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Sacred Landscape The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948

Read Chapter 5

5 ñ Uprooted and Planted

One day in July 1949, members of the Abu al-Hija family living in shacks on al-Wastani hill on the Carmel ridge noticed a group of people wending their way up the steep path from the Haifa-Tel Aviv Highway and disappearing into the empty, abandoned houses of their village, Ein Hawd. The Abu al-Hija family had been uprooted about a year before, along with the rest of the village's 700 inhabitants, following its occupation by the Israeli army. In contrast to most of their neighbors and relatives, who migrated (or were expelled) across the border, the family's dozen or so members had remained within sight of their land. The head of the family, Muhammad Mahmoud Abu al-Hija, spent some time in an Israeli prisoner-of-war camp along with scores of men from nearby villages. This tall, strong, dignified man bore on his broad shoulders the glorious tradition of his ancient family and of its revered ancestor, Emir Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija, a high-ranking officer in the army of the fabled Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin). Emir Abu al-Hija, whose title was Isfahslar (Generalissimo), was commander of the Kurdish force that took part in (fellow Kurd) Salah al-Din's conquest (1187-93) of the Crusader kingdom.


Hussam al-Din was extremely stout, whence his nickname, "Hussam the Fat." It is said that his obesity was so phenomenal that when he rode, his belly would brush the horse's back. When he served as governor of the Irbil District in Iraq, potters from Mosul designed an especially wide eating bowl in his honor, to match his ample dimensions. Bowls of this design were henceforth known in the pottery trade as "Abulhejas." The emir was renowned for his bravery, which earned him the additional nickname "Abu al-Hija" ("the Daring"). Hussam al-Din commanded the garrison of Acre at the time of the Crusader siege of that city (August 1189 to July 1192), subsequent to its capture by the Muslims in July 1187. In the last stages of the siege, Abu al-Hija's forces engaged in combat with those of Richard the Lionhearted, king of England, and King Philip II of France, winning universal admiration. Salah al-Din's biographer, Beha al-Din (1145-1234) writes of Abu al-Hija: "Hussam was distinguished both for his munificence and [his] valor; he was of high rank amongst his own people (the Kurds), and the plans he formed bore witness to the stoutness of his heart." Following the reconquest of Acre by the Crusaders, Emir Hussam continued to command the Kurdish force in battles with the army of Richard the Lionhearted. In July 1192, as the Crusaders were threatening to retake Jerusalem, Sultan Salah al-Din convened a council of war at which his commanders were asked for their recommendations on how to defend the city: whether to prepare themselves for a siege or to launch a battle. Hussam al-Din went to the consultation, although he was barely able to move because of his weight "and was obliged to sit in a chair in the Sultan's tent." Despite his huge girth, he was as daring as ever. He opposed the army's hiding behind the city's walls, saying, "It would be better to risk a pitched battle rather than to shut ourselves up in the city." In the end the need for this decision did not arise, since Richard was forced to forgo his plan to attack Jerusalem. However, Salah al-Din, fearing that Hussam would prefer to remain in the field with his forces rather than repeat his experience of the siege of Acre, ordered him to leave a member of his family in command of the Kurdish force in Jerusalem: "For the Kurds will not obey the Turks, and the Turks in like manner will never obey the Kurds."

Shortly after these events, once the danger to the Holy City had passed, Hussam al-Din returned to Iraq, but several members of his family remained in the country under orders from the sultan and settled on spacious tracts of land that they had been granted in the Carmel region, in the Lower, Eastern, and Western Galilee, and in the Hebron Highlands. One of these land grants became the village of Ein Hawd. Other villages inhabited by families claiming kinship with Hussam Abu al-Hija included Hadatha and Sirin in the Lower Galilee and Ruweis and Kawkab in the Western Galilee. Although they profess to be blood relations of Emir Hussam, these villagers' claims are based solely on tradition. Hussam al-Din apparently died in Iraq and was buried there, but because of his part in liberating the Holy Land from the infidels, family members who stayed in the country designated as his burial place the village of Kawkab al-Hija in the hills of the Western Galilee, where several of his descendants, too, are buried.

Ein Hawd

The al-Hija tradition is deeply rooted in the village of Ein Hawd. One of the village elders recounts how the land on which it is situated was granted to the emir: "When Salah al-Din requested that Abu al-Hija designate the boundaries of the village, the emir took his walking stick and threw it. The stick landed on the rocks near the coast at "Atlit and left a clearly visible mark on one of them. That mark exists to this day." Ancient letters carved into the sandstone, still visible in the area that served as a quarry providing stone for the construction of the Crusader castle in "Atlit, have been the source of many a legend.

Ein Hawd was famous for its healthful air and the healing qualities of the many springs in the vicinity. Especially renowned was a small spring that flowed from a boulder, of which it was said that if someone afflicted with sores poured its water on his body, he would be healed. On the hillsides grew carob trees from which honey of outstanding flavor and aroma was produced. The farmers of Ein Hawd—a village with landholdings of approximately 12,000 dunams—raised field crops, sesame, and olives. During the 1948 War the village's inhabitants took part in armed attacks against Jewish vehicles on the Haifa-Tel Aviv Highway and, along with other villagers from the area, at first held out against the Israeli army; but in July of 1948 they fled the village, apparently without a battle. The villagers scattered, some finding their way to refugee camps in the West Bank and Transjordan. The other al-Hija villages in the north of Israel were captured and destroyed. A number of the refugees from these villages succeeded in remaining inside the country and gathered at the village of Tamra, near the venerated (supposed) grave of Emir Hussam al-Din in Kawkab.

Although the dozen remaining members of the Abu al-Hija family who stayed close to Ein Hawd received Israeli citizenship, they remained "absentees" according to the law, since they had left their homes (even if less than one mile away). Nor was their possession of the hill where they had found refuge recognized by the authorities. However, efforts to dispossess them by legal means, or to make their lives difficult in hopes that they would leave, did not succeed, and the number of inhabitants of the small village grew steadily.

Pioneers "On a Different Level"

The group of people who climbed up to the abandoned village that July day in 1949 had no idea of the history of the place to which they had been sent to make their home; it is not known whether they had any notion that the people whose houses they were taking over were so close by. The group was made up of new immigrants who had arrived a few months previously from Tunisia and Algeria and had been recruited by the Moshav Movement to establish a moshav in Ein Hawd. This was one of the first three groups of immigrants from North Africa to be recruited for agricultural settlement (the second group, new immigrants from Morocco, settled nearby, in a place at first called North "Atlit and later, Megadim; the third was directed to the abandoned village of Rantiyya, near Lod, the former Lydda). The leaders of the Moshav Movement were unsure whether the "immigrants from the Orient"—that is, non-Ashkenazis—were suitable "human material" for cooperative agricultural settlements. After all, they and the overwhelming majority of older moshavim were Ashkenazis who had come from Europe. In their estimation, the immigrants from North Africa and the Arab world were, "from an anthropological standpoint and from the point of view of historical development, on a fundamentally different level than are the immigrants from countries in Europe, from among whom the first twenty organized groups that had founded new cooperative settlements since July 1948 were recruited."

This appraisal was delicate in comparison to some of the harsh pronouncements that could be heard at the time regarding the caliber of the immigrants from North Africa. Tom Segev quotes some of these in 1949: The first Israelis: "The primitiveness of these people is unsurpassable. They have almost no education at all, and what is worse is their inability to comprehend anything intellectual. As a rule, they are only slightly more advanced than the Arabs, Negroes and Berbers in their countries. It is certainly an even lower level than that of the former Palestinian Arabs," wrote a respected Israeli journalist. The immigrants from Algeria received only slightly higher marks than those from Morocco.

The Moshav Movement leadership thought that the North Africans "require[d] different treatment, a different approach," and in fact assigned instructors to the Ein Hawd settlement group to give them social guidance because of the "difference in [its] human composition, family structure, lifestyle, and outlook on life." The group received the same financial grants as the other immigrants who settled in abandoned villages: after the houses worth refurbishing were designated, each settler family received a sum of money for repairs to their new home as well as for starting up a small farm, plus two cows and a plot of land for raising crops.

The original group of seventy families had grown to ninety-two by October 1949. They were quite satisfied with Ein Hawd (which by that time had obtained the Hebrew name Ein Hod), but the Moshav Movement decided that the abandoned village was not a suitable site on which to establish a permanent settlement: "The shape of the Arab village is not at all suitable for the form of settlement toward which we have been striving. . . . not that it was a mistake; on the contrary, it served as an impetus and a lure for the immigrants [to] escape from the crowded immigrant camps, which lacked either privacy or any sort of conveniences." "However," wrote Moshav Movement leader Yitzhak Koren, "as long as these people were sitting in the abandoned village, they would not be able to develop their farms or [build their] community." In his opinion only the established settlement model—of scattered dwellings, each adjoining a twenty-five- to thirty-dunam plot of land—"the very foundation of Jewish settlement in the country"—could suit. Therefore a new moshav was built for the Ein Hod group—called Tsrufah (a mutilation of the name of the abandoned Arab village of Sarafand)—on the plain between Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea, six kilometers south of Ein Hod. The new, permanent settlement was built adjacent to a Turkish immigrant moshav, which had also been established in 1949, on the land of the abandoned Arab village of Jab"a.

Superstitions and Rational Fears

Ein Hod, then, was deserted yet again, a year and a half after its Arab inhabitants had been forced to abandon it. Its houses, partially repaired, again fell into a state of neglect, and some of the walls collapsed. The members of the Abu al-Hija family who watched what was going on did not understand why the Jews were abandoning their homes. Because they could not comprehend how people could despise these houses—for which they themselves longed—they imagined possible explanations. One villager told the writer David Grossman:

They put people from the Oriental communities in our houses, but they didn't last there. They believe all sorts of superstitions and they used to say that at night they could see eyes watching them from the hills, or that rocks fell on them from the sky, or all sorts of ghosts, or that the earth was crying out to them, or that they could see the village people returning to take back their houses. So they weren't able to hold out.
The reabandonment of abandoned Arab villages took place in other locations as well—where new immigrants had been settled and within a short time were withdrawn because the villages were "not suitable for Jewish settlement." Thus, in those places too, the displaced villagers who were still living close by spun similar tales. For example, the Arabs who had been uprooted from the village of Tantura, finding refuge in nearby Furaydis, say that the inhabitants of Moshav Dor abandoned the Arab houses of Tantura because everyone who lived in them was struck by serious illness. They also reported that every time a Jewish bulldozer attempted to destroy the grave of the local saint, Sheikh al-Majrami, its blade broke.

But the beautiful village of Ein Hod was too attractive to remain empty. The authorities were preparing to demolish its houses, as they had done in the neighboring villages of Ein Ghazal and Jaba, but painter and architect Marcel Yanco, who had already conducted a successful campaign against the destruction of the houses of Old Jaffa, hoping to turn it into an artists' colony, took a liking to the picturesque village. He persuaded the authorities to refrain from destroying this architectural gem. In 1953 he succeeded in obtaining the rights to Ein Hod for himself and a group of artists—writers, painters, and sculptors—and with the assistance of the Haifa municipal authority founded an "artists' village" there. The village mosque was converted into a restaurant and bar, and the al-Hija family homes became galleries and summer homes. Sons of displaced villagers worked on the renovations to their fathers' former homes; some even developed close ties with new residents of the village, many of whom held leftist views and participated in demonstrations for peace and coexistence. Meanwhile, the Abu al-Hija family had grown and its hilltop refuge had become a real village. It was not, however, recognized by the authorities, who did not supply them with basic services, prohibited the expansion of the residential area to accommodate natural increase, and refused to build an access road, claiming that improving the physical infrastructure "would spoil the landscape and destroy the forest"—the very forest that had been planted on their fathers' land with the explicit intent of preventing them from cultivating it.

Part of the Ein Hawd cemetery was made into a parking lot, but one has to be thankful that it didn't become the regional garbage dump, as had that of Ein Ghazal. When the al-Hijas asked the artists of the village for permission to fence the remainder of the cemetery, it piqued their fears. These were not the "fears of superstitious members of the Oriental communities" but "rational" concerns: "If you give them a toe-hold here," said one of the artists to writer David Grossman, "you are immediately acknowledging thereby that some sort of—I don't know—injustice took place and turning them into unfortunates who were uprooted from their land. . . . Their having a new hold here would undermine our right to the place and our possession."

Painful confrontations between displaced villagers and settlers, between natives who had become refugees and refugees who had become "natives," were not limited to Ein Hod. In Israel live the displaced residents of some sixty villages, including forty or so where, or beside which, new immigrant moshavim were established. After fifty years of daily contact the wounds are scarred over, but they have not healed. People have learned to live with the pain, and over the years have found many and varied ways of articulating it.

The pain of the displaced villagers is undeniable, but the settlers, too, bear scars that have not healed, owing to their traumatic experiences while being integrated into Israeli society and putting down roots in the country, and their violent encounters with members of the displaced Palestinian population. Approximately 700,000 Arabs abandoned their homes between 1948 and 1951, a period in which a similar number of Jews immigrated to Israel. This "exchange of populations" entailed immense human suffering. There will be those who object to the mention in one breath of the suffering of the defeated and dispossessed, who were uprooted from their homes and homeland—sent to refugee camps with no one taking an interest in their fate—and that of people who found refuge in their sovereign homeland, received land, housing, and monetary assistance, and whose suffering was a result of the temporary travails of absorption. Emphasizing the suffering of the one, however, does not mean that the other's feelings are less real. Nor is the despair of a person cast onto the ruins of an abandoned and desolate mountain village to build a new life less bitter because the heartache of those who were cast out of that village, to find shelter in a cave or in leaky tin-roofed shacks, is greater.

In late 1949 the leaders of a group of immigrants from Yemen, who had been settled in the ruins of the village of Tarbikha (which later was given the Hebrew name Shomera), sent a petition to "the directors of the Moshav Movement in Tel Aviv," headed, "Alas, the Yemenites." It read, in part:

We are in great distress for we lack everything, we have no water to drink, we have no water to wash ourselves. . . . There is nothing, just dry bread. . . . We have [already] been two weeks without money, and the instructors have left the village and gone their own way. . . . Do us a kindness, for G-d's sake, and request other instructors who speak clearly, so we will know what they're saying, and who will come and put the village in order and show us the work and how to work and who we are working for, because we are new in the Land of Israel and don't know anything.
This group of Yemenite immigrants, comprising fifty families, moved in to the houses of the isolated Galilee village in the summer of 1949, less than one year after the approximately 1,000 inhabitants of Tarbikha (and of two small neighboring villages) were evicted by the IDF forces that took over the territory along the Lebanese border. The Tarbikha refugees spent the freezing Galilee winter living in temporary shelters and making unsuccessful attempts to infiltrate back into their village.

Internal Refugees

In the ocean of suffering that was the lot of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs, two groups stand out as exemplifying the painful process of "population exchange" following the 1948 War: the "internal refugees" and the Jews who were settled in those abandoned villages that were turned into immigrant moshavim. These two groups were more or less equal in size: about 30,000 internal refugees and about 30,000 immigrants (in the relevant years, 1948-52). The internal refugees were those displaced Palestinians who left or were evicted from their homes during the war and in its aftermath; they were not permitted to go back but remained within Israel (or returned there) and became citizens. This category of displaced persons came into being because a large proportion of the people who had been uprooted in the wake of the hostilities were not allowed to return to their home villages and were forced to seek refuge in other Arab communities—near or far. They were classified as "absentees" under the Absentee Property Law, which stated that anyone who had left his or her place of residence at any time from the outbreak of hostilities until their end was "absent" as far as the property—which was transferred to the care of the custodian of absentee property—was concerned. But these "absentees" were also "present," in that they were granted Israeli citizenship and supposedly had equal rights under Israeli law. Hence they were referred to by the cynical oxymoron "present absentees."

To the ranks of refugees who had left their homes or had been evicted from them during the war were added those expelled by the Israeli armed forces after the cessation of hostilities. By May 1949 the number of internal refugees stood at 17,000. figures of a like order of magnitude are provided by Charles Kamen, the most reliable source of statistical data on the Arab population in Israel following the 1948 War. Kamen estimates the number of internal refugees at 23,000 by the end of hostilities. United Nations sources place their number at 46,000. The number of internal refugees grew considerably between 1949 and 1952 as a result of "infiltration" from across the armistice lines, "family reunification" allowed by the authorities, and the issuing of entry permits to small groups of refugees. The collection of more up-to-date data raised these estimates even higher. Although some internal refugees were allowed to return to their former places of habitation (especially to Haifa) and thereby supposedly ceased to be refugees, their return did not alter their status as "present absentees." I estimate the number of internal refugees of all categories (those displaced by war, those expelled during and after the war, transborder infiltrators, those permitted to return, and released prisoners of war) who became citizens of Israel but remained "absent" under the law (even if they returned to their communities of origin), as 30,000 to 35,000 souls, or 17 to 20 percent of all Arab residents of the State of Israel in 1951 (who totaled 180,000). There are other estimates, both higher and lower, but no official figure. As Kamen explains:

The lack of attention to the internal refugees is consistent with the general neglect suffered by the Arabs in Israel during the first decade of statehood. An additional reason was probably the unwillingness of official circles in Israel to draw attention to the existence of the internal refugees and their situation by providing means of identifying them. Primarily, Israel was not interested in having UNRWA [The UN Refugee Relief and Works Agency] operate within its borders, and this activity was indeed terminated in July of 1952.
The internal refugees constituted only some 5 percent of the Palestinian refugees, but they originated from some eighty villages, or 20 percent of the total number of abandoned villages; thus they were representative of the scope of the general exodus that had taken place. The number of villages of origin given here is my estimate and is higher than those given by Kamen, who cites data from the northern part of the country only. About sixty of these eighty villages were reduced to ruins, and twenty-two continued to exist (after part of their population had fled). The geographical distribution of the internal refugees' villages of origin give an indication of the nature of the exodus: the vast majority are situated in the country's north, where most of the Arab villages that remained untouched by the war are located. The villagers moved out when the war reached their villages and found refuge in neighboring communities, in many instances with close or distant relatives. When all available accommodations in those villages were full (including the houses of people who had left), the refugees began building temporary structures on the fringes of the built-up area. When the war again reached their doorsteps, their fate was the same as that of the inhabitants of their villages of refuge: when the latter either fled or were forcibly evicted, the internal refugees left with them.

It often happened that refugee families passed through many "stations" before finally finding sanctuary. Mustafa Kabha and Ronit Barzilay describe the difficult journey of one family from a village near Nazareth, who passed through no fewer than thirteen "stations" before finally settling down in a village in the Lower Galilee. Other refugees had better luck, and their villages of sanctuary were not attacked. Nonetheless, they too were prevented from returning to their village of origin—no matter how close by, or from cultivating their land, even if they were living at its edge.

The number of internal refugees whose origins were in the central and southern parts of the country was very small, evidence of the policy of massive expulsion that was, as described previously, carried out in those regions during the war. A few families who had been uprooted from villages in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area took refuge in villages that were later annexed to Israel in the context of the armistice agreement with Jordan, making them "present absentees" in Israel. In fact, the refugees scattered in all directions. Kamen found, for example, that people displaced from Haifa had found sanctuary in no fewer than twenty-six Arab communities, residents of Safuriyya (the historical Sepphoris) in seven villages, and those from Damoun in six.

Classification of the internal refugees according to the factors that precipitated the abandonment of their villages produces the following results: inhabitants of twenty-two villages fled in wartime (sometimes following acts of intimidation by the Israeli army); residents of eighteen villages were victims of preemptive eviction during the war; in the case of fifteen villages, the people were evicted after the war; the inhabitants of seven villages were expelled and transferred to empty abandoned villages. The populations of ten villages escaped being evicted because their expulsion order was not carried out (these last are not included in the enumeration of internal refugees). Some of the villages in the two first categories have been described earlier, in accounts of the hostilities and the general exodus. Here I shall describe the fate of the internal refugees in the remaining categories through examples of some particularly prominent cases.

The majority of the internal refugees who were evicted after the war were but the sparse remnants of communities that had for the most part fled their villages during the hostilities. Exceptions to this rule were those from Bir"im, Iqrit, and Khirbat Jalama (which have already been mentioned), as well as the inhabitants of Faluja and "Iraq al-Manshiyya (who were expelled from the country and are therefore not counted among the internal refugees). Kamen gathered data on internal refugees who originated from forty-four abandoned villages and found that they had constituted 8 percent of their villages' prewar populations. No more than 100 souls from each of these forty-four villages remained inside the country, and in the case of only eleven villages did there remain more than 200 people who had originally come from that village. About twenty of these villages, and others for which Kamen had not obtained data, were evacuated after the end of the war. This was, indeed, the eviction of only a few remaining inhabitants, but the circumstances deserve closer examination.

The reasons that some people had stayed behind rather than join in the exodus of the majority of their community were many and varied. Some were unable to pull up stakes because they were old, sick, or women whose husbands had been taken prisoner and were being held in prisoner-of-war camps and who were caring for small children on their own. Kamen reckoned that the prisoner-of-war camps held thousands of Arab villagers who had been arrested in the course of the conquest of their villages or were "infiltrators." In March 1949, 2,500 prisoners remained in captivity, most of them heads of families, which they rejoined when they were eventually released.


Others remained in their homes because they hadn't panicked but instead had stood firm against Israeli attempts at intimidation. Among these were numbered 400-odd inhabitants of Safuriyya who stayed behind following the flight of some 4,000 villagers soon after the capture of this large village on the night between 15 and 16 July 1948. Safuriyya had gone down in the annals of the Yishuv as a "village of murderers"; that is, it had a long history of armed struggle against the Jewish community and the British. Since 1929 it was the home of the most important rural terrorist cell of "Izz a-Din al-Qassam's Black Hand organization. Its members were involved in the murder of Jewish settlers in the Jezreel Valley, and two of them were caught and hanged. Following the disbanding of the Black Hand in 1935, several of its members continued to take part in acts of violence against Jews, and six Safuriyya men were senior commanders in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. Hence the Jewish community had a long list of bloody accounts to settle with Safuriyya.

In the 1948 War Safuriyya was one of the only villages whose inhabitants had weapons, ammunition, and trained fighting men. According to Nafez Nazal, there were between 135 and 150 fighters in the village, each with a rifle at his disposal, as well as fifteen machine guns and one cannon (owned by the mukhtar). But this local militia by itself was, of course, incapable of standing up to the Israeli army, and the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) did not come to its aid. The village fell after putting up a strong resistance, and its noncombatant inhabitants, who had fled to the orchards and woods even before the commencement of the battle, scattered in all directions. Some went to Lebanon, and some found refuge in surrounding villages or in Nazareth. About 200 souls, among them the families of several