“I am from al-Rubba al-Baida’ the white cliff where the Almighty will set up His throne on the day of judgment.” With these words that cannot be matched with any other statement of pride, my father described his village Um al-Zeinat.
I heard these words in my childhood. They have been engraved in my heart, mind, and soul since then. It's true that when I heard them coming from my father’s mouth, I thought that they were close to blasphemy. This is what I thought then. My father exaggerated the description of his town to the point where he made it sound like paradise.
When I grew up and visited the ruins of town along with my father in 1971, I was amazed with the beautiful and charming landscape. I knew then that my father was right! Um al-Zeinat is paradise itself. It has a proud towering mountain (Mount Carmel)! It has forests and woods. It has springs and water cisterns. It has wide open plains without the smallest stones. It also has uncultivated land, vineyards and olive groves.
The village sat like a fortress on the slopes of the great Mount Carmel. It overlooked the Mediterranean on the one side, and the plains of Marj Ibn Amer (Jezreel Valley) on the other. The land of Sahel al-Rawha lies flat and wide like the palm of your hand. It yields an abundance of wheat, corn and legumes in addition to the olives that grow on its hillside and the fruits that every soul desires from figs, pomegranates and cactus fruit. Um al-Zeinat was 17 kilometers to the southeast of the majestic city of Haifa. To the west of it are the village of Ijzem and the forests of Carmel. To the north is the Druz village of al-Dalia and the forests of the Carmel. To the east lays Wadi al-Mileh and Marj Ibn Amer. To the south of Um al-Zeinat lays al-Rehania and the plains of al-Rawha.
Um al-Zeinat was a simple and quiet village. The population in 1948 was less than 1,750 persons. Its inhabitants were true peasants who loved land as much as their children. They never gave up a single foot of their property. They never sold a grain of soil to usurpers or agents. It was peaceful, but fortified at the same time, so it won the nickname given to it by the great Palestinian rebel Abu Durra. He called it a safe haven, and it really was a safe haven for many of those that rebelled against the British mandate or resisted the Zionist intruders. The British occupiers were not able to arrest any of the rebels in Um al-Zeinat, despite the fact that it was known as a stronghold for the resistance, a fact that was confirmed during the famous battle of Um al-Daraj.
I entered it for the first time in the company of my father, who introduced me to every one of its landmarks, its water cisterns like Bir al-Haramis, Bir al-Natif and Bir Shamhoris and its fresh water springs like Ein al-Bweida, Ein al-Safsafa, Ein al-Shmeilat, Ein al-Shqaq, the spring of al-Aliqa and the valley of Abu Nimer. He showed me around its ancient remains to prove its authenticity and its deeply profound roots in history. He showed me the Nawamees caves and the al-Ma’laq cave. He insisted that I should set my foot on every piece of land that he knew the local name for so well like he knew our names. He took me to Jorat al-Bir, al-Bteihi, al-Haj Hassan, Khallet al-Haj, Baqqar, al-Musrara, Wadi al-Melh, Jurmasha, al-Mathba’a, Thra’ Nijm, Khallet al-Teena, Wa’arat al-Zaitoon, al-Mall, Khallet al-Zarad, al-Maqshoor, Umm al-Qdoor, Abu al-Wawiyat, and Um al-Sahali.
He introduced me to the location of the western threshing floor and the eastern one where weddings and celebrations took place. He showed me the location of the mosque, the school, and the two cemeteries including the old one where my great grandfather Mohammad al-Hamad was buried. He showed me the location of every house, he pointed out to me the location of our old home (Dar Subeh). He said: “This was the location of the Bisher’s house, this is al-Marah neigbourhood where the Fahamneh family had lived.” He pointed out Abu Khalil’s house, Hassan’s house, Sheikh Yousef's house, Hardan’s house, the Khatib’s house, Salama’s house, and Abu Tarboosh, the Bayaries and he did not forget the house of Abu Hanna the only Christian who lived in the village. He was a shoe repairman, the tailor, the doctor and a storekeeper.
My father loved Um al-Zeinat. He was fond of its gardens and its people. I have never seen in my life anybody love anything in that way. He loved it to the point where while he was walking among its ruins he could recognize the houses that were totally erased by Jews in the 1970s. He identified them by the surrounding olive trees, the fig trees, the pomegranates and the cactus that are still there today, living and growing in the same place despite the attempt of the occupiers to erase everything that is Arab from the village. He stood by every house to remember, sigh and then say this is the house of … and then mentioned every thing about that person's wife, his children and their whereabouts. Despite his old age, my father was never tired of roaming around town. He spent hours and hours wandering on its old roads. He was looking for something he might have forgotten when he left town for the last time.
When it was time to return, my father got in the car heavily and slowly. I think he wanted to tell us to leave him in his town. He wanted to tell us: “Go back to your camp without me.” As for us, the second generation of refugees, we were so attached to our original home, we kept on organizing groups to make a pilgrimage every year, especially on the anniversary of the Nakba (15 May), a day that means a lot to us. On that day Zionists made us leave our homes, property, and livelihood by force. Since then we have been displaced and scattered. Since then we carry the name 'refugees' and have numbers on the United Nations records.
One day I asked my father: “Why did you leave your village? Why didn’t you defend it?” He replied with agony in his heart. “We did everything we could, we resisted with all the means available to us, our weapons were very humble and very little. We had no training in comparison to the Jews who were well-trained and owned modern English guns but we didn't leave our homes till after the Haganah forces had killed many of our people and blew up a number of our houses.”
The tales of refuge kept ringing in our ears and still do today. Out of loyalty to the truth we pass down this tradition to our children. Stories to remember and to pass down to the generations. My father, Abu Atef, died in 1986 - God’s mercy on his soul - the memories of Um al-Zeinat and the people of Um al-Zeinat were his favorites tales. He had asked us to move his remains and the remains of his best friend Daoud al-Khalid to Um al-Zeinat when we liberate it .
May peace be upon you Um al-Zeinat, peace upon your plains, your hills, your fields, your fresh springs. May peace be upon your people who are scattered all over the world but still have the dream of coming back to you, to the land of their forefathers some day, despite of the long time and the long distance.
Khaled Mansour is a member of the political office of the Palestinian People's Party (PPP). He is also the director of Agricultural Relief in the Nablus district and a member of "Sanaoud" Committee for the Defense of the Right of Return in Nablus district. Mansour was born in Um al-Zeinat (Haifa district) and resides in al-Faraa refugee camp in the West Bank. This article first appeared in Arabic in Haq al-Awda 10-11 (2005). Translation by Nimr Awaini.