ISSA DABIT: MY STORY
I was born in Yaffa in 1938 and we moved to Lyd when I was 5 years old. Times were good for us before the occupation began. We were happy and I can even recall the sweet scent of orange and lemon trees on my way to school. I loved being in school.
While in class when I was 10 years old, I remember hearing about the massacre of Deir Yassin. It was April 9, 1948, and the news reported that the even women, children, and the elderly were killed. One of my cousins told my family to come to their house to hide in Ramleh because it was further away from where the attacks were occurring. So we went. We were joined by waves of refugees coming to find shelter.
As the army got closer, we needed a place to hide. The local priest, Father Julio, told everyone they could stay at the convent. We thought it would be safe there as we didn’t think a church or convent would be attacked. There were about 15,000 people hiding in the convent and throughout the grounds. It was very crowded.
Then the day came when Ramleh was invaded. The Zionist forces arrested, killed, or transferred most of the people. A military official told the priest to turn over all males from age 15 to 45. They were ordered to go outside to obtain IDs. When asked why IDs were needed, the soldiers said they were for work. Then, the soldiers took all the men away.
I remember screaming the names of my brothers and uncle in a panic with my mother. Someone helped us find them in the graveyard, where the soldiers had left them. The next day, they took all the men from graveyard in buses, claiming that they were now prisoners because they were militants. They left them in different areas and surrounded them with fences.
When the soldiers kicked us out of the convent, we were not allowed to go back to our houses. They made us go to a nearby area and we were forced to live in abandoned houses. The next day, we saw that the military had surrounded us with a fence. Until now, I live in this area and it’s still referred to as “The Ghetto.”
For several months, many people lived together in large groups in effort to feel safer. At times, there were up to 50 kids in one house. During the first week, we had no way of getting food or water so we went from house to house and if there was no one living there, we went in to see if there was anything left behind. One day while searching, I entered a house and smelled a terrible odor. What I saw next traumatized me. I found a body of a little boy still in his bed. It was horrifying. I used to have nightmares and flashbacks and until now, at 76, I still see his body when I walk by that house.
In order to leave to get food or water, we had to get permission from the soldiers. On one of the days we had permission, we went back to our house and found that the military had broken in and destroyed all of our things, shot bullets through all of our hanging photographs, and burned our library. My father used to collect books and he hid our photos inside many of them. It was so devastating that I remember weeping. Photos were rare then and I don’t have any photos of family or myself before that time.
When I tried to go outside to play with other kids, they would fire their guns at us and tell us to go inside. The soldiers would often scream “Yallah Al Abdullah!” which means “go to Jordan” – Abdullah was the King of Jordan then.
Soldiers robbed people of their money and jewelry. In one case, a woman was trying to protect her necklace by covering it with her hands and a soldier tried to rip her hands away. She wouldn’t let him so he shot her right there in front of her sister and took her jewelry. I’ll never forget the screams. Her sister never recovered.
They shot my friend, Zacharia, who didn’t understand when they told him to stop walking. They just shot him and threw his body in the convent.