border in the north.

Eventually, as they witnessed an escalation in attacks on Palestinian villages by Jewish militias, Dr. Kanaaneh's family had begun preparing to flee the country themselves, at least until the fighting had ceased. "I had a dilemma as to whether to take my birds," he remembers. "Everyone else was making decisions about pots and pans and mattresses, and I cried as I was told that I could not take my birds."

Word soon arrived, however, that the Lebanese border had been closed, leaving the Palestinians in Arrabeh with no way to escape. It was at this point that the decision was made by several of the Galilee villages near Nazareth to surrender to Israeli forces.

That is how the village of Arrabeh found itself inside of the newly formed Israeli state.

For nearly two decades, the Palestinian residents of the new state were placed under a military regime. "I remember standing in line and waiting for hours to get a permit to go from Arrabeh to Haifa. We had to go to Shefa Amr and stand in line to get a permit to go five additional kilometers."

Dr. Kanaaneh remained in his home village despite the difficulty of living as a non-Jew in Israel, before leaving to the United States to earn his medical degree. He soon returned to the Galilee, however, and established the Galilee Society to offer better health services to the underprivileged Palestinian residents of the region.

Kanaaneh often misses the personal and individual freedoms he was granted in the United States but still has yet to attain in his homeland, and feels it is important for Americans to learn about the Nakba (Arabic for "catastrophe," and the word Palestinians use to refer to the loss of their homes and homeland in 1948) for this reason. "I felt a sense of powerlessness when I returned to the Galilee - that I couldn't do anything but accept it," he says. "But I never really regretted the decision to come back."

Pluto Press of London has just published Dr. Kanaaneh's book of memoirs, A Doctor in Galilee, which shows what life is like for a Palestinian living as a citizen of Israel. The book is available from University of Michigan Press and at

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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