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A Family Twice Expelled

الكاتب  Arjan El-Fassed

Walid and Arjan El Fassed – Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

On 11 november 1963 an old airplane landed on Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. On board the plane that arrived from Amman were 65 young Palestinians from Nablus. The young men were contracted by Romi, a Dutch company specialised in refining vegetable oils. Most of the men were working at The Jordan Vegetable Oil Industries in Nablus. With the help of Dutch experts the company made a restart and in order to educate the young workers, they would work in the Netherlands for two years and then go back to Palestine. The Netherlands was experiencing a shortage of workers at the time.

 Two years later, in a letter to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking permission to extend their work permits, the CEO of Romi said that the company would go bankrupt if the Palestinians would not be allowed to stay for another two years. In 1965 their contract was extended for another two years until November 1967.

Three months after the 1967 War, Israel conducted a census in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Only Palestinians registered in the census were considered by the Israeli authorities to be legal residents of the occupied territory. My father, born in Wadi Al-Joz in Jerusalem, was one of the 60,000 West Bank Palestinians who were abroad at the time of the War and so were not included in the census.

Um Naji, my grandmother from my mother’s side, is from Ramleh. Um Naji and her family had to leave Ramleh in July 1948. It is cool on the veranda of the family home in Nablus where she told me this story, and the view is breathtaking. They had to leave everything. Of the seventeen thousand Palestinians that lived in Ramleh at that time, only four hundred managed to stay. Just before the 1948 War, one-fifth of the total urban population lived in Ramleh and A-Lydd. ‘It is the area where we landed. Ben Gurion airport is built on top’.

On July 12, Yitzhak Rabin, later a Prime Minister of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, gave the order that the people of Lydda had to be driven in the direction of Beit Nabala. He issued a similar order for Ramleh. The city had been earlier hit in a bomb attack on a vegetable market in February 1948. Two days after the order, armed forces entered the city. My grandmother told me that they went from door to door, arresting people and plundering the town. They had to leave. They walked for hours. Refugees were harassed by soldiers. They had to leave their belongings. Properties were stolen and people were chased off their land. Some died on their way out. Um Naji’s family first went to Jerusalem and left Jerusalem in 1949 to Jordan and Syria. Only her and her eldest son stayed in Jerusalem.

“I was in the Netherlands when the Israeli army invaded Nablus in June 1967,” says my father. “I was worried about my parents and my sisters. I tried to find out about their well-being through the Red Cross.” In the Netherlands there was no lack of support for Israel. At the office where my mother used to work, employees were collecting donations for Israel. In various places in the Netherlands rallies were organized to express Dutch support for Israel during the war.

“To avoid discussions on the conflict,IusedtosaythatIwas from Jordan” admitted my father. “Also at the factory in Vlaardingen we didn’t discuss politics with our fellow workers. I tried to follow the news on an old radio.”

On the first day of the 1967 War, my father’s oldest sister was in labor with her first born. She was in a hospital in Jerusalem. Her mother, her husband and his mother were present. On Monday morning, June 5, 1967, at half past five, her daughter was born. One hour later, while Israeli jets were bombing the Egyptian airstrips, they left the hospital. Outside, sirens could be heard. My uncle drove his Volkswagen Beattle as fast as he could to Ramallah, where they spent the rest of the day and night in the basement of their home. On the second day of the War they drove to Nablus. They spent the night with my aunt, who had just given birth to her third child. She was hiding with her children in a safe room. The shops were closed and a number of people were killed in Nablus due to various bombardments. A number of people had fled the city. They followed the route the Jordanian army took when it withdrew. Also a number of refugees that had arrived in Nablus in 1948 left the city to Jordan. Some of them were killed on the road.

The next day, June 7, the day the Israeli army invaded Nablus, my aunt, her husband and their baby left the city with my grandmother, back to Ramallah. The war was still going on. There was shooting and no one knew where it was safe. On their way to Ramallah they discovered that the road was closed. Ramallah was being hit. My uncle tried to drive back to Nablus but they didn’t manage to enter the town. The Israeli army had closed all roads towards the city. They decided to make their way to the Jordan Valley and just after Israeli jets bombed the bridge over the Jordan river they managed to cross it. Through Salt they arrived in Amman where they were safe. They spent two weeks with one of the brothers of my grandmother, who had lived in Amman after his family fled Jerusalem in 1949. My grandmother wanted to return to Nablus. It was dangerous but not impossible. Together with a group of other refugees they crossed the river by foot. Shots were fired from the other side. My uncle, his wife and their baby crossed the river back to Palestinea couple of days later and drove in the direction of Tubas. They first went to Nablus and later to Ramallah. Since then my family has stayed in Palestine. Other family members live scattered across the region in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. A year after the war, my father was granted Dutch citizenship. Since that time he has only been able to visit his hometown Nablus as a tourist, only allowed to stay there, if he is lucky, for three months, the length of a visitor’s visa.

Arjan El-Fassed

Arjan El-Fassed

Arjan El Fassed is cofounder of The Electronic Intifada and the author of the ‘Niet iedereen kan stenen gooien’ [Not just everyone is good at throwing stones: A Dutch Palestinian in search of his roots and identity] (Uitgeverij Nieuwland, 2008).