The color of the Jaffa sea was reflected in his blue eyes so that they were even bluer. He had six decades behind him and was in his seventh, but was still laboring as a construction worker in order to pay for his youngest son`s tuition at Tel-Aviv University. The campus of Tel-Aviv university is in the Ramat Aviv area or, as he calls it, Al-Shaykh Mwannis. Al-Shaykh Mwannis is a name engraved in Abu Hasan`s memory. Whenever he mentions the university`s name he mentions it, as if it were a synonym. So many names! Some are engraved in memory, others on street signs. Palestinians in Israel live between two names. Names that once were, and names that refer now to all that surrounds them in their own country. Abu Hasan remembers the Shaykh Mwannis area when it was mostly agricultural. He came to work here in the 1950s and most of his coworkers came from the neighboring villages, thirty to forty kilometers north of Jaffa. Most of them were forced to sleep in the oranges fields at night and could only go back to their villages once every three months for fear of being caught without work or exit permits from their areas, most of which remained under military rule until 1966.
"They were sleeping in fear and would tell me about hyenas that would circle them just as they would circle and rummage through garbage. Fear, alienation, shock, and the disbelief of being hired as servants to work on our own land. It`s a feeling of indescribable misery."
Out of 120,000 Palestinians who were living in Jaffa before the Nakba in 1948, only around 4,000 remained. They were forced to live in the Ajami area and lived under military rule until 1950. Their neighborhoods were fenced with barbed wire and they were banned from leaving or entering without a permit from the Israeli military. Israel confiscated much of the property of those who were not forced to leave through the "The Present-Absent Property Law." Israel surveyed the properties of "absent" Palestinians and confiscated them. Among those absentees were all the Jaffans who were forced to live in Ajami and were not at their homes when the census was conducted, so they became present-absent.
"One of the most difficult things that happened when I was a child and which I`ll never forget was how they housed families from Bulgaria with us in the same house. The entire family had to live in one room and there were families sharing our night in the next room. Those nights were tough. You can`t imagine how a child feels when he sees his father helpless. We tasted, and are still tasting, humiliation."
Their social and political situation can only be described as doubly marginal. Feelings of alienation and internal exile inside their homeland are what many Palestinians in Israel speak of. Abu Hasan is one of them. He is a Jaffan who managed to stay after the Nakba. These days Abu Hasan remembers the October uprising of 2000, when Palestinians inside staged massive demonstrations against then prime minister Ehud Barak`s permission for Ariel Sharon to enter the al-Aqsa. The Israeli police used an iron fist to crush the October uprising as swiftly as possible lest its flame spread throughout. Thirteen Palestinians were killed and many Israelis, including the so-called "Peace Doves," expressed their "disappointment" with the behavior of Palestinian citizens who are only called such when it has to do with their duties.
"Look at the Hasan Bek Mosque. There were so many attempts against it. They tried to torch it and shut it down. Most people who pass by here don`t even know that we are in Jaffa and not Tel Aviv. Everything in al-Manshiyya was destroyed. All that is left is this mosque."
Abu Hasan sat waiting for his grandson, Emile, on a wooden bench in the square across from the mosque. We were going to take a walk with the two of them in preparation for filming a reportage about Jaffa and Tel Aviv and the situation of Arabs there. The Hasan Bek mosque stands as a symbol of the alienation of Palestinians inside. The stone building faces the seashore in one of the most expensive real estate spots in Tel Aviv. It is surrounded by huge hotels and detached from its surroundings. In the last ten years, this mosque was the target of more than seven attacks, including arson, all attempted by extremists, the last of which in 2008.
The situation of this Jaffan mosque isn`t unlike that of the people of Jaffa themselves and all Palestinians inside. The harshness and difficulties they face are even more visible in mixed cities more than other places. Jaffa is a case in point. The Palestinian inhabitants of Jaffa today are about 23,000. Their areas are being swallowed up and what is left is bought in auction by rich buyers in France and the US who are trying to take what was left in the hands of Palestinians with the help of policies that result in silent dislocation. Palestinians are further marginalized and many of them live in poverty and suffer problems in housing and education. Some of Jaffa`s Palestinian residents were not allowed to repair their houses which are about to collapse. It is as if those who live in these houses have to carry them on their heads instead of the opposite.
Emile, Abu Hasan`s grandson, goes to a Jewish school, like 15% of Jaffa`s Palestinian students. The quality of education in Arab public schools is not good. Abu Hasan says that Emile`s parents decided to send him to a Jewish school so as to ensure better opportunities. The family has hired a private tutor who comes twice a week to teach him modern standard Arabic.
Emile is tall and has a soft voice. He speaks calmly and thoughtfully about his surroundings, exhibiting a surprising sociopolitical awareness for a fifteen tear old. But Emile grew up in a family that taught him about all of this, which is rare. When asked if he, as an Arab, faces racism at school, he smiles and answers mimicking the Ahkenazi accent of his schoolmates:
" Nasrallah, you are Khasan Nasrallah"
That`s the sentence his schoolmates use when they quarrel with him to indicate that his loyalty is not to their state, but to the enemy.
Clouds crowd the Jaffa sky. Emile walks alongside his grandfather as we make our way to the old town in Jaffa which was, and still is. Abu Hasan`s voice continues to speak of streets engraved in memory and of the lives of present absentees.
[Translated by Sinan Antoon. See Arabic version here]