Photo: Eitan Bronstein Aparicio.
This April I received an email from Haga Tora Hayar in Norway who explained that her husband’s family came from the village of Qubab. She asked me to help her find and visit it. On Saturday, 13 July 2013, we went there; it was my first time also.
Yusuf, Haga’s husband, was born in the Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon in 1965. His uprooted parents had moved a number of times before settling in the camp near Sidon. Today they live in Amman. Yusuf, Haga and their three wonderful children – Yunis, Yakub and Khaled – met me at the Latrun junction, very excited about the visit. It’s Yusuf’s first trip to Israel; he’s the first member of his family to visit their village. His excitement was very obvious.
The nakba map shows what I vaguely remembered: some of Qubab’s buildings still remain in the Mishmar Ayalon moshav. Jews use them. After a short drive, we arrived.
There’s an abandoned, partially-demolished Arab house by the roadside before the entrance to the moshav. We stopped, got out to look and take photographs. The children are excited, pick up stones; I warn them to beware of snakes at this time of year.
We enter the moshav. Lovely, large homes, and in many places the remains of scattered structures that had been used for building stones, and large sabra bushes bearing fruit soon to ripen. A young man pushing a baby in a stroller wasn’t able to tell us much about the remains or the history of the place. Farther on, a very nice older man generously told us he’d come to the moshav in 1949 from Czechoslovakia when he was three months old. His family settled in an Arab house in the empty village, like the other families who’d come to Mishmar Ayalon. A few years later they moved into new homes that were built, and most of the houses of the Palestinian village were demolished. The Lehi Forest was planted where they’d stood. He suggests we go there to see what’s left.
We return to where we saw a partially-destroyed large Arab house near the entrance to the southern part of the moshav. I call to a man who’s standing in the large area surrounding the houses. He’s about 40 years old; he asks me what I want. I explain that I’ve come with a family from Norway, that Yusuf’s parents were born in the village of Qubab and they want to see the buildings and take photographs to show the family. The man says he must obtain permission from his wife’s parents, who live in the house.
A woman with a bandaged hand emerges; I wish her a speedy recovery. I explain why we’re here and why we’d like permission to come in. She agrees immediately. She opens a metal gate and we drive in. The man warns us not to approach the partly-demolished Arab house. One of the stones beneath the roof tilts dangerously and may fall. He says that last winter’s storm caused the building to become unstable, so it’s dangerous to enter or approach it. Yusuf and Haga take many photos with their tablet and a camera. The man tells us that the moshav’s offices are on the other side, in a very lovely Arab building.
We thank him and drive a few more meters eastward on the main, outer road. A huge iron gate on the right is wide open to a building – actually, buildings, two of which are Arab, but we immediately can see they’ve been renovated and upgraded, surrounded by attractive plantings. A fig tree that obviously wasn’t planted recently is next to the house on the right.
Yusuf and Haga wait outside; I enter hesitantly through the huge entryway. Within, between the two Arab houses, is a large, new house. A sign to the right of the large entrance door, which I notice is open slightly, proudly proclaims “Nahalat Nurit,” [Nurit’s estate]. “They’re here!” cries a man’s voice from inside. “No, it’s not them, it’s someone else,” I reply. A man who’s about 60 in a short white shirt comes out, smiling, holding a glass of wine. He asks whether I drink rose. I’m startled by his generosity, hesitate, embarrassed, but he insists on offering and I take a sip. The man is unusually nice, as is wife, Nurit, who joins us immediately. I explain who are the people standing at the entrance to their property and they invite us in right away with an openhandedness which amazes me more and more. The man introduces himself – “Yossi;” Yusuf laughs and says that’s also his name. The children also enter; the owner of the house suggests they take a dip in the attractive swimming pool in the yard. Haga says no because they don’t have bathing suits and they’d be embarrassed to swim in their underwear, or maybe she refuses; my Norwegian isn’t that good.
They’re preparing for a family gathering on Shabbat. The plentiful food proves it. They say they’re actually from Tel Aviv, but Nurit found it too stifling so they looked for a place to build a house outside of the city. They found this building lot five years ago; someone was still renting the Arab house on the eastern side. She shows us an album of photographs taken when they arrived, before they built the new, luxurious house. They also renovated the two Arab buildings and surrounded them with a flowering garden.
They’re curious about the story of Yusuf’s family. His parents left on the day the state was established. They were teenagers but already had a very small son and daughter. They died soon after leaving because of the difficult conditions, so that Yusuf never knew his older brother and sister. His maternal grandfather also died, in Jerusalem, the first place they reached.
Yusuf goes out to photograph the buildings. It’s as if he’s wolfing down all he sees and hears. He’s very moved, but manages to retain his composure. Yossi asks him what he’d feeling; he answers that he doesn’t know yet, he’s just taking it in. “Later, in the evening, when I think about all that’s happening now, I’m sure I’ll become emotional, cry a lot. This is my first visit, but my head is filled with memories of Qubab from all the stories I’ve heard about the village,” he says.
Yossi asks me how they reached me and I tell him about Zochrot, that they found me online as they planned their “roots” trip. I give him a copy of the nakba map; he looks at it briefly. He calls his friend from Physicians for Human Rights and tells him excitedly about the unexpected meeting now taking place in his house.
Meanwhile his daughter, her husband and their two small children have arrived. We greet one another as if we’re family. Their older son, about 3 years old, undresses immediately, wants to jump into the water. Nurit stops him because he must wear floats; they’ll be here soon. He’s very active, starts tussling in fun with Yunis. They look like brothers or good neighbors.
Yossi says he fought in this area in 1967 and was a paratrooper for 30 years. I don’t translate those details for Yusuf and Haga. Yossi suggests a drive along the old border, the Green Line. We follow his large jeep on a dirt road which isn’t really appropriate for the small family car we’d rented. We drive to the Lehi Forest. There’s a large memorial to the fighters at the entrance. Many remnants of Qubab are scattered around. Yusuf asks the Israelis we met whether they know the location of the cemetery that was in the center of the village. It will be difficult to find today. There are many fruit trees – figs, olives, almonds, pomegranates and more – planted by the residents of Qubab, and many large sabra bushes.
We pass the forest and continue eastward; Yossi stops for a view of the lovely Ayalon Valley. He tells me that before 1967 he participated in various military actions. I ask whether this is what had been known before the war as no-man’s land; he replies that they knew very well when they’d crossed the border. Yusuf continues photographing with his tablet – the sabras, the landscape, everything. It seems he’d bring everything he sees, life- size, to his family only a two-hour drive away, if he could, if he could cross the borders quickly. If crossing were even possible.
We wave goodbye to Yossi from the car window and stop at an Arab structure next to the main road where, according to an old sign, cheese has been made since 1982. It’s an impressive building with an unusual entry hall flanked by ancient marble columns. They’d already seen this building in photographs someone had once taken and shown them. His father identified the structure and the family which owned it. He’d said that his own house was only a few meters away. Perhaps, said Yusuf, Yossi and Nurit’s house, which we visited, was ours. We agree it wasn’t surprising we felt so comfortable there.
On the other side of the moshav offices an elderly man, his son and grandson are pushing an old, broken-down car. We come over to help and again talk about these people who’ve come from Norway, who’d gone there from here. They want to photograph two more Arab buildings but the grandfather warns them to be careful of dogs on his property.
We continue farther into the moshav and reach one of the loveliest Arab buildings I’ve seen in the country. It’s not very large, but its entry door is unique. Opposite is a well surrounded by a stone wall which has cracked, apparently from the force of the roots of an olive tree planted within.
I call to a man I see in the house. He clearly would rather not receive uninvited guests on Shabbat afternoon. Gently I insist on telling him what I want; he tells me he’s been renting the place for less than two months and five potential buyers have already shown up this week and he’s had to show them the house and he’s fed up… I promise that our interest is very different (but think to myself that it’s also connected to a change in the ownership of the house, and that this change didn’t make the previous owner very happy). When he understands who the nice people are standing at the foot of the stairs to the house he relents and apologizes for not being more hospitable. He promises to quickly finish washing the floor and invite us in. His wife comes out; we talk about them and about the guests from there/from here. She’s interested; I give her the nakba map so she’ll learn more. She didn’t know the name of the village whose house she was living in. Now she knows.
We enter this amazing house. Not very big, but the architecture, both of the original structure and the addition, is impressively beautiful. The floor tiles are original, with typical colorful designs. The conversations flows; Yusuf again recounts his family’s history. He doesn’t stop smiling. The man, about 35 years old, listens to what Yusuf’s family went through and suddenly says, “I’m sorry that happened, even though I wasn’t there then.” Yusuf is surprised and embarrassed. He thanks him, says there’s no need to apologize. They tell us about the upcoming deal to sell the house; Yusuf asks the price. “Mmm, $1.8 million? That’s a lot for this space.” I don’t know why, but I didn’t feel good about this conversation about the house as real estate. He suggests we leave – this “roots” trip has gone on too long for the children and it’s very hot.
Before parting Haga photographs both of us, declares they’ve been in the country two weeks and today was the best day! They give me a present: a CD of Norwegian fold music.
Thank you, Yusuf and Haga, for coming. I also was moved, and learned a great deal from the visit.
This text was published first on Zochrot's website.
“Roots” trip to Qubab (now Mishmar Ayalon)
By: Eitan Bronstein Aparicio