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Jaffa - يافا: Cleansing Jaffa: A detailed eye witness account

Posted on November 29, 2000

By Shukri Salameh on Nov. 29th, 2000

Jaffa's famous port
I am a member of a long traditional ancestry of Palestinian Arabs from the renowned City of Ramallah. My parents and two brothers and three sisters lived in Jerusalem and belonged to the Anglican Evangelical Arabic Church with Headquarters in Jerusalem. One brother was a dentist, the second a judge. Two sisters were secretaries and the youngest was a teacher at the Teachers Training College in Jerusalem. From 1941 to 26 April 1948 I lived in JAFFA where I had a very promising law practice. I married my wife from Jerusalem in 1943 and set up my new family home in Jaffa. My eldest brother lived and practiced dentistry in -HAIFA, my three sisters were married and one lived in the Qatamon Quarter in Jerusalem, the second in England and the third in the Musrara Quarter in Jerusalem. My second brother worked in Jaffa and lived in Ramleh.
Through heavy political pressure and arm twisting by the US Government the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution on 29 November 1947 for the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. By then the Jews, mostly new-comers and non-citizens, constituted one third of the population and the Palestinian Arabs (Moslems and Christians) constituted two thirds. The Jews owned no more than 5.66% of the total area of the country.

According to the Partition Resolution, which the Palestinians did not accept, the proposed Jewish State contained a total population of Arabs and Jews slightly exceeding one million. However, the number of Palestinian Arabs in the proposed state exceeded ,the number of Jews by eleven thousand. The Partition Resolution had not stipulated an exchange of population, probably not realizing that the Jewish movement was bent on establishing an ethnically and religiously pure Jewish state. The Palestinians were naive about the prospects of co-existence.

Jaffa's famous oranges 1898-1914.
Consequently -it became gradually apparent that shortly after the Partition Resolution, the Jewish underground, with Mehachem Begin leader of the terrorist organization the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Yitzhak Shamir leader of the Stern Gang were determined to cleanse the potential Jewish state of non-Jews. This involved the whole coastal region including the two main cities of Haifa and Jaffa, notwithstanding that Jaffa, with a population of 100 thousand (all Arabs) was to remain an Arab city and form part of the Palestinian State. The British had declared that they would maintain their administration of the country until the. 15th of May 1948, when they will formally end their mandate and withdraw.

Shortly after the Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947, the inhabitants of Jaffa began to experience a gradually increasing campaign of terror aimed at driving the Palestinians out of their magnificent city. Following is an account of the main Jewish actions. Unfortunately the Palestinians had not then realized what was behind this terror :-

  1. There was daily sniping from water reservoirs in Tel-Aviv, Bat-Yam and Agro-Bank which bordered Jaffa from the North, South and East. Palestinians were shot while walking on exposed city streets, while driving or while sitting in outdoor coffee houses.
  2. One afternoon as I came out of a building with one of my two clerks and was trying to unlock my car door a bullet passed between me and the door and hit the rear door of my new Hillman car. Foolishly I did not run back into the building but opened the door and dashed with my clerk in the passenger seat. until I was behind a solid wall. There I came down to inspect the car and found a Bren Gun bullet to have penetrated the rear door and settled in the back seat of the car.
  3. Palestinians, both city dwellers and farmers who came to Jaffa from their villages to conduct business were in the habit of sitting in out door coffee-houses, drinking coffee, smoking and chatting about business and politics. There would be a radio loudspeaker on the outside wall. The Arabic news were broadcast at specific hours and in those tense times people were eager to hear the newscasts. There were five occasions when at the news hour while most of the coffee-house attendants congregated close to the wall to hear the news, a Jewish jeep would appear from nowhere, roll a barrel charged with anti-personnel explosives and dash away in the direction of Tel-Aviv. Usually this resulted in some 15-20 dead and 50-60 injured.
  4. Every night we woke up at the sound of shooting coming from the Eastern and Southern borders of Jaffa, i.e. from the directions of Agro-Bank and Bat Yam Jewish Settlements.

    Sometimes it seemed so close to us that we had to sleep on the floor. Occasionally in the daytime Yvonne, my wife, picked up large bullets stuck on the outside of our stucco walls.
  5. Jaffa Orange Company, looted by Israeli Jews
    On a Sunday, that I can never forget, I was in my office with a couple of clients and my staff. About 1.00 p.m. we heard a thunderous explosion which shook us off our chairs. I thought this was an explosion in a coffee-house under my office. I told everyone to stand under a door arch believing that another explosion was going to follow, and this would be safer than being in the center of a room. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes. I then crawled to my desk, grabbed the phone to talk to my wife. There were no telephone lines. Shortly afterward my senior clerk ventured down to the street and came back with the news that the huge office building facing the clock square was blown up. I then closed the office and drove home through a detour. The picture then became clearer. A jeep with a huge TNT bomb parked in an alley next to the building. The driver descended and walked to another waiting jeep which dashed off towards Tel-Aviv. Moments later the huge building with its wide stone walls' was turned into a heap of rubble. This resulted in the death of some 10- 12 social workers. I knew all of them and they were, all American University of Beirut graduates, who were engaged in welfare work for the poor and handicapped.
  6. A Jewish clandestine radio was constantly broadcasting in Arabic urging the population of Jaffa to escape with their families before their houses were blown over their heads. "There will only be crows crowing from the ruins of your demolished homes." The broadcasts constantly reminded the Palestinians of the slaughter on April 9, 1948 of 250 civilians in ,the Arab village of Deir Yassin, near Jerusalem (all the victims., including pregnant women were bayoneted and dumped in the village well. Years later the Stern Gang headed by Yitzhak Shamir took credit for this heinous cold blooded massacre).
  7. My two clerks who were brothers of the Bahai faith lived in a house with the elder brother's wife and two young children in the Manshieh Quarter close to Tel-Aviv. One night intensive Jewish fire forced them to seek shelter with another family and Jewish terrorists blew up their house. Since these were abnormal times I invited the whole family to stay in our villa until things cleared up. We thought they would also take care of our house when I traveled with my wife to Cairo where she would fly off to the USA for a reunion with her family in Honduras, and I would attend the Arab Bar Convention in Cairo on May 15, 1948.
  8. My wife was in her 8th month pregnancy with our second daughter. She was scheduled to fly with our 2 year old first daughter on Sunday the 25th April 1948 to New York to be met by her parents who had not seen her since 1939 when they left their stone villa in Upper Baq'a Quarter, Jerusalem, liquidate their business in Honduras and return to live permanently in Jerusalem. The outbreak of World War II followed by Jewish terrorism preceding the Partition Resolution was enough to prevent them from returning.
  9. Who shall push who into the sea? Jaffa May 1948, Palestinians were being pushed into the sea by Zionist Jewish forces
    At about 4.00 a.m. on 25 April there was a distant sound of bomb explosions from different directions of Jaffa. With the beginning of daylight the sound was becoming louder. My younger clerk had ventured downtown to explore but soon came back with a shrapnel wound in his right thigh. It was not too deep and we administered first aid to the cut. He told us that mortar bombs were dropping on the center of town including some residential areas. The bombs were coming from Tel-Aviv and Agro Bank and Bat Yam Jewish settlements. I contacted our travel agent who had made flight reservations for us from Lydda airport to Cairo. His wife was also scheduled to fly with us. He said all flights were suspended indefinitely. Then I decided to drive out of the city in my car. Our target was Amman, Transjordan, where my brother had moved his family temporarily. I drove to the house of Edmond Rock, the Honorary Consul of Transjordan to obtain visas to enter the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. He readily stamped our passports, whereupon I made two attempts to drive out of the City and twice mortar bombs exploded on the highway in front of us which compelled me to make a U-turn and head back home.
  10. I drove to the safer sea harbor area and found a couple of hundred people assembled there with suit-cases and bundles of clothes. They were in a state of panic hoping that some boat would sail into the harbor and take them out. Among them were a few friends who approached our car and asked if we wanted to be included in lists they were preparing. My wife adamantly refused as she feared the sea. I drove back home and later I joined a couple of prominent figures to call Mr. Crosby, the British District Commissioner and ask if the British had already decided to surrender Jaffa as they seemed to have done with Haifa some two weeks earlier. He denied any such intention and promised to detail army tanks to roll through the streets of Jaffa and restore confidence to the population. Shortly afterward 3 tanks passed through the main streets headed by a tank with a standing army officer holding a map of the city.
  11. Shukri al-Jamal's Palace in Talibiya neighborhood in Jerusalem two days after its completion and just before Zionist Jews looted it from him and his family
    Gradually the thumping sound of mortar explosions was gradually becoming more distant. In the evening there was complete silence, but the experience had planted a sense of fear and despair in the hearts of everyone. We hardly slept that night and early in the morning I drove off with my wife and baby daughter out of the City along the only highway that lead to Yazur, Sarafand and Ramleh. This was the main route to Jerusalem. As we passed in front of the Neter Jewish Agricultural Settlement we saw a large group at the entrance gazing at all the fleeing cars and trucks and laughing. We had to take a detour to Transjordan via Ramallah. We arrived' in the late afternoon and could find no place to stay. After one night at the Philadelphia Hotel we flew in an Egyptian Beech craft to Cairo. There I met an old friend who told me that my clerk and all his family were in a refugee camp in Cairo. I could not believe that and we took the trolley to the camp. They were there and they told me that when they saw everyone else leaving they panicked and took a bus to Cairo. At that moment it suddenly dawned on me that the tragedy was far worse than I had anticipated. With my wife's condition (eighth month pregnancy) and following consultation with doctors in Cairo I had no alternative but to accompany her and our older daughter on their flight to the US.

This is a factual version of a human tragedy. I shall not go into the political aspect of this tragedy. However, we were part of over 750,000 Palestinians who escaped and/or were driven out under similar circumstances. My dentist brother's three story building was blown up in Haifa and he and his wife had to escape in a fishing boat to Lebanon. He only had 5.00 Palestinian pounds on him. My eldest sister's apartment came under Jewish fire in- the Qatamon- Quarter in Jerusalem and she escaped with her husband to Jordan. My sister in the Musrara Quarter, Jerusalem escaped with her husband and two daughters to Amman, Jordan with only their clothes on. Worst of all my aged mother who was staying with my brother's family in Ramleh was stranded alone because my brother could not return to pick her up. He asked some neighbors to take care of her and it took a year before he was able to get her out through the Red Cross. By that time she had completely lost her mind and he had to place her in a women's shelter in Bethlehem, where she died, shortly after that.

I have avoided, in this tragic episode of our lives to venture into the suffering each member of my family, including myself, had to endure following the diaspora. We were fortunate to have good education and this helped a great deal. However, for the majority of Palestinian refugees their lives were a series of catastrophes in refugee camps outside their homeland.

Shukri Salameh


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I have recently read about Lydda in Marina Lewycka's book 'We are all made of glue'. It is shameful that we know so little about what happened. I pray for peace and reconciliation, and a better world for all. We are all the children of the Universe and there is so much we could share.
Thank you for your excellent writing about your experiences in 1948. We members of the general public badly need to be educated about the Nakba. The American public, in particular, have been badly deceived by the biased media.