‘A very special city’

Shafiq al Hout was forced to flee Jaffa in 1948.

Shafiq al Hout was forced to leave Jaffa with his family in 1948. After a time as a politicised student at the American Univeristy in Beirut he was for may years the chief representative of the PLO in Lebanon.

Even though he has not seen Jaffa in 60 years he says he still loves the city.

We left Jaffa on the 24th of April, 1948. We took a Greek ship, I remember its name – it was called Dolares.

I and my family and those on that ship were the last who had the chance to use a commercial vessel to leave Jaffa.

The rest had to take small boats in the following days, and so a great deal of them could not make it to safe seashores.

It is not just because it is my hometown, but I found out that Jaffa is a very special city. It is of great strategic value. It is of great history – it has a fantastic location.

Jaffa goes back almost 5,000 years, so to feel that you come from a city that has that long history, makes you feel something really different.

Jaffa has been subject to so many invasions, so many liberations, that it really changed a great deal of its geography and demography.

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If you ask me what I remember of the city from when I was 16, I would say it was a city of oranges, Jaffa oranges.

It was natural for three or four weeks in spring to smell the flowers of oranges in Jaffa. I mean the whole city smells this beautiful scent of flowers, oranges flowers.

It might seem funny that I remember things that one does not dream of remembering, like a place where you can buy falafel or a small barber shop or butcher house or something of that sort, but it is because you were uprooted from the country, chased away from the country.

You remember your home, you keep it in your mind. You lost it in reality but you don’t want to lose it in memory.

‘National experience’

If you now ask me to describe the street I am living in Beirut now, I would get lost after mentioning my next door neighbour probably.

That goes for so many people, I think. It is not an individual experience as much as it is a national experience.

Once you are deprived of your right of self-determination and if you were subject to terror to leave your country, you can’t help but keep these memories in your mind.

I remember the house where I was born and the second house where I was happier because it was bigger and the garden was relatively big.

In that house I found for the first time that as a Palestinian I have a problem.

One of these nights, it must have been 1938, 1939 something like that, 1939 probably, when at dawn time there was a hell of a knock at our door.

My father opened and there were British soldiers. With them was a woman soldier, who was Jewish.

They were checking in our houses for rebels and arms, hidden arms.

My father, my older brothers were taken away from my home to a field where all men of that age were from all the other buildings of that quarter gathered together.

Only women and small kids were left in the houses as the British troops were searching for so-called hidden arms or hidden rebels.

Family tragedy

I was a small kid, listening. Jews, Zionism, colonialism, national home for the Israelis on the account of the Palestinians. Things, terms that I did not comprehend completely. 

Jaffa was once a strategically important
city in the Middle East [GALLO/GETTY]

At that time I started to feel that I am not safe and that there is a danger outside who might intrude anytime into my security and my life and started to ask questions.

A brother of mine was my first tutor, the first person in my life who taught me what it means to have a homeland and how to protect your homeland and that one doesn’t live for oneself only but should live for one’s country and for one’s people.

He was a leading figure in the resistance movement in Jaffa.

Some people started to leave Jaffa and he was angry, my brother, with the leadership at the time, that people should resist and not leave the city.

He was going with others to negotiate the issue of fleeing from the city and how to stop people from being panicked and running away.

Some snipers shot him. Two of his friends were wounded but they managed to live. That was on April 10th I think of 1948

I remember that in 1948, which was our last year in high school, I was attending my high school examination – official examination – called matriculation at that time.

As I was attending my exam in Arabic language, I watched from the window the funeral of my brother which was really a very dramatic moment and the chief inspector of education at that time who was watching the exam was my uncle.

I finished my exam, I don’t know how, and jumped in to join the funeral and then days later, 15 days later, we had to leave Jaffa which I never visited again.

‘Beautiful image’

I still insist I will not visit Jaffa as a tourist. I would not. I would not destroy the beautiful image I have about Jaffa as a free city.

I refused all the attempts of my friends to come and visit after the Oslo agreement which I resisted – protested against.

I refused to go there and I have promised ever since that I will devote whatever I can for the liberation of my hometown and my homeland.

I felt sad, I felt depressed because not the whole family left at that time.

My two older brothers remain in Jaffa, only my parents, myself and my sister and my smaller brother left – those who were theoretically unable to join the armed movement.

We thought it was going to be a matter of weeks. Imagine, my father insisted on renting furnished apartments for us for three years in Beirut.

Every time for two months, then another two months, then another two months, because he never thought that it was going to be a one-way trip.

He thought that he was going back. What was the reason in buying new furniture and a new life?

It was not the mistake of the ordinary Palestinian. It was the mistake of the leadership, of those who were in charge, directing the fight, the information, the publicity.

No organised army

I probably see things in a more sophisticated way now because I have gone through experiences later on in my life which are, by far, more dangerous and horrible than what I have watched in Jaffa.

Jaffa was known for
its oranges [GALLO/GETTY]

But nevertheless what we have witnessed, not only in Jaffa as a matter of fact. April 1948 was a hell of a month.

We did not have what you may consider an organised power, force. It was volunteers.

They [the Jews] really had an organised army. The Haganah (Jewish paramilitaries) was an organised army. The leadership was highly qualified, while our leaders were volunteers who had never had any experience in military affairs or even political affairs. It was just a self-defence mechanism. An instinctive one.

With such an army, you cannot really fight. We were not aware of all these things at that time.

We left Jaffa. People left Haifa, left Acre, left that city with the hope that the Arab armies were on the way to liberate Palestine and to restore it back to its people.

I think the greatest asset for our resistance movement is the presence of the Palestinian Arabs in the so-called proper Israel because it proves, first, that Palestine was there before Israel, and the Palestinians were there before the Israelis, and at least they would never give Israel a chance of becoming a pure Jewish state.

Palestinians have decided to fight back and to struggle till they see that their country has been liberated and their rights have been restored.

By this, we are doing nothing that is a violation of human rights or international law or anything. On the contrary, all the United Nations resolutions that are relevant to the question of Palestine give the Palestinians the right to return to Palestine.

I have the right, under UN Resolution 194, to go back to my apartment in Faisal Street in Jaffa and I am determined not to give up that right.

I’m not surprised by what they are doing in Jaffa now and in other cities – demolishing all the houses, not allowing them to repair them.

Because all these buildings are nothing but witnesses against the creation of Israel, against the annexation of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, against considering it a city without a people.

Jaffa as well as every city and every village, is there in the heart of every Palestinian, even those, and particularly those who have never seen their country and have heard about it from their fathers and grandfathers.

Watch Part 1 of Palestine Street – The Lost Bride
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