For some folks interested in genealogy, tracing one�s roots
is a stimulating activity. It�s immensely interesting and meaningful to learn
where one�s life started. DNA testing has made it possible to trace one�s roots
back many generations and there are even free web sites that can help users
trace their family history based on a few simple clues.
Recent findings in my own personal history have been
interesting indeed. The present task of tracing my family roots was inspired by
a book project with Pluto Press, narrating the story of my father, as once a
fighter from Gaza who died recently under tragic circumstances in the same
refugee camp to which he was expelled, along with his family 60 years ago.
Just weeks into my research, I found myself stumbling into
the details of a massacre, one that is conveniently overshadowed by the dust of
the battle, the rigidity of academic research and the lack of media access of
those who have survived.
And now, what started as a mere phase of my father�s torn
childhood in Palestine has morphed into being the core of my book�s narrative.
My family came from the village of Beit Daras, one of the
hundreds of villages destroyed by Zionist Jewish militias prior to the
establishment of the state of Israel. Growing up in a refugee camp in the Gaza
Strip, decades after the destruction of Beit Daras, I heard many stories of our
village that now only exist in memory. The objective behind the story was
hardly a calculated intent to ensure that we don�t forget what has befallen us.
It was a daily narrative that simply defined our internal relationship as a
The �Bedrasawis� -- the collective name of those originally
from Beit Daras -- were often stereotyped as �large headed� -- literally -- and
stubborn. Although we Bedrasawis protested the recurring accusation, we also
shared unspoken pride in it. But that reputation of zeal and prowess was
fostered by the dramatic events of 1948, during the Zionist drive to evacuate
Palestine of its inhabitants.
Israeli historian Benny Morris, in his volume, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee
Problem, makes a couple of references to Beit Daras. Nothing notable, aside
from the fact that a Haganah unit, Givati, had shelled the village on May 10,
1948 �promoting the flight of its inhabitants.� But there is more to what took
place in Beit Daras than Morris�s footnote. Arab historians, Walid Khalidi,
Salman Abu Sitta, among others, provided the story within a greater context.
Still, documenting the history of anywhere between 400 to 500 destroyed
Palestinian villages in one volume is not a simple feat, thus much of Beit
Daras� history is lumped as one of many: the Zionists attacked on day such and
such, the Arabs resisted, then fled, then the village was blown up to ensure
that the inhabitants would not return.
As sinister as the above summation is, much is left untold.
Peoples, faces, stories and families were torn apart, often never to meet
again, along with the decimated village�s 401 homes, two mosques and lone
Those killed in the �massacre of Beit Daras,� according to
Palestinian accounts, were 265, largely women, children and elders. The gender
and age groups of the victims were not selective nor coincidental, but related
to the nature of the battle, where the fighters of Beit Daras were engaged in
fighting against successive Zionist army units, first involving militants from
a nearby settlement, then Haganah forces and finally Givati units. The battle
for Beit Daras was long and arduous, and duly mentioned in the writings of
Jamal Abd Al-Nasser, the first president of Egypt, during his military service
in southern Palestine, and of David Ben Gurion�s War Diaries (1947-1949).
Morris�s chronological research methods discounted the fact
that although Beit Daras was located in southern Palestine -- approximately 30
kilometers north of Gaza -- the Zionist aggression to conquer the once peaceful
village began earlier than the Givati�s �Operation Lighting� (Mivtza Barak) of
early May 1948, and that the village didn�t fall for at least another month
after the date he sketchily provides. Indeed, Beit Daras� strategic location,
near important Zionist military hubs -- located inside settlements bordering
the village -- and near the supply routes to the Negev, made it a target as
early as March 16, and several times more in the same month; then, again, in
April, and twice in May, and finally in June. Zionist losses were high and
their attempts failed, time after time. There was much fury that a small
village of roughly 2,000 people would not surrender under intense bombardment.
A single day of fighting resulted in the death of 50 Arabs, according to Ben
Gurion�s own account.
Um �Adel is an 80-year-old woman who now lives in Gaza.
Today she sells foodstuffs at a tiny and humble stand to help her family as
they struggle to survive the siege on Gaza. She vividly recalls the events that
lead to the massacre in 1948. It struck me how apolitical she was, and how,
until this day, she is dumbfounded, not able to comprehend the dramatic events
of those short months between March and June of 1948.
Until now, she views the fight for Beit Daras based on a
simple equation: They tried to take our land, and we fought them off until the
end. �They (The Zionist militias) knew well that we, Bedrasawis, would not go
down easily. They knew that their fight for that whole area was one battle, but
to take over Beit Daras was another.� As simple as the equation was, her
confusion about the whole event haunts her until this day, and even now decades
later, she is still baffled as to what happened and why the people of her
village were betrayed. Beit Daras, lived up to its reputation of hard-headedness
and tenacity, but many details remain murky, yet incredibly revealing and
deserve more than a footnote.
One can only hope that the memory of the village survives
without having to wait the authentication of an Israeli historian, which may or
may not ever arrive. I know that I will do my part to make that happen. After
all, I owe Beit Daras my (relatively) large head, and the tenacious spirit of
my children, who carry the names of those who lived in Beit Daras, and died
there.Ramzy Baroud is an author and
editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many
newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).