Abdallah Hassan, Abu Hashem (Tarshiha)

Q: What is your name?

A: Abdullah Hassan, Abu Hashem, I was born in Tarshiha, Palestine, 1926, in ‘Akka province.

Q: What did you have in your area that was famous?

A: Our area was famous for agriculture, both in summer and winter. In summer the most important thing for us was tobacco. We planted tobacco and prepared big parcels that weighed 70 or 80 kilos. In the beginning of the winter companies came from ‘Akka, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. The Jews also used to buy tobacco. We sold the tobacco to whoever paid the highest price.

Q: They used to come to you in the village? You didn’t go to the city?

A: No, in the beginning they agreed with us that we would make the parcels, then they would send cars and take them to the company.  After a week we would go down to the company we had sold them to, and they would tell us the price. But they divided the parcels according to quality — whether one, two or three. These are the prices. According to these prices they calculated all of them, and told us, “The price of your tobacco is so much”. They would give us all the money, we would take it, and go back home.

Q: And in winter?

A: In winter, we used to plant wheat,hanta,and to take are of the olive trees and barley. We were fellaheen.

Q: Did the companies take products from you?

A: No they didn’t buy from us in winter. Each one used to take what he needed to his house. Whatever was extra we sold to a trader who came and bought grains that were left over. He bought them and paid their price, and took them from the householder.

Q: Did all the people in Tarshiha plant the same things, or did everyone plant different items?

A: Everyone used to plant the same things: wheat, lentils, barley, hanta.

Q: What is hanta?

A: It’s like wheat but it doesn’t grow very high from the ground, it’s like hommos or lentils or barley or beans – that’s called hanta.

Q: Okay. The things that you lacked in the village, for example if you wanted lemons, how did you supply them?

A: We didn’t have lemons, so whenever we needed something we used to go to the city to buy the things that we lacked, and we would store them in the house, like oranges and lemons, and so on.

Q: Why didn’t you plant these things?

A: It wouldn’t have worked because our lands weren’t big enough, the orchards were narrow.  Lemon and orange trees need coastal areas that they call plantations, which we didn’t have. They also need a lot of water, and we only had water in winter.

Q:  Didn’t you take water from nearby villages?

A:  Never! Except from the coastal plains below. Places where there were citrus trees were ’Amqa, Sheikh Daoud, and al-Nahr. These villages were all orchards.

Q: Aren’t those villages close to Tarshiha?

A: Yes, close, but there was a distance between them, like from here to Saida, or from here to Tripoli. Tarshiha was mountainous, like Aley here.

Q:  How did you build your houses? Were there building materials?

A:  Yes there were. We used to get the building materials in the city. We’d get everything from the quarries that we had – we got stones, sand, cement, and everything and brought it all in carts.Then we built.

Q: Were there cars?

A: Yes there were cars, trucks, and taxis. We had everything.

Q: What were the things that you bought from the city?

A: The young men used to buy suits from ‘Akka and from Haifa.

Q: What did city people buy from you?

A: City people didn’t buy from us, they bought from the markets. From us, from the village they didn’t buy. But anyone who had a quantity of something would go down to the city and sell it in the market.

Q: Was there coinage?

A: Yes, there was money, a lot of money. The Palestinian pound was worth 12,000 Lebanese pounds.

Q: When you sold, did you take cash, or did you exchange things?

A: No, we always took cash.

Q: Okay, the nearby villages, when you bought lemons from them, did you pay them cash too?

A: Yes, we gave them money, and took money from them for everything. A person paid the price. And if they took anything from us they paid money.

Q: Did people from outside Palestine buy your products?

A: No, people came from outside Tarshiha, from other villages.  Some people who didn’t grow things, for example people who didn’t have land. They came and bought agricultural produce.

Q: Did you have industries in the village?

A: We had everything, for example shoe-making, blacksmiths — only the Christians were doing this kind of work. But there was no discrimination. A stranger wouldn’t know who was Christian or Muslim.  There was no discrimination or anything. They exchanged gifts at the feasts. They all lived one life in one village. There were about twenty villages around Tarshiha. It was like Nabatiyya here. A large number bought from Tarshiha. You could find anything you asked for. People used to come and buy things, and order from the black smith what they needed to cultivate the land. And the Christians made everything.

Q: Did you make these things in Tarshiha?

A: Yes, in Tarshiha.

Q: How was education in Tarshiha?

A: Education was until 7th grade.

Q: Could they work with this certificate? What could they do?

A:  Yes, everything, like here. Every clever student, when he finished the 7th grade, he left Tarshiha and went to ‘Akka to finish his education. Exactly like here. For them this was high education. There were two or three who finished the 7th grade but who refused to go to ‘Akka. Instead they came to Beirut to finish their education here. One of them went to the AmericanUniversity, and was head of a section — his name was Al-Sadeq Omar. But now he has resigned.  Those people were pursuing education.  There were rich people, they had money, they used to come here to study at the AmericanUniversity. They’d graduate and find jobs. Some found jobs outside, some found jobs in the AmericanUniversity, others worked in Yafa or in Haifa.

Q: Did anyone work with the British army?

A: No, but when some young men left the village, they [the British?] came and took some people, and they made examinations in Beissan gathering.[1] Those were controlled by the British, with some Arabs. These Arabs wanted to be employed by the British. The Jews invaded our village, they attacked when half of the young men weren’t there.

Q: Did they [British] stop you from trading? Or make you pay taxes?

A: No. We had a district governor. He used to come once a week – “What are your needs?” They never bothered us.

Q: How was life in the city? Did you have other work besides agriculture?

A: Yes, for sure.

Q: What work was there in the city?

A: In the village it was farming. And I told you that anyone who wanted to do other work went to the city and worked as a blacksmith or something like that. They would sleep there. I went for three years and slept in Yafa, I was working in a restaurant. In Yafa there were famous restaurants.

Q: Beside the restaurants was there industry?

A: Yes, there was a lot of industry, like iron work, turnery, and carpentry for furniture, and similar things in Yafa. Yafa was a big city.

Q: Do you remember anything about the 1936 revolution?

A: In 1935 news came to us that there was going to be a war between us and the British. Ten or twelve army tanks were coming to Tarshiha.  Tarshiha was on a mountain, and if you wanted to go from ‘Akka to Tarshiha, there was only one road, and from Tarshiha to Safed only one road — there weren’t many roads like here. Wherever you circled you ended up in the same place. When the British wanted to attack the Arabs, they used the only road.  We put Arab spies to watch them and tell us that they were coming, how many tanks and soldiers there were.  They started to prepare forces called “The Thirty Six”, and they made many battles, and they put up a tent. Once there was a battle called al-Meyaat, it was a fierce one, it happened in the area of Majdel Kroum.  They came from ‘Akka, and they were in the middle of the street.  The rebels knew from which road they were coming, so they divided into two groups: a group to fight them as they came, and the other to block the way so that vehicles couldn’t pass, and no one could walk.  Then they started shooting at them.  I was around fourteen years old, I went with them and watched how the rebels killed them.

Q: Why did you fight them?

A: Because they wanted to give up Palestine to the Jews, this is what they agreed on in the Balfour declaration.  The British owed the Jews a very big sum of money. They had given them money, and at the end when they wanted to calm down the [Zionist] movement they asked them, What do you want? They [the British] said to them we gave you the Balfour Declaration, to give you Palestine. That’s how they [the Jews] came. At the end when the British wanted to leave, they brought buses full of arms, and they stood between the Arabs and the Jews. The Jews stole tanks, and arms and everything. The Arabs used to watch them and laugh, and say the Jews are few, and they can’t do anything. What could they do? But America wanted to support them [the Jews]. If the Jews were alone they would have gone long ago. It was America that broke the Palestinians.

Q:  What happened? Did you continue the war against them?

A: Al-Husseini, he was the one who betrayed us, and Hajj Amin as well. It was they who put a price on Palestine. They estimated each village at a hundred million, or a hundred thousand, or a hundred. Then they surrendered them to the Jews, and said this area was lost.[2] They were the leaders and we believed them. The people left because of fear. The first thing that happened was a battle called Deir Yassin. They [the Jews] attacked it in a single attack, and they ripped open the pregnant women. They killed and killed. It was this battle of Deir Yassin that terrified everyone. People wanted to escape because they were scared that the same thing that had happened at Deir Yassin would happen to them. All the Arabs left, and the Jews took it over [the country]. I went back twice to Palestine in 1948, once at night I went from Rmaysh here.  I walked at night until I arrived in Tarshiha. 

Once the Jews attacked us, they put the women alone and the men alone, and they searched for rebels.  There was a traitor, his name was Rabah from Ghabsiyeh. I know him and I know that he wasn’t a traitor.  Two men came from Nazareth, they wanted…

Q:  Was there money and were there banks?

A: Yes there were, but not in Tarshiha.  There was one in ‘Akka, people put [money] in it, when they wanted to. They go to take [money]. At first they didn’t know that there was interest on this money, but we put it, and when you want it you come and take.

Q: When you came to Lebanon, where did you go?

A:  I came to Lebanon alone from Tarshiha, I came to Bourj straight away. First we [family] went to al-Bass, Bint Jbayl, and Rmaysh. We were sleeping in the streets. It was summer time.  The buses came and took us and transferred all Tarshiha people to Aleppo, and took them in trucks. When they arrived, they brought them a train that transferred their animals. I arrived in al-Bass and went to Beirut. I knew Beirut from before we left [Palestine], I used to come and go. And I knew a man and he told me if something happens, come to me. I was married.

Q: Did Lebanon and Palestine buy from each other?

A: Yes, there was trade between Lebanon and Palestine.

Q: What was the most important thing that they used to take?

A: They used to come and take what they needed, fabrics, goods, everything, walnuts, almonds. The people of Palestine took from Lebanon.

Q: What did the Lebanese take from Palestine?

A: They used to work with us [in Palestine]. In Lebanon three quarters of them worked in Palestine and in Syria. There were Egyptians and Lebanese in the heart of Palestine before we left.  They used to say that Palestine is our country, whether in the Jaleel province or Haifa or Yafa. All of them used to work in Palestine. The Palestinian pound was the strongest currency.  In Palestine people were earning a lot of money. But the British were ruling them, that’s why people didn’t have much money.  There were millionaires in Palestine. There was a man in Haifa whose name was ‘Aziz al-Khayat. He had two daughters and two sons. Before he died he said to his children take my hand out of the coffin. The people asked them [the children] why did you take out his hand like this?  They said that it was his will, and it means when someone dies, no matter how rich he is, he can’t take anything with him. So look after yourselves.

Haifa was long, it stretched five or six kilometers, but its width was little because of the sea. The mountains up there were for the Jews.  The road was very long that led to Tel Aviv, and the other areas. 

That was the richest man in all the area. No one would benefit from anything, neither money nor anything. He should just take care of himself, and work for himself.[3]

Q: What were the villages around Tarshiha?

A: Suhmata was the closest village to us, then comes al-Deir, and then Safad. Safad is very close the Lebanese borders.

Q: Did you come to trade in Lebanon?

A: Not me, but my father used to come.

Q: Who came to trade in Lebanon?

A:  There was a man called Shafeeq Ammar, and Abdel Qudous. Several people used to come to trade.  They traded using mules, and brought back what they wanted. But the police used to bother them a bit.  Later they struck up friendship with them. From the day God gave them birth the police loved money. From the beginning, you could give them money and take whatever you wanted. Lebanon was poor. After Palestine was occupied Lebanon was like this [hand gesture to mean growth]. Palestine was the richest country in the Arab world. Even Egypt was nothing. The [Egyptian] population was seven or eight million, now they are 85 million. When the people left Palestine, that was how the Arab countries around us were. Lebanon was nothing when we came, all of it was lazy villagers who didn’t know how work.

Q: I heard that the British used even to tax draft animals. If you had a camel they would tax it. Did that happen with you?

A: Yes, all of them they had that [draft animals]. But when they came to Tarshiha the English commissioner would come: “What have you got to register” And they paid the right amount on it, it wasn’t that much. The British were careful with herds and draft animals. Our people who worked in rocky areas used donkeys, and they [the British] would stop them and say “Take off the saddle-bag”. And if a donkey was hurt they would take it to their area, and they would tell you to bring barley to feed it, and it would stay with them to be cured. And when it got better the owner would take it back.

Q: Did you trade horses?

A: Yes, we traded everything.

Q: Who bought from you?

A: Whoever wanted to buy a horse, went to Tarshiha.

Q: Arabs not British?

A: No, Arabs, not the British.

Q: They came from the other Arab countries to buy?

A: Yes they came to anyone who had horses. Cows and that sort of thing they bought from Jordan and Lebanon.  People came and bought.

Q: Were the lands owned? Did everyone work his own land? Or did they work for others?

A:  No, no. People worked on the land they owned. There were people who didn’t have land, who didn’t work for me or you or someone else. The one who had land gave work to the one who didn’t have land, for wages. We once planted tobacco. Tobacco needs many work hands. Every time you want to plant a piece of land with tobacco it has to be dug with a fork, and someone has to separate the plants one by one, he has to dig it with a fork, and a woman behind him waters the plant This needed many workers. Each fork needed four people to work with it.

Q: Did the women work with you in the fields?

A: Yes the women worked like the men.

Q: Did people from other areas come to work with you?

A: Yes, those who didn’t have lands used to come to work for wages.  Tarshiha was known for planting tobacco. They used to plant tobacco in other villages but they didn’t know how to care for it. Making tobacco needs experience.

Q: You told me that there was one school, correct?  Was the school like in the past under a tree?

A: Yes, there was a big school.  We planted cypress trees there in my days at school.  When I went back recently —

Q: When did you go?

A: I went in 1997. My uncle and his sons are there. Many kids came when I used to climb the cypress tree; it was about five meters tall.  It’s still there. And near to the cypress there was a big hole, and we used to take water from it. We used to take water from it in winter, we carried it on draft animals in cans, to water the tobacco plants, because when you plant tobacco it needs a lot of water.

Q: Have they changed Tarshiha’s name?

A: They added to it. When I went to ‘Israel’ — it’s been forbidden to enter ‘Palestine’ except by saying ‘Israel’.

Q:  But hajj, we don’t say ‘Israel’, we say ‘occupied Palestine’. I don’t recognize this Israel.

A:  If you say ‘Palestine’ they won’t let you enter.  If you want to come from any country, they won’t let you in unless you get a permit from a European country, from any European country. From any Arab country they won’t let you enter. They have an agreement with Jordan, you can enter only from Jordan. I went from Denmark because I was in Denmark, and I took my papers from there.  So when I reached the border, they asked me, “Where do you want to go?” I told them “I want to go to Tarshiha”. They said “There isn’t Tarshiha”. I said, “Yes there is”. They said, “No there isn’t”. They brought an Arab girl to speak with me, a girl who spoke Arabic. I told this girl, “I don’t understand Hebrew, I understand English and Arabic”. She said, “Okay, where do you want to go?”  I told her, “I want to go to Tarshiha”. She told me not to say Tarshiha because they have deleted it from the map. So I asked her, “What have they called it?” She said, “Now it’s Ma’louq Tarshiha”. I said to her, “Okay, I’ll go to Ma’louq Tarshiha”. She told me “Your name is such-and-such”. They knew everything about me. She said, “You’re going to your uncle in Tarshiha. His name is such-and-such and his son’s name is such-and-such”. As if they were living together. If we speak honestly, there’s no one who understands as much as the Jews. From a hundred years ago they planned this business.  

When I went, she said, “Ahlan wasahlan! Do you know who will take you?” I said “No, I don’t know my uncle’s children”. She said, “I’ll stay with you and we’ll go outside the airport, and when your cousins come and you recognize them, I’ll hand you over to them. And if you don’t see them, we’ll take you and you’ll sleep with us. And in the morning we’ll take you to your uncle’s house – we know his house, it’s next to the mosque, it’s near I don’t know what” – the Jews know more [about us] than we do. We went on walking, she and me, and she pushed the carriage with my things – she didn’t let me push anything. We kept walking until we reached a gate, I looked, I didn’t know anyone. There were three young men standing together.  I looked at them, and said to them, “I’m Abdullah”. They said, “Yes”. She kept standing until I reached them, and handed me over. They came and took me, and we kept on walking. I had told them from Denmark about my visit that I’m coming at such-and-such an hour, so when I arrived I found them waiting for me. They took me up to the village.

Q: Was Tarshiha still the same?

A: Yes, it’s still the same, and more beautiful.

Q: Do Jews live there?

A: Yes it has Jews and Arabs. There’s a center for the Jews. Arabs don’t enter it. And there’s a center for the mayor. He is from Tarshiha, Arab, and his name is Ibrahim Shaker al-Hawari. His father married my cousin, so he recognized me, and it was “Ahlan! Ahlan Abdallah!”

Q: Haven’t they made settlements there?

A: Yes, they made a settlement. You can say that Tarshiha is like a circle. The Jews came and made a settlement up on the mountain, and they called it Ma’louq, and they lived in it with their weapons. If the Arabs wanted to fight them, the Jews will deal with them.  The Jewish army wouldn’t need to come and fight them because those close to them would fight them. That’s what the Jews did, they know how to deal with the Arabs. When you enter Israel they ask you where are you going to and where are you coming from. No one talks to you because they know everything about you. Once I spent 45 days there. We were coming from an evening in Zeeb. There are lots of Jewish coffee shops in Zeeb, it’s all girls there, you don’t see men, only girls. You don’t see men in the restaurants because men are taken for the army.

Q: Al-Zeeb?

A: Al-Zeeb is near Nahariya. We used to go to Nahariya. There were Jews in Nahariya, they gave us clothes. We used to go swimming, and they brought us home.  They did everything.  But I went there on a visit, I went to Tel Aviv, Yafa, and Haifa – we didn’t leave a place unvisited. We’d go to spend the evening at Jewish cafes, I and my cousins. We’d stay there until late at night, until eleven or twelve o’clock.

Q: How did you go from Denmark to Palestine? Do you have a foreign passport?

A: Danish. I spent seventeen years in Denmark, so I have a foreign nationality. I can go anywhere I want. I went to Germany and Sweden.

Q: Did you take hajji with you?

A: No.

Q: Did they give you residence there [Denmark]?

A: No, I’d go straight to Palestine.  They don’t limit your stay. They ask you how long do you want to stay, and they give you a visa, and he [uncle] sends it to me. I take it. I go and get the paper from the Jews who are down there [at the airport], and go straight to Israel.  No one asked me “Where are you going?” When I was at the airport I asked where the Jewish center was.  They told me it’s that room. I went and found a girl standing. She said to me “Ahlan, ahlan! Where do you want to go?”  I told her Tarshiha, but she said that the Jews don’t call it Tarshiha. There’s no one foxier than them. She told me that there’s only Ma’louq Tarshiha.  I said to her, “That’s it, they changed its name”. She said “Just a question — when you packed that bag did anyone pack it with you?”  I told her “No, no, no, no, no”. So she didn’t search my luggage. She said, “I don’t want to search it”. She put it and told me the plane would take off in about a quarter of an hour. “I will come beside you”. Then she brought me coffee, and stayed, and when the plane was about to leave she took me to it.[4]

 Q: Why did you leave Tarshiha?

A: I told you, they sold our country.

Q: What happened? With whom did you leave?

A: The whole village. Airplanes were raiding.  It wasn’t only the Jews’ fault,  it was our fault too.  Before they bombed Tarshiha they distributed leaflets.  “Oh brothers, oh families of Tarshiha, we are neighbours” (we were indeed neighbours, we used to plant tobacco, together, them and us).”Don’t leave!  No one will say anything to you, we will go together”. But the leaders didn’t listen, they left the village, so the people were afraid. Life is precious. Everyone left — those who stayed were about twenty people. No one [Jews] said a single word  to them. The ones who stayed started a new life. It took two or three years before they gave them identity cards and passports.  I went back [to Palestine] before they gave them identity cards. I came and said to them [family in Lebanon] do you want to leave [go back]? I asked my wife if she wanted to return.  She said no.  I sent a message to Abu Hashem, our elder, asking him if he wanted to [return]. He said, “No, we don’t want to go”. I asked her [his wife] “Will you go with me?” She said no. So I said, why go? What would I do there alone?

Q: You were married?

A: Yes, I got married in Palestine.

Q: Did you have children in Palestine?

A: Yes, a boy was born but he died young.

Q: May God have mercy on him.

A: She didn’t want to return with me, and I said why return alone?  If they had accepted I would be in Palestine now.

Q: You came from Aleppo to Bourj?

A: I didn’t go to Aleppo.  All of Tarshiha who are here were in Aleppo, and before they did the statistics [ie. censused the refugees], everyone who had relatives sent to them saying come to Lebanon because life in Lebanon is better than in Syria. A lot of people came, more than left, that’s what happened to us. There were gatherings of people here and they made us the  camp. The first tent that was set up in Bourj al-Barajneh was for Tarshiha people, for beit Mustafa and beit al-Qadi. The mukhtar of Bourj al-Barajneh town, Abu Ahmad Sab’a, loved the Palestinians very much so he gave them land.  One day, one of us died, so we took him to Radouf [cemetery] to bury him. But they forbade us. We said, “Why are Palestinians forbidden?” [They said] “We will bury this one you have brought, but not anyone else”. After they finished the burial, Abu Ahmad came and said, “Come brothers. Let’s sit. We buried this one here but another time we don’t want to bring a Palestinian here”. He said, “Follow me”. So we followed him to a sandy area near Ayn Sikki.  He said, “See this piece of land?” We saw how much it was, a big area. He said, “All this is yours, make it your cemetery”.  He sent his father to Mohammad ‘Ammar, who was a notable there, and told him, “Build me a wall six bricks high and build it now”.[5]

Q: When you came here what work did you do to earn a living?

A: Any work the Palestinians did they were good at it, everything, and they earned their pay. I ended up working for a man from the Sab’a family who had a bakery. He gave me the job. My sister’s husband did the job during the day and I did it at night. Another worker used to come and take the work from me in the morning. I worked in this for three years, then I found work with al-Mulouk who owned a cake and juice shop — he had many kinds of juices. I stayed selling at the stand; I worked there for twelve years. Then I bought a car and worked with it [ie. as a taxi driver].

Q: Were you driving a taxi or a truck?

A:  I had a Mercedes taxi. They didn’t ask you anything. And if there was opposition, if someone from the army or the police stopped you, it was known that you could bribe any police you want with a gift of five pounds, if he wanted to fine you.  Once I had an argument with a real Nimrod, a Christian – he’s dead now, God have mercy on him. He said, “I want your papers”. I said, “They’re not with me”. He said, “The car’s papers”. I said, “They’re not with me”. He said, “Your identity card”. I said, “It’s not with me”. He said, “Come, let’s understand each other”. I said, “How? What’s the problem?” He said, “Why don’t you want to carry the papers?” I said, “I have them but if I give them to you and you write me a fine of five pounds” – that was the price in those days – “how will you benefit?” He said, “It’s my job”. I said “I will give you and host you better” [ie. than the government]. “I will give you things. It’s between you and me, no one will know.  Just show me your house”. The next day I went to his house and took him a bag of things. And from that time we became the best of friends. He’d get angry if I didn’t visit him every day.  Then he said, “If you only visit me to give me something, don’t come”. We stayed friends, him and me. We enjoyed ourselves. We used to drink arak in those days — we were young men. I was around twenty years old.


[1] It isn’t clear what Abu Hashem is referring to here.

[2]  This is a story we have never heard before. Even though blame of the pre-1948 national leadership is common, it is usually for disunity rather than betrayal.

[3] Abu Hashem goes back here to his story about the rich man, Aziz al-Khayat.

[4]  Though this anecdote resembles the earlier one Abu Hashem told about visiting Tarshiha, it’s clear that this one took place in the airport before leaving Denmark, whereas the first described his arrival in Tel Aviv on a different trip. The parallels between the two stories – the Arabic-speaking girl who questions him, and accompanies him to the airport perimeter/place – underlines Israel’s security precautions. 

[5] When they first arrived in Lebanon, Palestinians — as ‘foreigners’ — had no land allocated to them for cemeteries. Abu Ahmad Sab’a’s generosity to them is thus especially praiseworthy. Radouf and Ayn Sikki are both areas bordering Bourj al-Barajneh municipality.

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