The epic story of a 97-year-old Palestinian freedom fighter

أخر تحديث : jeudi 7 juin 2018 - 6:11
The epic story of a 97-year-old Palestinian freedom fighter

Born in 1921, Abu Nihad remembers the toughest battles against Zionist militias after the British left Palestine

Sur Baher, occupied East Jerusalem – In the village he defended from Zionist militias 70 years ago, Muhammad Mahmoud Jadallah is celebrated as a blessing

Born in 1921, the 97-year-old, known as Abu Nihad, witnessed the unfolding of what has been dubbed by some as the world’s most intractable conflict

He is one of the few Palestinian men who fought against Zionist gangs in 1948 and is alive today to tell the tale

Sitting on a sofa in his humble home in Sur Baher, a town on the southeastern edges of Jerusalem, Abu Nihad recounts his memories with impressive detail

He takes pride in his recall, pausing in between sentences to say: See how well I remember

Photographs from his time as a « freedom fighter » – as he describes himself – and of his father who was part of the resistance against British occupation, line his living room walls

In the corner, a well-organised cabinet is filled with nearly a hundred years of photos, letters and documents bearing witness to his eventful past

Palestinians attacked from two fronts

Abu Nihad was born at a critical time in Palestine’s history; three years after Britain occupied the country with a declared goal of creating a Jewish state there

Zionist immigration from Europe to Palestine, facilitated by the British, was increasing dramatically, displacing tens of thousands of Palestinians from their lands

There was a lot of injustice against the Palestinians, he says

The Palestinians were being attacked from two fronts; on the one hand the Jews were taking our lands, and on the other, the British were occupying us

As a young man, he worked in hospitality, becoming head waiter in some of the most prestigious hotels in Jerusalem

At one point, Abu Nihad became the supervisor of the British officers’ club at the largest British military base in Sarafand in the heart of historic Palestine

I oversaw the serving of the meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – for the officers

History will record that you lost Palestine

By 1944, tensions were particularly high. The British tried on several occasions to curtail Zionist immigration, leading Jewish armed groups to launch large-scale attacks on British authorities

They [Zionists] attacked the ones who fostered them and brought them to Palestine in the first place. Many of them had served and worked with the British army particularly in World War II

Many women also used to undergo what they called ATS at the time – Auxiliary Territorial Service, he says, referring to the women’s branch of the British army carrying out non-combat duties

In the years leading up to 1948, two different forces were forming to fight against Zionist forces

While the Arab League was scouting for volunteers from Arab countries to fight, a local and well-respected leader, Abd al-Qader al-Husseini, was building his own irregular Palestinian force, al-Jihad al-Muqadas

Counting on the Arab League to provide his group with weapons, al-Husseini selected hundreds of young Palestinians to attend military training in Syria, including Abu Nihad

We left Jerusalem on a bus based on orders from the Arab Higher Committee, Abu Nihad says, referring to the main Palestinian political organ prior to 1948

From the town of Safad near the Syrian border, the men were led by Palestinian nationalist Subhi al-Khadra, who was known for his large citrus fruit groves on the Jordan River

When we got to the groves, there were Syrian officers on the other side of the river. They stretched a rope across to us, and we used it to cross the river, says the former fighter, his eyes lighting up as he remembers the excitement of preparing to defend his homeland

Abu Nihad is proudest of his role in successfully defending his village of Sur Baher . Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera

The men were taken to the Qatana military base near Damascus

« We trained for three months. We’d go out and march up hills, practise using guns, throw grenades, all kinds of things

Every Thursday we would go to the baths, put on some formal clothes, and head to Damascus. We’d spend the night in the city, and return to the base the next morning to continue training

But by the time the group returned to Palestine, the Arab League had refused to supply them with weapons, claiming it didn’t have the arms. In fact, it simply didn’t have faith in al-Husseini’s guerrilla movement

Al-Husseini, who was in Damascus asking for help, stormed out of a meeting with the Arab League shouting: You’re all traitors, and history will record that you lost Palestine

Abd al-Qader al-Husseini returned to Palestine heartbroken, says Abu Nihad

Nakba and the 1948 war

While the Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestine had started immediately after the United Nations recommended the partition plan in November 1947, the Arab-Israeli war began on May 15, 1948, shortly after Israel declared statehood and the British ended their mandate

When the war broke out, not one British soldier emerged from Sarafand armed. Zionist militias took complete control of the base, taking all the weapons

Palestinian refugees in the Galilee in 1948, five weeks prior to the creation of Israel . Reuters

This gave the Jews an upper hand in the war against us. We made do with whatever we could. We had nothing. There were some weapons they [Palestinians] took from the British army – some people traded their belongings for weapons

When the UN recommended the partition of Palestine into « Arab » and « Jewish » states, the first phase of the Nakba was unleashed

Although law and order was meant to be guaranteed under the British administration until their mandate ended on May 15, 1948, Zionist groups attacked and expelled some 440,000 Palestinians from 220 villages, before the British pulled out

This well-planned, unexpected offensive was the Zionist forces’ key to success

By March 1948, there were around 50,000 Zionist fighters against some 2,500 Palestinian fighters who were bolstered slightly by the arrival of 4,000 Arab volunteers who came to help liberate Palestine

While Zionist forces had acquired armoured vehicles, tanks, aircraft and advanced artillery, Palestinians made do with small numbers of light arms and mortars

The fall of West Jerusalem

Abu Nihad trained for three months at the Qatana military base near Damascus in preparation for the 1948 war. Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera

On April 9, Zionist forces committed one of the worst massacres in Deir Yassin, executing about 110 civilians and raping several women

The events of that day terrified Palestinians, and families fled the violence seeking a safe haven

They annihilated the entire village. The news spread over Palestine, and, immediately after that, many packed their bags and began leaving – which is what the Jews intended to happen

His village, Sur Baher, was near five Jewish colonies and therefore a strategic location for the remaining Palestinian forces; it was attacked at the end of May that year

We had to defend the whole area of southern Jerusalem, Abu Nihad says

There were about 100 fighters alongside him, including men from Egypt

We patrolled the area on a 24-hour basis and formed a strong defensive position

Every night, before the soldiers went to the front lines, our commander would give us a code word to be used for safe passage

He always chose a word that starts with the letter ‘haa’ (in Arabic) – like ‘hilou (nice)’, ‘haleeb’ (milk), ‘halawa’ sweets

I asked him why he did that, he said: ‘because the Jews are immigrants, not one of them can pronounce the letter haa

Even though Abu Nihad had helped protect his village, the larger Zionist military operation that had begun in April 1948 proved to be the start of many losses

When asked whether he foresaw the outcome of the war, Abu Nihad says it was inevitable

The Palestinian people were defenceless. Compared to the Jews, we had no weapons. We received very little help

I had no doubt in my mind that we were going to be defeated

By Zena Tahhan

Follow Zena Tahhan on Twitter: @zenatahhan


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