In 1948, in the war surrounding the independence of Israel, thousands of Palestinians were forced from homes and villages, often following the murder of family members. Descendants of those who sought refuge in the West Bank and in nearby countries still live in the 19 refugee camps of the West Bank or in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. One such camp in Jenin, in the north of the West Bank, houses more than 16,000 in three square kilometres. After years of attacks by the Israeli army, most notoriously in the second intifada when much of the camp was razed to the ground, life is a little calmer now. There have been no incursions for six weeks.Jawad’s home has been carefully rebuilt (though more recent raids have left bullet holes in curtains and walls) and now a further floor is being built to accommodate his son and future wife. A further floor will be constructed for his second son. With the extra floors, the view from the roof is wonderful and Jawad can now see across the plain to the city of Haifa. He can also see his village in the Carmel area where his family house is now occupied by a Jewish family. He has family members living near by and, when he can get a permit, he visits them and sees the house where his family lived before his birth.
Meanwhile in Nazareth the descendants of the village of Saffuriyya look across the valley to the hillside where their village stood until the bombing raid in 1948 forced them to flee. Almost all traces of the village have been destroyed, apart from the Crusader tower, reconstructed in the Ottoman era, which served as the village school. The villagers fled some, like poet Taha Muhammed Ali, to Lebanon before returning to join others who had established a refugee camp on the hillside in Nazareth. They still live on that hillside, as close as possible to their old home. They are forbidden to enter the hillside, planted with fast growing non native conifers instead of their former trees: apricots, almonds and olives. Close by, a Jewish moshav has been named Tzippori and some of the homes and gardens feature stones from Saffuriyya.
There are over 400 destroyed villages across Israel. Israelis call them ‘abandoned’. The former villagers are known as ‘present absentees’. The first picture shows the view from just above Jawad’s home. The second shows what remains of the cemetery of Saffuriya. The turf is the surviving ruined church and the final picture is the shrine established in memory of Taha Muhammed Ali by his brothers.