In an article published in the Palestinian daily Al-Quds on the occasion of Nakba Day (May 15, 2015), Fatah Central Committee member and former PA chief negotiator Nabil Sha'ath described a visit he made to Jaffa, the city of his childhood. Sha'ath toured the city and visited places he remembers from his childhood, including his family home, his school and the school at which his father taught. In the article he stressed the vividness of his memories of the city, and the connection he feels to all the Palestinian cities, both those in the Palestinian territories and those in Israel. He said that the city of his childhood will remain in his heart and his mind until the Palestinians achieve their independence and realize their right to return to their homes. He also said that the Palestinians have proposed to the Israelis two solutions for achieving peace: a single democratic state for both peoples, or two independent states with the Palestinians having the right to return to the towns and villages from which we were removed - but the Israelis refused.
A correspondent for the London daily Al-Hayat who accompanied Sha'ath on his visit later wrote in the daily that "what worries Sha'ath more than anything today is the efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to 'steal' Palestine's history, after he has already stolen its present. [Sha'ath] said: 'They want to steal the Palestine of today and the Palestine of yesterday. They want to steal our heritage, by means of what they call the Jewish state.'"
The following are excerpts from Nabil Sha'ath's article:
Nabil Sha'ath (Image: Alwatanvoice.com)
"On Nakba Day I traveled to Jaffa to commemorate the Nakba and emphasize the right of return.
"My beloved city of Jaffa fell on May 13, 1948. We left it before it fell and departed for Alexandria, and I was able to return to it only in 1994, when it was under Israeli sovereignty. [In 1948] some of its residents made for Alexandria in small boats and many of them drowned on the way. My father used to wait for the emigrants every day on [Alexandria's] beach, to save them, help them and house them.
"Thus we became refugees, and Jaffa remains in my thoughts, my dreams and my heart. It is not gone from me and I did not forget it in my childhood and youth. It was the image [that appeared] when I closed my eyes and remembered Palestine.
"The first school I attended in Jaffa was Tabeetha elementary, run by Scottish Catholic nuns. [During my visit] I had my picture taken at this school, where I spent two lovely years. We walked around the Clock Tower Square and then went over to Al-Nuzha Street, where the Alhambra cinema still stands, though it is no longer a cinema. Here Umm Kulthum sang, and here [I saw actors] Youssef Wahbi and 'Aziza Amir, and other famous Egyptian artists. It was at Alhambra cinema that I fell under the spell of the movie Rabiha and its heroes Coca and Badr Lama. [The latter] was Palestinian film star from Bethlehem whose parents emigrated to Chile. He studied cinema there with his brothers and they returned to Egypt to establish its film industry. Alhambra was the most beautiful movie theater that I ever saw.
"Back then Jaffa had two daily papers, Filasteen and Al-Difa', and it had publishing houses, the most important of which was Al-'Asriya. There was a robust civil society and national unity among Muslims and Christians. Jaffa was a city that had room for every foreigner, and was nicknamed "the city of foreigners".
"I walked over to Al-'Amiriya school, which I left in third grade. My father was its principal and my teacher there was Mr. Muhammad Heykal, and it was there I met my childhood pals Nael Hashem, Ahmad Al-'Omari, and Jamal Jaber. Next to the school was Dr. Al-Dajani's hospital, where my brother Nadim was treated with Penicillin for the first time in Palestine... The school and the hospital still stand but are surrounded by Israeli structures.
"Later on, I went to our house. Unfortunately, it is crumbling, and the 'drug rehabilitation center' that used to be there has been relocated. It was once a nice house with a wide garden. [I lived there] with my parents, my dear sisters Meison and Nuha, and my brother Nadim was born there. My grandmother, Umm Rushdi, was the 'blessing' of that house. I have never been allowed to enter my house and see my [old] room.
"A Jewish woman stopped us on Al-Nuzha street and shouted: 'The Jews unfortunately stole your city and looted your homes during and after the Nakba. This is your city and these are your homes. How ashamed I am to be Jewish and that we robbed you.' We went on walking the streets of Jaffa. Our house in the Al-Manshiyya neighborhood no longer exists, since [the Jews] stole the entire neighborhood and annexed it to Tel Aviv. They handed the port over to art dealers. The rest of the city remains as I remember it as an 8-year-old child. The scent of Jasmine that was typical of Jaffa, and which [always] reminds me of it, is gone. I remember how much the scent of Jasmine in Nicosia, Cyprus, during my first visit there, reminded me of Jaffa.
"At the end of our visit we headed for the spectacular beach in Jaffa's Al-'Ajami [neighborhood] and the Palestinian Arab fish restaurants there. One [person there] asked me: 'Do you [now] feel foreign in your city?' I said: 'Absolutely not. I feel that I am in my city and that I never left it. My right to return here has not been lost. Safed, the city of my birth, is my city; Gaza, the city of my father and his family, is my city; Jaffa is my city, and glorious Jerusalem is my city. Nablus, my wife's city, as well as Hebron, Acre, Bethlehem, Beersheba and Nazareth - they are all my cities.
"Our cause is just, and we have sincerely proposed [to Israel] two humane solutions to achieve a homeland and peace: Either one democratic state for both of us, or two neighboring, sovereign, independent states living in peace and security, with [us enjoying] the right of return to the towns and villages from which we were removed. But they refused.
"This people will adhere to its struggle, its hope, its creativity and its steadfastness, until it actualizes the freedom and independence of its land and the return of its people. Jaffa will remain in heart and in mind."