[News] My Yalu story: One day, exiles will return to the village Israel destroyed

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Fri Aug 13 13:58:57 EDT 2021

Yalu story: One day, exiles will return to the village Israel destroyed
Hanna Alshaikh - August 13, 2021

There was an unexpected knock on the door of my grandfather’s home in Amman
at around 11pm, as I was packing my bags ahead of a flight back to Chicago
the next day.

A neighbour and member of the Yalu community association had come to
deliver a book. Having heard that my grandfather, known throughout the
Palestinian village as Abu Hussein, had a granddaughter visiting from the
US who wanted to learn more about Yalu's past, he insisted that I have a
copy of this book before my departure.

I was moved by this man’s generosity and by this text, which holds a great
deal of sentimental and political significance to my family and to the
people of Yalu. The book in question was Ribhi Alayan’s *So That We Do Not
Forget: Yalu, the Destroyed Palestinian Village*.

Today, more than five decades later, amid a conversation on the destruction
of Palestinian villages and loss of life, my grandfather still smiles when
he recalls the beauty of Yalu

In 1967, Israel ethnically cleansed
our village, Yalu. Residents of the town comprised part of the
approximately 300,000 Palestinians who were made refugees by Israel in the
1967 war <https://www.middleeasteye.net/tags/1967>, known as the Naksa or
“setback” to Arabs and Palestinians. But unlike many other colonised
Palestinian lands, Israel <https://www.middleeasteye.net/countries/israel>
never replaced the people of Yalu with settlers. As an apparent act of
revenge for local resistance in the 1948 war, Israel decided to keep the
land empty
epitomising the racist logic of Zionism that views Palestinian life as a

In 1975, the Canadian Jewish National Fund turned Yalu and two neighbouring
villages into Canada Park
which Israel now cites as an example of its commitment to environmentalism.
But for the Palestinians who were violently removed from the homes now
buried under this park, it is a symbol of the destruction of Palestinian
trees, crops, homes and lives.

Our story disproves the myths perpetuated by Israel to justify its war
crimes, both past and present. It also points to the resilience and
determination of exiled Palestinians to reclaim their lands and political
Bejewelled landscape

Yalu and the neighbouring villages of Imwas and Bayt Nuba
once known as the Latrun villages, located between the West Bank and the
Green Line, which demarcated what became Israel after the 1948 Nakba
The Latrun villages were located near a strategic road that connected
Jerusalem with the Palestinian coast.


Nakba's harvest of sorrow: We will be back, grandmother

Read More »

Life in Yalu before its destruction in 1967 was dignified, but not without
difficulty. My peasant family owned the land they lived on and survived off
of it, sometimes travelling to larger Palestinian cities to sell their
surplus produce. My great-grandfather owned an acre and a half of land on
which our family planted the wheat, barley and corn that provided basic

As in many other Palestinian villages, fruit trees bejewelled Yalu’s
landscape. Family elders recall the sweetness of their homegrown figs,
apricots, apples, grapes and peaches, and the abundance of olive trees.
Today, more than five decades later, amid a conversation on the destruction
of Palestinian villages and loss of life, my grandfather still smiles when
he recalls the beauty of Yalu.

When it was time to press olives for oil, they would travel with their
freshly picked olives to Beit Ur al-Tahta, a village near Ramallah, to use
their olive press. In 1967, the people of Yalu did not get to make that
trip. That June, Israeli soldiers forced them to march by foot to the West
Bank and Jordan with nothing but the clothes on their backs, to live as
Mass resistance

“They were chained,” is how my grandfather describes the state of
Palestinians two decades before the destruction of our village. British
colonial authorities disarmed Palestinians in response to the 1936-39 Arab
uprising <https://www.britannica.com/place/Palestine/The-Arab-Revolt>, a
moment of mass resistance to the collusion between British imperialism and
Zionist settler-colonialism. My grandfather recalls that British police
would impose an automatic six-month sentence on any person found with so
much as a switchblade.

[image: An undated picture of Yalu village before its destruction by
Israel. The village is located between the Occupied West Bank and the Green
Line (Credit: Palestineremembered.com)]
An undated picture of Yalu village before its destruction by Israel. The
village is located between the Occupied West Bank and the Green Line

An 18-year-old orphan at the time, my grandfather recalled the mood in Yalu
leading up to the 1948 Nakba as “miserable”. The Zionist militias that went
on to form the core of the Israeli military attempted to seize Yalu and
neighbouring villages, but residents handed the well-armed Zionist forces a
rare defeat.

Peasants from the Latrun region risked their lives to obtain weapons to
defend their land. Those who owned land sold parts of it to arm themselves;
some women volunteered their wedding gold, selling it to help arm the local
resistance. These forces from Latrun joined the battle of Bab al-Wad
and the ensuing defeat motivated Yitzhak Rabin, then the Israeli army’s
chief of staff, to seek revenge in 1967.

Yalu’s resistance haunted the likes of Rabin and Moshe Dayan
<https://www.britannica.com/biography/Moshe-Dayan>, then Israel’s defence
minister. Rabin and Dayan issued orders to expel residents, showing that
despite later Israeli claims, the ethnic cleansing of Yalu and neighbouring
towns was, in fact, premeditated
Israel committed war crimes through its seizure of the land and expulsion
of residents.

Residents of the villages were rounded up in an open field outside of Yalu;
three died in the march. Survivors recalled the cries of children, and the
extreme hunger and thirst they endured. According to Alayan, who authored
the book our neighbour gave me, the three men collapsed from hunger before
Israeli soldiers shot and killed them.

Alayan also recorded that six people were killed under the rubble of their
homes, including a one-year-old baby. Elders in our family recall with
horror the story of a blind old man in Yalu, who was crushed under the
rubble of his home because he could not flee in time. Israeli forces used
explosives and bulldozers to flatten the village, destroying more than 500
homes and buildings
Razed to the ground

The suffering did not end there. Israeli soldiers killed five people
between the ages of 17 and 60 as they attempted to return to Yalu. A week
after their initial expulsion, an Israeli commander ordered the Latrun
refugees to march home; upon arrival, they were told by Israeli soldiers
that the area was a closed military zone, and they were not allowed to
enter. Five refused these orders and were massacred on site, their bodies
hidden from their families, according to Alayan. The rest watched from a
distance as Israeli bulldozers razed their homes and trees to the ground.

[image: Peace activists remember the war crimes committed in Yalu (Photo
by: Ayman Nimer/Palestineremembered.com)]
Peace activists in 2009 remember Israel's war crimes in Yalu (Ayman

After this devastating attack, Israeli military authorities changed course,
telling the people of the Latrun villages that they were not to return
home, but instead should head to Amman. Members of my extended family and
other people of Yalu marched towards Jordan, crossing over the bombed
Allenby Bridge

These relatives were missing for weeks or months. My grandfather would
drive from refugee camp to refugee camp in Jordan, searching each evening
for his brother’s family.

At the tender age of six, my father was exiled from his homeland. A
formative memory in his childhood was going with his father to look for his
missing aunt and cousins

At the tender age of six, my father was exiled from his homeland. A
formative memory in his childhood was going with his father to look for his
missing aunt and cousins. Eventually, they were found - but others were not
as fortunate.

The right to return is a sacred right for the people of the three Latrun
villages, including my family, who still live in refugee camps and in
exile, away from our lands and property. For us, realising that right means
struggling against Zionism
also against the Palestinian leadership that betrayed our rights.

My family watched with horror and disgust in 1993 when Yasser Arafat shook
on the White House lawn
the man who ordered the destruction of our village. Today, as the Palestinian
and tortures Palestinians, it represents a regime of collaboration that has
undermined our right of return, hijacked our national institutions, and
worked nonstop to protect Israeli interests for a fistful of dollars and
illusory power.
Ingrained in memory

*To each grain of earth in Yalu. To every tree still standing upright in
defiance of time And in defiance of the occupation And looking to the
return of the people of its land *


* the occupied land first And in all parts of the world second To all the
children of Yalu. Who were born and raised in exile I offer this book, So
that Yalu remains Ingrained in memory Until the day of return And God
willing, it will be soon.*

These are the words that Alayan uses to open his village history. This
dedication speaks to the inter-generational nature of the Palestinian
struggle, and the responsibility of each generation to pass this commitment
to the land to the next.


Seven decades after Resolution 194, why haven’t Palestinian refugees
returned home?

Read More »

My grandfather was six years old when the Arab uprising of 1936-39 started.
My father was six when Yalu was ethnically cleansed, making him an exile. I
was seven when the Second Intifada
broke out. For many exiled Palestinians in my age group, this was a
formative event in our political consciousness.

As a young child, I marched in Chicago against Israel’s killing of
Palestinians and attacking of al-Aqsa Mosque. This past May, young children
in my family marched to condemn Israel’s mass bombardment of Gaza
<https://www.middleeasteye.net/topics/gaza-under-attack>, attack on al-Aqsa
Mosque <https://www.middleeasteye.net/topics/al-aqsa-attack>, and attempted
ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah
and Silwan

We are four generations living in exile, yearning for justice and our
rightful return to Yalu. We carry immense pain, just like the other 300,000
refugees of 1967, millions <https://www.unrwa.org/palestine-refugees> of
Nakba refugees, and scores of people in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah fighting
settler-colonial erasure today.

Their resistance today highlights the Palestinian refusal to abandon our
liberation struggle. I was raised to know and love this land as if I had
lived in Yalu myself. We plan to return together. Our elders did everything
they could to spare us from the pain of dispossession, and we honour their
sacrifice by working to end the Nakba.

*The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.*
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