Members of the Farhat family in Ramallah in the 1920s. There are an estimated 5,000 Ramallahans living on the First Coast now.
Left is Yasmin Cadoura who sheltered the refugees who flooded Ramallah in the aftermath of the Zionists' ethnic cleansing.
Re: Still longing for their homeland
Posted on: 7/13/08 - 03:47 a.m.
Thank you for this excellent story about how Palestinians have persevered in wake of their tragedy. I am hopeful that one day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' Article 13, Section 2, which states that every one may leave his country and return to his country will be implemented so that peace will prevail in the Holy Land.
By JEFF BRUMLEY, The Times-Union
Israel and its supporters around the world celebrated the nation's 60th anniversary in May. For them, it is a day of independence, a day of joy. But for many Palestinians, especially those who lost loved ones and property to Israel when the new nation was born, it is called the "Day of Nakba" - the day of catastrophe. -------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------
"It was sad day," said 85-year-old Yusuf Farhat, a Palestinian Christian who lives in Jacksonville.
Not that the months leading up to it were great.
Social unrest and Arab-Israeli violence were prevalent throughout the British-controlled Palestine before the declaration. And an all-out war followed when neighboring Arab nations invaded, seeking to destroy Israel [blogger's note: Arab armies entered Palestine after the Zionists' forces had already ethnically cleansed half of what would amount to a total of 750,000 refugees].
Farhat and other Jacksonville residents who were there recall that day, that summer and their continuing anger and hope in the six decades that have followed.
Fathallah Johar got word of Israel's independence through the grapevine in his small village in northern Palestine.
Johar, now 81, said the news hit the small farming community hard.
The country turned chaotic on that day," Johar said in Arabic translated by his son, Monzer Jawhar. Both are Muslims who live in Jacksonville.
But the worst came in early July 1948 when Jordanian soldiers - part of an invasion by Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel - told his family and neighbors to leave for nearby Lebanon.
"The Arab forces said, 'Lock your houses, you'll be back in a week or two,' " Johar said in Arabic translated by his son, Monzer Jawhar. "That week in Lebanon turned into years."
The Arab armies didn't succeed in that war, which ended with an armistice in 1949.
The United Nations said there were an estimated 914,000 Palestinian refugees in 1950 as a result of Arab-Israeli fighting.
It says that number has increased to 4.4 million as a result of population growth.
"We lost our land; we lost our identity," Johar said.
Johar and his family came to the United States after years in a refugee camp, but his mind returns often to his family's 6,000-square-foot home and 500-acre farm where they grew olives, wheat and tomatoes.
"He'd love to go there and die," his son added.
Asked how he can discuss such things with apparent dispassion, Johar pointed to tears previously obscured by the glare on his glasses.
"I'm crying," he said. "Yelling and screaming just doesn't help."
For Yasmin Cadoura, 86, there are some happy memories wrapped inside the desperate ones.
The pre-independence trickle of refugees into her hometown of Ramallah turned into a flood once Israel declared statehood.
Her home was a Palestinian city located just north of Jerusalem in the West Bank territory that Israel later absorbed in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The house was one of the largest in the city located near its outskirts, so it became a de facto refugee settlement during the summer of 1948 for fellow Palestinians who had lost everything.
sad as those days and months were, Cadoura said, they also gave her the opportunity to help those in need.
Married and raising eight daughters at the time, she said she eventually found herself tending about 500 refugees living on her land, where the drama of life and death played out almost on a daily basis.
There was the frail, elderly Muslim woman, desperate and heartbroken, who died on Cadoura's property.
Cadoura, a Christian, provided a room so the woman's family could prepare the body according to Islamic tradition.
Then there was the pregnant refugee who gave birth to twin girls in one of Cadoura's bedrooms.
And there were hundreds more to whom she and her family provided medicine, food and shelter.
Cadoura said she also takes comfort in the fact that Ramallahns living in the United States are a close-knit group.
She and thousands more attended the 2008 convention of the American Federation of Ramallah Palestine, July 2-6 in Detroit.
About 30,000 Ramallah natives live in the United States, including about 5,000 in the Jacksonville region.
But none of that erases the bad memories, she added. "I am still angry at the Israelis."
Like Johar, Sam Farhat seems remarkably calm when speaking about the property his family lost.
It's with measured, quiet words that he describes the Jewish-vs.-Arab violence he witnessed as a 6-year-old in the months before and after Israel's declaration.
"To me it was very traumatic, the bodies and the blood," he said.
Painful, too, are his recollections of the lush 336-acre orange grove and second home the family owned - and lost to Israel - near Netania, north of Tel Aviv.
"We still have the title but we can't go back," he said of his father, Yusuf Farhat, and other family members, also natives of Ramallah.
Sam Farhat, 66, has spent his decades in the United States working for Palestinian causes. He was president of the national Ramallah federation during the 1990s and the Jacksonville chapter in 1976.
Through the organization, he helps raise money for parks, health care and scholarships in Ramallah.
Farhat said he's taking a wait-and-see view of the cease fire that began in June between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But he's ever hopeful that Palestinians will have their own nation beside Israel.
All of that - and not a therapist or hitting a punching bag - help Farhat temper the emotions that have come at the 60th anniversary of the Day of Nakba, he said.
"This is our punching bag: to reconcile the differences between the Arabs and the Israelis," Farhat said. "You can't continue dwelling on what you lost."