Nimer Mohammad Ayoub (Sha’b)

Q: What’s your name hajj?

A: Nimer Mohammad Ayoub, from Sha’b, in the province of ‘Akka.

Q: How did you make a living Palestine? Did you depend on agriculture or industry?

A: We were farmers, we depended on agriculture. We used to plant wheat, barley and lentils in winter. In summer we planted sesame, watermelon and white corn. Sesame was the commonest crop in our village — we used to plant it in summer. Also the olive season was very good; there were more than a million olive branches. There were many deep wells in our village. And we had bb buckets tied to horses or mules, long ropes tied to a wheel, and the mule or horse would circle around with a long wooden beam, and as the horse went around it would raise a bucket of water. We used to call them buckets [hamala]. And we had wells on the coast as well where we pulled the water with a rope which was about 30 meters long with a bucket [tied] to it that held two tins of water. This was on the west of the village, that’s how we were able water the plants in our village, with a bucket tied to a rope.

They used to grow figs in an area called Ya’neen, it was famous for figs and prickly pears [sobeir]. The fellahin would go there in summer, those who had fig trees, and set up tents there, and put a ladder, and go up there to sleep during the summer time – [they were] like tree houses. This was on the west of the village. Around the village there were figs and prickly pears. Most people grew these crops, and there were grapes as well, a lot of land with grape vines. They sold their produce to Haifa.

Q: What did you sell to nearby villages?

A: Whatever we had. We used to sell olive oil and hanta, anyone who had extra.

Q: How did you transport it?

A: On camels, small cars, mules and donkeys.  They left the sesame until the end of summer, August, until the sesame turned yellow. They kept it so it won’t open, because if it opens it rots.

Q: What were the sesame plants like? Were they trees or plants?

A: They were small shrubs. Each shrub had four branches and each branch had more branches. Each branch had two levels with millions of sesame seeds on top of each other. They would leave them to dry, because they should stay inside the leaves. Later they clean them from the leaves. Their price was like the euro today, they were costly.

Q: Was there industry?

A: No, there was no industry in our village nor in other villages because people weren’t advanced in industry. There were industries in the cities.

Q: What did they manufacture?

A: Wallahi I don’t know, I never went to the city. I was about your age, 17 years old, in 1948.

Q: If there was something you lacked, where did you get it from?

A: We had shops in the village, and the shop owners used to go to ‘Akka and buy what people needed. Clothes used to be sewn by hand, the fellahin used to make their clothes by hand. Few people had a sewing machine. There was a man called Mahmoud Abdel-Karim, we went to him. His wife sewed us sharwals and qunabeez. The people would go to buy a piece of silk, she designed it as an abaya but open, and from the same colour they would make pockets and a thin sash, and a jacket, hatta and argal, and an embroidered hat. They used to sew with it long pockets, as in the time when the British and the Turks ruled.

Q: Did the British oppress you? Did you pay taxes?

A: Yes, they had to pay taxes on land.

Q: Yearly or monthly?

A: Yearly. They had to pay every year. Every year the government official came, a Palestinian, and they paid him.

Q: Were there taxes on trade?

A: Wallahi, I don’t know. We didn’t have trade [in the village]. I don’t know if they took taxes on goods that moved by land and sea. We were farmers.

Q: Did the city people buy from you?

A: Yes, from the sesame mill — halawi and oil. The most profitable thing we grew was the sesame.

Q: Were there people from other villages working in your village?

A: Yes, people from South Lebanon used to work copper and that sort of thing.  Also they made shoes. People from Berja [Lebanon] used to come with them, they brought material. And they made clothes for women and men.They used to sell the fabric by meter or by measuring with the arm.

Q: Were there banks?

A; Yes, in the cities. There was the Arab Bank. But we didn’t deal with them.

Q: When you came to Lebanon, what work did you do?

A: As for us, our families were resisting in Sha’b and in al-Birweh, which was on the edge of the land of our village. The Jews occupied ‘Akka and the areas surrounding it, like Kafr Yassin, Jdaydo, al-Kabri, Kwaykat, al-Mazra’a and al-Bassa — all these villages were near the coast. The Jews reached al-Birweh and occupied it. Our village is to the east of al-Birweh, the coast stretches from our village to the west of al-Birweh. Our village was in a valley between two mountains, surrounded by many olive trees. The coastal area was full of olive trees. If you walked around two kilometers west of our village, it was all full of olive trees. The coastal area to the west of al-Birweh was planted with grains. So the Jews occupied al-Birweh after they occupied ‘Akka. This was in 1948, during the wheat harvest season in May or June, it was summer time, and al-Birweh’s harvest was harvested; the Jews came and occupied it. And they occupied the hills above it, and controlled the area, and sniped at the harvesters. Our village had weapons, around 200 rifles. We had employees in the British army. There were official employees and auxiliaries. The government gave every official employee a pension of 200 Palestinian pounds and a rifle to defend himself. And to the auxiliaries they gave an indemnity, without a rifle. An official policeman had a higher rank, so the auxiliary only got an indemnity. I remember that there was a man in our village who said, “I don’t want the indemnity”, but he took the rifle and escaped with it. The British didn’t chase him, or charge him, because the British wanted to withdraw from Palestine and to give it to the Jews. Our catastrophe was from Britain. Our catastrophe as Palestinians was from Britain and France. It was Britain that brought the Jews to our land. It was Britain that ruled, and it was Britain that allowed them to build settlements, and to ruin our land. There were some traitors as there are today, who sold some land, but the revolutionaries chased and killed them. There were brokers who sold some land, they killed them, they killed more than one of them.  Britain was the biggest reason, it was they who brought the Jews and made them owners of Palestine, and let them build settlements. Britain protected them, and before Britain withdrew, it gave them arms. They armed and trained them, and divided them into groups. Britain gave them a leader, ‘lords’, those were the people in charge, like the prime minister, to lead the war. The Jewish army was with Britain. They [British] were the ones who led the war and the attacks against the Palestinians. We didn’t have weapons. If a Palestinian wanted to buy a gun for 100 Palestinian pounds, he couldn’t buy bullets. And if he found bullets they would be rotten and useless. A pack of five bullets cost a Palestinian pound, and what money did a fellah have? They lived and ate from what they grew, from honey, wheat, and corn, things they stored — those who had a farm and those who hadn’t.  The farmers didn’t have stores to keep the harvest to sell it later and earn money, so the farmers didn’t have cash. If he wanted to buy a rifle that cost 100 pounds, what money did the fellah have? He didn’t even have five pounds. Few of them — maybe four, five or six — had a little cash. Most lived from day to day. The people were weak, there were no arms to resist, this needs the support of other countries.

Q: What happened after they occupied al-Birweh?

A: The Jews were shooting at random.  The people of the village [Sha’b]informed the villages around us that we want to attack and occupy al-Birweh because the Jews had occupied it. Wallah, they came from Kwaykat, Sakhneen, Mi’ar, Tamra, Nahaf and Deir, and they [the Palestinians] attacked and took back al-Birweh. The force from our village was the largest, around 100 armed men, we attacked al-Birweh and occupied it. A man from al-Birweh went [ie. was killed], from Sakhneen one, from our village two, and one lost his hand. But the Jews lost more than us, fifty or sixty of them were killed. The Jaysh al-Inqadh[1] was in Majdal Kroom up there in the mountain, and then comes a coastal area next to our village between the two mountains. The Jaysh al-Inqadh came and said, “Leave! It’s up to us to protect the village [al-Birweh]”. The problem was that there was an agreement between them [the Salvation Army and the Jews] that traitors in the village would convince the young men not to fight but to withdraw and rest. “We will protect the village, you go and rest”. So the youth and armed men from the villages that were cooperating with us withdrew from the village. But some of them didn’t sleep. The Jaysh al-Inqadh surrendered the village to the Jews. The people of the village returned the next day to see it, and found out that it was occupied by the Jews.

There were a few who had built a room or a house [elsewhere]. A man had left his house, so we brought my uncles, and stayed in his house. The house was large, it was all arches. Even if fifty men slept in it, it would be big enough. When the village was occupied, everyone escaped, some came to Lebanon; others stayed. The Jews arrived at our village and occupied Mi’ar. The road from ‘Akka to Sakhneen was tarred. The inhabitants of the village [Sakhnin] put up barricades to close the road to the Jews. But the Jews had bulldozers, they removed the barricades and reached Mi’ar and controlled it. Once Mi’ar fell they controlled Sha’b. The people of Sha’b fled, we couldn’t do anything, we were controlled, they were above us. Some people escaped to the valleys. It was summer time.

The Jews came to our village, there was no one there, there were control points above us. Some young men said we should occupy the village again. It was noon. I was jumping among them, without any weapons. I was young, 16 years old, still a boy. Some of the revolutionaries stopped the Jews by throwing grenades at them, and other times with machine gun fire. Look, my dear, two or three men, Abu Anas and his father, and two with them, crept up under their check points to attack them. One of them took the mouth of the gun from a Jewish fighter, and another jumped on him and shot the Jews. We occupied all the check points and killed some of the Jewish officers. We lost two martyrs, and two were wounded. We attacked Mi’ar and were almost taking it back but our ammunition finished. We needed ammunition and we managed to get it. There were still 150 armed men. They sent a man to bring ammunition. He went at night. As he was returning, he was cold and sleepy and that’s how it fell from him. The ammunition fell because the load was very heavy and the mule couldn’t carry it all. The man tried to pick it up and put it on the mule’s back but he couldn’t because it was too heavy. We went to look for the ammunition before sunrise, and I was one of the group that went to look for it. They found some of the ammunition by sunrise. They said, “Who will go up and tell the fighters that there is no ammunition?” so I said, “I will go”. There was someone called Sa’eed al-Saleh,the brother of Ali al-Saleh.  I said to him that I would go. It was still night. I went up and informed them.  There was a leader of the fighters, a pilot called Abu al-‘Abed, God have mercy on him. He said “Good news?” We told him, “Wallah, there’s no ammunition”. How could they defend themselves and resist without ammunition? The men withdrew, and the Jaysh al-Inqadh in Mi’ar didn’t fire a single shot.  How could we defend ourselves and how could we resist now? Abu al- Abed ordered the rebels to withdraw. The Jaysh al-Inqadh in Mia’ar didn’t even shoot one bullet. If they had opened fire and us as well, we could have kicked the Jews out of al-Birweh.

Q: Who were the Jaysh al-Inqadh?

A: They were from the Arab state armies: Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians. Mixed — but the Palestinians were a minority, most were a mixture of Syrians, Egyptians and Jordanians. When the country collapsed, they said that east of Tabaria was in the hands of the Jews. The Jaysh al-Inqadh told the fighters to withdraw because the country had fallen; and they told the families of Sha’b to leave. The people of Sha’b left walking while they, the Army, stayed in the house of the Faours. The Army rode in cars, they had cars, the village fighters left with their weapons. The older people stayed, like my mother,  my father, my uncle and their wives. From the village’s inhabitants there is the Faour family, they stayed too. When we left the village we stayed in the valleys and people went to villages; whoever had an empty house let people stay in it, either for rent or free. People were helping each other. The people of our village went to Sakhneen, Nahaf, Majdel Kroum, and some to Deir. When the Jews occupied the country, many stayed in the villages, but the majority moved to Lebanon. They were few who stayed in the villages near us. I don’t know what the Jews did to them, or to the grapes. It was winter. 

The old people came later, my father, my mother, my uncle. The Jews collected them and put them in open trucks and took them to an area called Asouba in Jenin province, on the border of Marj Ibn Amr. The youngest of them was 80 years old, twelve of the old men and one woman died because they put them in the open, so they died from cold. My mother survived. A woman who was our relative, from South Lebanon, carried her husband on her back, her body was strong. But he died in Jenin, so she went back alone to Majdel Kroum. She had a girl and a boy who were young, twelve and thirteen years old. She asked for them, and the Jews let her take them.

So all our disaster came from Britain, because they helped the Jews with weapons, funding, and everything. It was Britain that made them owners of Palestine. They made the Jewish migrants come by sea in boats, and brought them to houses prepared for them. Most of the settlements were built by British companies. It was the British who were protecting the Jews in our lands.


[1] The Jaysh al-Inqadh, the Arab Liberation Army, was composed of volunteers from several Arab countries, led by a Lebanese officer, Fawzi al-Qawukji. It was universally blamed by Palestinians for ineffectiveness and betrayal.


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