Mustafa Ibrahim Mustafa Abu Srur, 78, Beit Natif
Before Israeli soldiers attacked his village in the middle of the night, Mustafa Ibrahim Abu Srur had no idea that the Israel military might decide to destroy his village and expel all of its inhabitants. He was only 14 years old at the time, but he had heard about the founding of the state of Israel and also the massacre at Deir Yassin and other atrocities taking place in Palestine. His village of Beit Natif was one of the largest and wealthiest in the region, and the thought never crossed his mind that the new Israeli state would attack. At around 2 a.m. on October 21, 1948, soldiers burst into homes in the village, shooting residents and bombing buildings. Three or four friends of his were killed in the initial attack, but his family managed to escape alive, with only the clothes they were wearing.
In the years before 1948, increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants had been arriving in Palestine, but he doesn’t remember any problems between them and the locals. They were friends and did business together. Mustafa still vividly remembers his village, the land, the trees, his house, everything. After the Palestinians in the village were expelled, however, the Israeli military demolished the whole village. The land was taken over by Jewish Israelis who formed a kibbutz on the land and grew various crops. Eventually more buildings were built and it became an Israeli town.
Mustafa and his family ended up just north of Bethlehem as one of the first residents of what would become Aida Refugee Camp. It had been agricultural land where lemon, olive and orange trees grew, but now it was leased to the refugees of the Nakba, or Catastrophe. The UN Relief and Works Agency, the new body created to alleviate the refugee crisis in Palestine, at first supplied every three families with a single green fabric tent. Later on, each family was given their own tent, and a number of years later single-room solid structures were constructed. For fifteen-twenty years there were no paved roads in the camp, and when it rained residents would sink in the mud up to their knees.
Nor did the violence Mustafa experienced from the Israelis stop after the Nakba. All three of his sons were imprisoned during the first Intifada. His son Ahmad spent 10 years in a military prison, his son Nur was imprisoned for 2 years and Issa for 1 year and 2 months.
Now 78 years old, Mustafa has returned to see his village a number of times but was never allowed to return to live there. He has spent the last 64 years in exile from his home which is only 17 kilometers away.
Ihmaeda Al-Ayan, 67, also from Beit Natif
Ihmaeda Al-Ayan came to Aida camp in 1948 with her parents, 3 brothers and one sister. She was only 4 years old at the time. Her parents said that the Israeli soldiers who came to their house told them they had to leave but that they could come back in three days. They left without any of their belongings that day, and she has never been back since. Her father had been a farmer, and they owned a small parcel of land, just enough to get by, but he had died (from unrelated causes) just six months before the Nakba.
At first they lived in fabric tents in Aida camp, and then they got simple single-room solid structures. Life in the camp was very difficult because it was crowded, and they had come with no belongings.
After the Israelis occupied the West Bank in 1967 the residents started to build houses. Even though the UNRWA is in charge of supplying the basic needs of the residents, they had to pay for their own homes. When she got married, she built a house with her husband. She had children, and when they moved out of her home they built another story on top of the house, so now two sons live above her in the same building.
One of her sons was put in prison for six years before the first Intifada, for the crime being a member of Fatah. While in custody, he was tortured and struck so severely in the neck and back that a nerve to his leg was severed. To this day he can only walk with the help of crutches.
Wahda Muhammad, 87, Deir Aban
Wahda Muhammad is from the village of Deir Aban, which is now a Jewish Israeli town called Beit Sheimish. It is about 25 kilometers from Jerusalem. She had a good life there and was married with two children. He father owned a large plot of land and was a successful farmer with livestock and crops. She fled the village when she was 20 years old, at first staying in the village of Arroub and then in Hebron before finally settling in Aida camp. The camp had been built the year before she arrived. She had 12 more children after the Nakba, most of whom still live in the camp.
She has only been back to see her village twice. Once was about 15 years after the Nakba; she visited again after another 15 years. She saw the remains of her destroyed village and the Israeli town built on top of it. She cried each time she visited.
Ali Al-Ajuri Ada Rahman Hussein and Aisha Al-Ajuri, 80 and 78, al-Masmiyya
When they were expelled from their homes in 1948 she was 14 years old and he was 16. They were already married. They have never been back to their village and have never seen what happened to it.
Abed Al-Majid Abu Srur, 80, Beit Natif
Abed was 15 when he left his village of Beit Natif. He had 5 siblings. Before 1948, when Palestine was under the British Mandate, he remembers the British starting to support Zionist projects. There were Jewish immigrants coming from Europe who were being given land that did not have any proof of ownership. He says the Palestinians and European Jewish immigrants were living together in peace before the Nakba.
While living in the refugee camp he has had six sons and five daughters. One of his sons studied in Jordan and was denied reentry to the Occupied Territory during the first Intifada. Another son lost his leg when he drove his car over an Israeli land mine near Aida camp.
Abu Khalid Jawarish, 80, al-Maliha
She is from the village of al-Maliha, which was demolished. The settlement of Gilo was built over it. Gilo is visible from Aida camp over the Separation Wall.