Israel at 50, Other voices

28 Apr 1998 From: Issa Sarras <issa@alquds.net>

The Washington Post April 26, 1998 Outlook Section

CATASTROPHE: By: Sam Husseini,

(Sam Husseini is former media director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.)

Last time I was in the Mideast, I visited Tiberias in the Galilee where my father lived in 1948, and he put some flesh on events that he had only hinted at for years.

We went to a lawyer's office in Nazareth and he showed us the land records in which my grandfather's name, "Yousef Habib Husseini" in English, had been crossed out as the owner. In its place, in Hebrew, was the new owner: "Israeli Authority of Construction." My father's claim to ownership, though fully documented, has been denied by Israeli authorities since they regard him as an "absentee," and thus not a legitimate inheritor. Never mind that he was made an absentee at the point of a gun. This, even as the World Jewish Restitution Organization is recovering Jewish-owned property in Europe.

After Tiberias fell to Israeli forces 50 years ago this month, my dad and his younger brother moved on to a small village, Eilaboun, where they had relatives. Today, some of my extended family still live there. They are technically Israeli citizens, but since they are not Jewish, are distinctly third class citizens. They and other Christians and Muslims cannot buy or lease the land that the Israelis confiscated from my family. It is controlled by quasi-governmental organizations such as the Jewish National Fund.

As we walked around, Dad recalled the day, Oct. 30, 1948, as the Arab irregulars were withdrawing and most everyone from the village crowded into the town church. The bombing from the Israeli forces came closer and closer until finally a loud voice said, "He who wants to live, let him come out." They rushed outside with hands held high. The Israeli soldiers occasionally shot at those coming out of the church, killing some, wounding others. Most of the villagers were forced to walk to the Lebanese border; 14 men were brought back to Eilaboun and shot in the town square by the soldiers.

Eventually, my relatives in Eliaboun were fortunate. They were able to go back. There are still hundreds of thousands of Palestinians languishing in refugee camps in southern Lebanon. The Israelis destroyed their villages in 1948.