Monday, March 19, 2007
Centenarian's tale of Palestine
By Hashem Ahelbarra
Fatma Mahmoud lost her husband and six of her children [al Jazeera]
Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the story of the Palestinian people has been one of dispossession, refugee camps and unfulfilled dreams.
Life has been far from easy for residents of Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp.
But in the course of a life lasting more than 100 years, one woman has been through more than most.
Fatma Mahmoud enjoys telling her granddaughter the ups and downs of a life that has already spanned a century. Her eyesight has faded, but her memory is still strong.
These days she is confined to a makeshift brick room in the camp.
'We lost everything'
She said: "I was born a long time ago, the Turks were still here. I remember when the British came and also when the Turks were forced to leave Palestine.
"I think I got married at the age of 20. I was at home with the kids when the Jews forced us to leave Jaffa.
"I think I was in my 50s. Now I have not seen my home town for 60 years."
She remembers the streets of Jaffa, her neighbours, her garden and the day that changed her life and those of thousands of Palestinians.
Fatma said: "I was a pretty woman, life in Jaffa was beautiful and when the Jews drove us out of our land, we lost everything.
"We fled the city on foot - I remember marching for long days."
The only belongings she brought from Jaffa were an old wardrobe and a container that served for kneeding dough and baking bread for her children.
She has Egyptian and Israeli documents attesting she is in her 90s. After a phone call to her daughter based in Saudi Arabia and the only one alive of all her children, she confirms her mum is a centenarian.
After the 1948 exodus, she sought refuge in Gaza, went with her husband to Sinai in Egypt for a few years and returned to Gaza in 1975.
Her husband and six of her children died.
Itidal Ragab, Fatma's granddaughter, said: "My father died at a young age, I was three years old and my sister was four. So my grandmother looked after us. She often tells me she wishes he'd had a son to look after her now that she is old. I'm very hurt when she departs."
Time has taken its toll on her frail body, she is blind, unable to walk - a face from Jaffa that bears the signs of a tumultuous century.