The Road To Nablus

By Dr. Bassam Hadi and M. Rutledge McCall (McCall wrote the book as well as the screen adaptation)

 

I love this story of triumph against all odds. Lots of highs and lows. …[a] reminder of the horror unleashed onto the Palestinians…Well done, McCall!
– Neheda Barakat, Award-Winning Documentary Producer, TV Bureau Chief & Executive Producer, Journalist; BBC; ABC-TV/Australia; U.N.; U.S. Dept. of State

 

PROLOGUE

 “Being a refugee is much more than a political status. It is the most pervasive kind of cruelty that can be exercised against a human being. You are forcibly robbing this human being of all aspects that would make human life not just tolerable but meaningful…” – “Human Flow”; an Amazon Original Movie, directed by Ai Weiwei

 

Late in the night on Sunday, July 11, 1948, eight year-old Abed Abdulhadi lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling.

His world had become upended lately with the recent violent destruction of Qula, the small Palestinian town where he was born and his grandparents had lived until the death of his beloved grandfather. Which is why Abed’s grandmother was now living with them in Lydda. Along with his cousins. And his aunt and uncle. And his mother’s dad.

Abed did not know why the violence was being visited upon the towns to the west of Tel Aviv, but he was a perceptive boy, he got the gist of it. A plague was coming. One that threatened to wipe his kind from the face of the Earth. For no reason he could piece together in his young mind.

Tears welled up in Abed’s eyes and he angrily wiped them away with the sleeve of his thin cotton pajama robe as he was overtaken by feelings of memories of summers in Qula with his grandfather.

Why is the world so mean? he thought. Then he corrected himself out loud in Arabic, “Why are people so mean?”

“What, Abed?” the voice of his four-year-old brother Waleed announced in Arabic from his bed across the dark room. “What did you say, brother?”

“Go back to sleep, Waleed. It is nothing.”

Suddenly, the house was shaken by a thundering high-pitched whine outside, as if a violent windstorm had hit.

AHH!” their two-year-old brother Khaled cried out from the bed he shared with Waleed.

Abed’s eyes went wide and he leapt up and ran to the window, followed closely by Waleed.

The boys peered out into the darkness.

“What was that, Abed?” Waleed said fearfully.

In another bedroom, just down the hallway, Hammudah Abdulhadi was also abruptly awakened by the whine of Spitfire fighters streaking over the house. He raised up to an elbow and listened as the whining noise diminished, and the house violently shuddered from four nearly simultaneous explosions.

Hammudah was out of bed and making haste for the window when his wife Amina awoke with a start and sat upright in the bed.

“What was that, Hammudah?!” she cried out. “Is it them?”

Hammudah yanked back the drapes and saw four fireballs in the distance, and farther away the silhouettes of a brace of disappearing fighter planes screaming low to the west.

An infant began crying and Amina threw off the sheets, got out of bed, grabbed a cotton robe hanging from one of the bed’s wooden posts and slid it on. She stepped to a bassinette at her side of the bed and lifted the child from the crib, rocking him in her arms and gently cooing his name—Ibrahim, Ibrahim—as her frightened eyes studied her husband’s face.

“Is it happening, Hammudah?” she said.

He looked at her and said, “Calm down, Amina. Allah will protect us.”

Hammudah Abdulhadi was a slender man, of average height, had dark brown hair and a rugged, bearded face that displayed a rigorous life for a man of only thirty-seven years. His left eye had a permanent squint from having been rendered useless in a childhood accident. His face, which appeared to be equal parts Arabic and European—both distinguished and fierce at the same time—was that of a man whose mind and heart were in constant turmoil, as if he were perpetually watching his own brother thrust a knife into his stomach, over and over. But why…why? his face seemed to be pleading sadly.

It was a question he had often found himself asking during the past year.

Hammudah had heard rumors that British Royal Air Force Spitfires were recently handed over to the Israelis, who were flying them out of nearby RAF Station Lydda. So it made sense that they were now under air assault from the Israelis. In British fighter planes. If he was right, it would be the first time the nascent Jewish state had used air power to drop bombs on a town in the aftermath of their declaration of the new state of Israel less than two months earlier.

Hammudah heard even stronger rumors that Lydda might come under attack, because five weeks earlier the IDF’s 3rd Battalion and the Yiftah Brigade had decimated a few towns in the region, including the one in which he was born and raised, and from where the remnants of his family had fled to Lydda.

He grabbed a pair of pants that were draped over the back of a chair next to the window and pulled them on. As he stepped into his shoes, he glanced out the window and saw the fireballs consuming the brush near the outskirts of Lydda.

A stout man a couple of years younger than Hammudah, with a wild mop of black hair and a thick black beard, appeared in the doorway, pulling on a shirt.

Hammudah said to him, “Mahmoud, make sure your wife and the girls and—”

“Amina can take care of that. I am going.”

“Going? Where?”

Mahmoud gave Hammudah a look and nodded slightly toward Amina.

Hammudah said to Amina, “Quickly, Amina, go get the kids up, and make sure your sister, father and my mother are okay.”

“Yes, yes,” she said and turned to the door with Ibrahim in her arms.

But there was no need to awake the boys. The patter of six feet slapping the bare wooden floors revealed Abed, Waleed and Khalid as they burst into their parents’ bedroom.

“Yaba,” Abed said anxiously, “what happened?”

“Boys, get dressed—now,” Hammudah said and pointed at the door.

Waleed ran back out.

Khalid ran to his mother, and she led him out.

“Yaba, what is happening out there?” Abed asked his father again.

Now two little girls, Ra’afa and Salmi, six and seven-year-old sisters, and their mother—Amina’s noticeably pregnant sister and wife of Mahmoud, gathered in the doorway. Followed by Amina’s father, an older man with a full, dark beard and white hair, and Hammudah’s mother, a small woman with black hair and hazel eyes.

Mahmoud kissed his wife and girls, hugged his sister and father-in-law, and stepped to the doorway.

His wife blocked him and said frantically, “Mahmoud, where are you going, my husband?”

“I’ll be back,” he said, kissed her again and walked out of the crowded room.

“What is happening to us?” she called after him frantically as the girls clung to her.

But his heavy boots were already thudding down the wooden stairs as he made his way to the living room below.

“Wait, Mahmoud,” Hammudah said, and followed after him.

They went down the narrow staircase, talking as they walked to a back door.

“Where are you going, Mahmoud?” Hammudah said. “The town is swarming with soldiers.”

A sudden burst of machinegun fire outside made them flinch.

“Brother, you hear what’s happening,” Mahmoud said. “The same thing as Qula and the other towns.”

“Mahmoud, we must stay put. You go running outside and we will all be shot.”

“All I am saying, Hammudah, is that come what may, I will not allow myself and my family to be killed. And if I am with them, I will be shot and they probably also. You know what the Jews want to do with us.”

“Mahmoud, let’s wait until they give instructions. We’re civilians, not militia.”

“They don’t care, Hammudah! They are here to eliminate threats. Our father-in-law is over the age. You are diabetic and have that kidney problem. Not to mention your eye—you can’t even see to aim a weapon. They will not consider either of you a danger. But I am a man of fighting age and ability, my brother. They will shoot me on sight and say I am with the Arab Legion.”

“Better to face them like a man than be shot in the street like a dog, Mahmoud.”

“Don’t be naïve, brother. Even a dog can outrun these devils. All of you are safer here without me. Trust me on that.” He lifted a dark jacket from a hook near the door, shrugged into it and said, “I will hide in the ravine until it’s safe.”

“They will expect people to hide there, Mahmoud.”

“Not in the cave—they’ll never find the cave, but I have to slip in while it’s still dark.”

Hammudah thought for a moment, then wagged his head and said, “You’re right. No one will find the cave. Please, brother, watch your back.”

Mahmoud looked at Hammudah, said, “Take care of them.” Then he kissed him on both cheeks and added, “I will find you, my brother.”

He slipped out the back door and disappeared into the darkness.

Outside, Lydda had been “softened up” by the pounding air-strike. Now, the 89th Commando Battalion, led by a 33 year-old commander named Moshe Dayan, was sweeping brutally into town, shooting at anyone they saw as a threat. Soldiers were tossing grenades into houses suspected to be harboring Arab Legion militia fighters or snipers. Families ran screaming out of their burning homes and into the darkness only to be shot at like pop-up targets in a shooting gallery.

For forty-seven minutes, in an assault the Israelis called Operation Danny, Commander Dayan rode in an armored car nicknamed “The Terrible Tiger,” commanding the ruthless blitzkrieg and terrorizing the few defenders of Lydda and her civilian population as they fled in every direction trying to avoid the maelstrom. For forty-seven minutes the violent surge rained down hell and blood, confusion and fear, shock and death on the people of Lydda.

At minute forty-eight, the rampage stopped.

Bodies lay strewn along streets and at doors and windows of houses. The death toll of the initial “shock and awe” assault on the town convinced the remaining residents to surrender immediately to Moishe Dayan and his 89th commandos.

By now, all of the residents knew exactly what was happening to them: the IDF. They had arrived to continue their plan to take possession of Palestine and move the Arab citizens out. At any cost.

What the residents did not know was that earlier that night, after the Abdulhadi family and everyone else in town had fallen fast asleep in their beds, Glubb Pasha, the British commander of the Arab Legion, had ordered the quiet withdrawal of AL troops from Lydda and the nearby town of Ramle in a secret pact between the Israelis and the Transjordan leadership.

Assured that he would be confronted by virtually no militia opposition, Dayan had been eager to prove his method of lightening blitzkrieg warfare, reminiscent of Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps during World War II would win quick results against the Arab population. At that, he succeeded. And then some. In well under one hour the entire population of Lydda was cowed under shivering submission of the ruthless thumb of the IDF.

Thus was set into place the beginning of the demise of the peaceful existence of the Abdulhadi family.

And the carnage was only beginning.

 
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