Palestinian women speak on suffering, displacement, and solutions
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Sitting in the north of what is now called Israel, on the Mediterranean Sea, Haifa is a tragically beautiful city. Cascading hills and a picture-perfect coast are juxtaposed with its history of violence and dispossession.
Haifa was once a thriving Palestinian city. In 1945, the Palestinian population of Haifa was over 85 thousand. On April 21, 1948, the Carmeli brigade of the Haganah (the Zionist armed forces) began their attack on Haifa, under what they called the Misbarayim, or scissors, plan. The strategy was to attack the Palestinian residents of Haifa from three sides, leaving only one side open for people to flee. Today, there are only 25 500 Palestinian residents of Haifa, MAKING UP JUST 10% of the city's population.
An abandoned Palestinian home just opposite Haifa's beach.
Under Israeli law, Palestinians who were forced to flee their properties, such as this one, are not allowed to return
Israel often tries to promote an image of Haifa as a city of coexistence – a place where Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis live tolerantly side by side. However, many Palestinian residents of the city, those who survived the 1948 war and managed to stay, tell a different story than the Israeli narrative.
A billboard announcing 'coexistance walks' in downtown Haifa
These are the stories of three Palestinian women living in Haifa today. Each leads different lives, and is involved in different projects, yet they are united by historical bonds of displacement, suffering, and resistance.
Makbula Nassar is a social worker and a photographer for the website www.palestineremembered.com. She began taking photos of the historic Palestinian areas of Haifa after meeting other Palestinian women refugees in Cyprus, some of them who were expelled from Haifa themselves. They had a yearning to see photos of their hometown, one they can only dream about now, and so Makbula began taking photos almost as a service to these women. She is now in contact with Palestinian refugees throughout the world. In Makbula's words, "We need to exist before we can co-exist… and people from Haifa have been struggling all the time to stay and keep living here"
Rauda Morcos is the general coordinator of Aswat, a Palestinian lesbian organization based in Haifa. Here Rauda speaks about the work of Aswat, meaning "voices" in Arabic, and about the resistance of Palestinian lesbians through trying to forge a new language around queer identities. She also discusses the multi-level oppression and discrimination that Palestinian lesbians face within Israeli society. "The loss of land for me means the loss of who I am as a lesbian," Rauda says. "I am not allowed to have my own country, and I'm not allowed to have my own identity."
Rauda Morcos, the General Coordinator of Aswat, a Palestinian lesbian organization in Haifa
Hilani Shahadi is a school teacher who is completing a Masters degree at the Tel Aviv University. As a Palestinian working within the Israeli education system, she discusses the complexities and the difficulties of trying to introduce a Palestinian side of history into the curriculum. All Palestinian students in Israeli schools must write an essay about the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust, yet Hilani has faced resistance from within her school for trying to also teach about the Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon, or the Palestinian Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic). Talking about the thousands of Israeli flags now hung around Haifa for the 60-year anniversary of Israel, she says, "What that flag stands for doesn't include me."
Haifa residents gather on the roof of Beit al Najadah, a significant house in the Halissa neighborhood where the Palestinian resistance fell to the Haganah, April 1948
All three of them reflect on the hardships that Palestinians still face in Haifa, and also on the 60-year anniversary of the Nakba.
[Words, photos, and audio by Aaron Lakoff. Aaron Lakoff is an independent journalist from Montreal, Canada. He is currently volunteering with the International Middle East Media Center (www.imemc.org) in Beit Sahour, Palestine.]