IMEU, Feb 20, 2008
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In 1948 Buttu, then nine-years-old, remembers his father rushing home from a town meeting to announce that the family had to quickly leave their home. An argument ensued between his parents over why the family had to leave. But, his father explained that there was no time because the Zionists were coming and their lives were in danger.
"The long walk then began," he said. "My mother, careful not to frighten me, told me that we were going camping in Nazareth. She tried to keep the truth from me, but she did not realize that I overheard her conversation with my father."
The family arrived in Nazareth and stayed in a place called Wasfiya where Buttu's father rented a home for a week. Despite hearing his father's reasoning for their journey, Buttu was still confused about why the family had to stay in Wasfiya so long.
"Maybe it really was camping," Buttu recalled himself thinking. "Maybe this was a vacation. But why were there so many people with us? Gunshots, blood, crying. That is all that I remember of the six weeks that we spent in Nazareth."
After the weeks passed, Buttu's father decided it was time for him to go back home with his son. His wife and the rest of the family would wait a day before making the journey. The young Buttu was excited about his return home and the opportunity to see his old friends again. And for some reason the journey back home was quicker than the journey away from home, he said.
But, before the pair could even enter al-Mujaydil the Israelis, who had set up a barricade in front of the entrance of the city, prevented them from entering. Buttu's father got into a fight with the Zionists arguing that this was his land and he was allowed to return. But, he was simply told he did not own the land after all.
"Sixty years later, I still have not been allowed to return to al-Mujaydil even though I am considered an Israeli citizen," Mohammed said. "I am, however, also considered an "absentee" under Israeli law. This means that given that I was not in my home in al-Mujaydil during the 1948 war, I am not allowed to get my father's property back, nor have we ever been compensated. Despite the fact that we fled a mere seven miles, yet remained in what became Israel, I have been forever dispossessed of my home, my land and my identity."
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.
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