[This article is part of a bouquet developed by the Jadaliyya Palestine Page Editors to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (15 May 1948), the day that marks the beginning of an ongoing struggle for Palestinian liberation and self-determination in the face of the violent establishment of the state of Israel on the land of historic Palestine. This day would mark the displacement of 750,000 Palestinians, the razing of over 500 Palestinian villages, the murder and internal displacement of countless more, and 75 years of settler-colonial rule. Read the rest of the articles featured in this bouquet at the bottom of this page.]
When my grandmother Nazmiya al-Kilani was 22, the Nakba divided her life into two: one before the 1948 Nakba and one in the everpresent Nakba. For the majority of my life, her story was kept from me, tucked away in the drawer of difficult conversations. My family would share shards of her tumultuous encounter with 1948, in bits and pieces, on rare occasions. I suppose this is how parents protect their children. All these years, my grandmother’s Nakba was hiding in plain sight, a present-absentee, just like Nazmiya herself.
But 7 years ago, when Nazmiya turned 90 years old, she sat down on her chair in Akka’s Old City and recollected her memories as she shared them with my mother, Afnann, my aunt Ilham, and a camera.
Nazmiya, born in 1926 in Safad, witnessed the Arab revolt of 1936-9, and though these weren’t easy years for her, to say the least, (she’d lived through the death of her cousin Ismail al-Kilani and the execution of his friends Fouad Hijazi and Mohammed Jamjum), she still yearned for that part of her life, the pre-1948 part.
In her video testimony, teary-eyed Nazmiya spoke about her childhood and Safad’s air, depicted the two cypresses in her family’s home garden, and even remembered the names they had given the family’s flour mills: Umm A-Tot and Umm-Jozeh. She also never forgot Umm Shamoun, their widowed Palestinian-Jewish neighbor with whom the family shared their food and compassion.
When she turned 18, Nazmiya married Awad, my grandfather, whom I never met. They moved to Haifa to start their new life. “I used to live in the most beautiful place, overlooking Haifa,” Nazmiya recalls in her testimony with a smile mixed with tears. “From my balcony, I could see Haifa and the port.”
The chaotic events of 1948 plunged Nazmiya and Awad on different boats, sailing in different directions, unaware of one another’s fate. Awad became a refugee in Lebanon. Nazmiya, alongside her mother and three children, became internally displaced and resettled in Akka, just 26 kilometers north of Haifa, with nothing to her name but a document that said she now had Israeli citizenship. Awad, excluded from this document, snuck back into Akka, got deported to Lebanon, and snuck back a few times until the couple was finally reunited.
Today, on the 75th commemoration of the Nakba, I am resharing my grandmother’s testimony, 2 years after it was originally released. Although I haven’t yet found the right words to write about it—probably never will—I am sharing it because the ongoing Nakba is aging as we grow. And while Nazmiya passed away at 92 years old, she left us with an intimate encounter with that 22-year-old woman, overlooking the port of Haifa from her balcony, just 26 kilometers away from her older self.
Nazmiya’s testimony on YouTube via Zochrot