Palestinians visited their former village of Hiteen on Monday as they prepare to mark the ‘Nakba’, or ‘catastrophe’, of Israel’s founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of people fled or were forced to leave their homes.
All that now remains of the destroyed village in northern Israel are a mosque, a cemetery and an olive press.
Villager Samia Houran, who was 11 years old when her family fled, said she remembers living in her old home.
“Here is the mosque. There was a pool here where kids used to play and people used it. Here there was the school, the Sheikh Mohammed’s house is there. My house was up there, next to the wells, and we used to go down to our land. My father has 100 dunums (25 acres) of land planted with olives,” the 76-year-old said.
The mother of 11 children said the villagers fled towards Syria, Lebanon and other Arab towns in the British Mandate of Palestine.
“A man ran after the soldier and asked us, where are you going? I said we are going to bake. He fired the first bullet, people ran. We didn’t run. The second bullet was shot into the dough which my sister was carrying. So we ran away, we ran away towards the olives, we found my parents and my brothers. My father said that people ran away, so we walked until we arrived at the pool in Ailaboon,” Houran said.
As a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship, also referred to as an ‘Israeli Arab’, Houran now lives in the town of Araba, where many other Hiteen residents fled to in 1948.
Mahmoud Rabah was eight years old when his family fled there. He remembers attending the school in Hiteen, as well as other significant features of the village.
“Around 90 percent of people who died before 1948 were buried in this cemetery.
This is the mosque, and here is the cemetery, it was near the village. From the cemetery westwards, there were no houses. But from the mosque towards the east, there were houses. Villagers of Hiteen used to be buried here. Each family has a part of the cemetery,” the 73-year-old said.
Hiteen is now within the internationally-recognised boundaries of the state of Israel.
Kfar Hiteem, an Israeli village, is located on some of the former land of Hiteen.
The village was mostly destroyed in 1967, when Israel captured Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
Villagers still gather in their former hometown to spend time with relatives and hear stories of life in before 1948.
Seventy-nine-year-old Fahmi Rabah, the son of the Mukhtar (the tribal elder) of Hiteen, left the village when he was 14.
He remembers helping his father at his olive press and working at the family’s shop.
“Here used to be the olive press which we owned. There were two smaller olive presses next to it,” Rabah recalled.
‘Nakba’, Arabic for ‘catastrophe’, is observed on May 15.
It commemorates some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in the war that led to the founding of Israel in 1948.