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Palestine Nakba: Letter to descendants of the Moukhtar of Colonia

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It seems appropriate and timely to post this authentic personal memoir of Palestine, written by an actual Palestinian, in order to shed light on the background and reasons for the Palestine Nakba of 1948. Colonia and Castel were two villages that stood on the road to Jerusalem, forming a base for raids into neighboring Jewish villages like Motza and for blocking the road to Jerusalem, beginning at Bab El Wad. The UN Partition Plan for Palestine, General Assembly Resolution 181 could succeed only if there was good will and good faith on both sides, since Arab villages and towns were interespersed with Jewish ones on both sides of the lines drawn by the UN. However, the Arabs of Palestine quickly organized blockades of virtually every road in Palestine. This meant that it would be impossible for the Jewish State or any of its inhabitants to survive as long as the Arab villagers and the Arab irregular troops dominated the roads. Initially with the complicity of the imperialist British Mandatory government, and later with the help of the British officered Jordan Legion, Jerusalem was under a real siege, in which no medicine, no food and no fuel were allowed into the city, unlike the fake "siege" of Gaza touted by rights groups today.

Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian moderate, recounted in his book,  Once Upon a Country, how his father and Abdul Qader Husseini, nephew of the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini tried to get weapons to fight at Qastel. They were not fighting to save the village of Qastel, long since abandoned by its inhabitants and displaced by Arab irregular forces, including ex Bosnian SS. They were fighting to starve out 100,000 Jews who lived in Jerusalem and environs.

The 1948 war was preceded by decades of Arab violence and bad faith, such as the incident related below, from the period of the riots and massacres of 1929. Except in the philosophic sense, there is no "cycle of violence" or "revenge" involved in this story.

Ami Isseroff

Palestine Nakba: Letter to the children of the  Moukhtar of Colonia


 To all descendants of the Sheikh-Moukhtar of Colonia, the former Arab village near Jerusalem Salam Aleicum Va' Rkhamat Allah.

 I apologize for not sending you this letter to your address because of two simple reasons: One, I do not have your family name. Two, I do not have your addresses. Yet, I have decided to write this letter and place it on the Internet hoping that one of you or your friends will come upon it and will deliver it to you. 

            The urge to sit down at my desk, open my laptop and write this letter came to me during my evening walk, which as usual is up the western slope of Mount Herzl. During most evenings one can enjoy in these hours the beautiful sunset over the mountains of Jerusalem and the typical breeze, which adds to the charm of this special city. Reaching the top I sat to rest and looking to the west I could see the village of Motza. This reminded me that I forgot, last month to observe my second birthday. You may wonder what do I mean by my second birthday? Well, I was born twice in Jerusalem. The first time I was born on July 13, 1928 and the second time I was born again, with all my closest family, namely parents and elder brother, about a year later, on 24 August 1929, when I saved the lives of my entire family by getting the mumps. I got it just two days before my family was scheduled to travel and spend a long weekend at the home of my parents' friends, the family of the Makleffs, at the village of  Motza in the close vicinity of Jerusalem. Just then the enigmatic virus causing Parotitis epidemica decided it is time for the general attack. My mumps cancelled this vacation. We were invited by Mrs.Batia Chaya Makleff, Let Her Soul Rest in Peace, who was a friend of my mother's family, to come for a weekend to their place on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by a beautiful orchard. When my mother expressed her anxiety because of the rumors of riots by the Arabs of the neighboring Arab village of Colonia, Mrs. Makleff calmed her anxiety by saying: "They are our brothers, they come to me whenever they need any advice or need an injection. They call me their sister." As my parents and the Makleffs were observant Jews, the voyage was planned for Friday. I got the mumps on Thursday so we stayed at home.

On Friday the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al Husseini  preached in the grand mosque of Haram al Sharif that the Zionists plan to take control of the mosque of al Aqsa. This brought about severe riots by the infuriated Arab population of Palestine.  On the same night on which we had planned to stay with the Makleffs, the Arabs from the neighboring village of Colonia[1], attacked Motza. They massacred the family of the Makleffs, father Arie Leib 53 years old, Mother Batia Chaya 52 years old, daughter Mina 24 years old, son Moshe Avraham 22 years old and two guests.  The youngest son Mordechai and his sister jumped from the window and were saved. This boy grew up to later become the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Army. The neighbor to whom they escaped had a rifle and shot at the mob and it retreated.

            Twenty years later when I met my future wife Margalit, I learnt from her that her close relatives, uncle and cousin were massacred at Hebron during the same riots which took place at the same time. Also on this occasion their Arab neighbors, with whom they were on close friendly relations, betrayed them to the infuriated rioting mob.

            I am writing you this letter because after I rested from climbing the slope, I went up to the top of the mountain to the Memorial Site for all civilians who were killed by Arabs. There is a computer there and by marking a particular name, one gets all details available on the deceased, and information about the sad circumstances in which they were killed. Upon my request the computer gave me all the details about the massacre of the Makleffs. What I learnt on this occasion was that the Sheikh of Colonia (most probably the Moukhtar) came on the day before the massacre to the Makleffs and vowed by Almighty Allah and the Holy Koran that they are safe and should stay at home.

            On my way back home, down the slope, I looked to the direction of Motza. As it started to become darker, lights started to blink from the village, which is spread now all over the slope and merge with the lights of Mevaseret Yerushalaim a new suburb of Jerusalem, occupying the top and slopes of the ridge at the foot of which was the place of the ruined and deserted village of Colonia.

            At that place there was no light, nothing, nothing, nothing.

            It just occurred to me that if this Sheikh-Moukhtar would have kept his promise and his vow by the Name of Allah and the Holy Koran, his reward would have been marked by the glows of lights coming up one by one, telling about a living Arab village in the valley in the neighborhood of  the village of Motza.

            The moral of this story is: If you do not want your grandchildren to live in a refugee camp, do not betray your neighbor who trusted you and your vows.

Arie Issar

Professor Emeritus,

Ben Gurion University

[1] Colonia was named after the colony of retired Roman soldiers, who inhabited this place during the Roman-Byzantine Empire. The village was located by the side of the winding Roman road, leading from the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem. On the ridge just above Colonia there was another Arab village by the name of Castel, where a Roman castellum protected the road. This place knew severe bloody battles during the Israel War of Independence (1948), when the Israeli armed forces tried and managed to lift the siege put on Jerusalem (see Bab El Wad) .


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