Beit Jibrīn – Hebron District
Aḥmad ‛Abd Al-raḥmān Muḥammad Al-‛Azze,
speaking from al-‛Azza refugee camp, 2012
When the fighting started in Beit Jibrīn, I was among the fighters protecting the village. There were only about 30 of us, and we were joined by around 30 Egyptian soldiers. We fought for three days straight, drawing the fighting to the outskirts of the village, so that the Jewish forces would not be able to enter the village. The Jews had come from the north and were extremely well organized by the Haganah with much more weaponry than we had. They took the hilltops, attacking us from a position of strength.
I am now almost completely blind, but even back then I didn’t have good eyesight, so it meant that I was behind the front line. Our forces were poorly trained and ill-equipped and soon we were forced to withdraw. Our fighters stayed with the Egyptians when the village was evacuated and we fought together until their commander told us they were abandoning their positions. By this point, Jewish patrols were entering the village to see if we had all evacuated. But the Palestinians stayed behind and kept up the fighting. Some Palestinians hid and were able to see the Israelis coming.
Then the Jordanian army came from Hebron to Beit Jibrīn to protect the village. With the Jordanians, we entered the village and started attacking each other with grenades. One of the Jordanian tanks was destroyed. After this, the Jordanians withdrew as well, and as our ranks were too thin we were also forced to flee toward Hebron. We were without a leader and fled in chaos.
Although we could have remained under the occupation, we were afraid, so we left. We went back to the village to take some things for the coming days. At first, many of us would sneak back into the village at night for our belongings. But after five or six years, the Israelis had destroyed the village completely. There were only a few houses that had been occupied by the Jews, as was the cemetery, and the village mosque, which they later tried to bury completely. The houses of my family members were near the police station and were eventually taken over by Jewish families. Seven years after we were evacuated from the village, and at the time of the “Right to Return” demonstrations, we went back, but I have not been able to visit the village since 1967.
Although I have not been to Beit Jibrīn for 45 years, I was one of the lucky ones. Many never saw their village again after they fled in 1948. I still remember the route to the village perfectly. When you enter the area, you will find the mosque on the left side of the road. I heard that the Israelis have bulldozed earth over the structure so it is now almost completely buried, and the far end wall completely broken through. The home of the mukhtār [the village leader] is on the hills above the mosque. I hear it is mostly an abandoned ruin now, but the Israelis use it as a resting place while they are on maneuvers. These houses and ruins were far away from the center of the village, so they were not completely destroyed. I was born there in 1913 and until we fled, all my life was spent right there. I studied in that school and prayed in that mosque. They hold a strong memory in my heart.
Go see and photograph the mountain of Sheikh Mohammed, the remains of the village mosque, and the hills where the schools are. Make these images for me and my family to remember the place that we come from, and so that our lives are not forgotten.
Aḥmad ‛Abd al-Raḥmān Muḥammad al-‛Azze died in 2013 at the age of 100 and was buried in the al-‛Azza refugee camp, the smallest of the 59 refugee camps in the West Bank and Arab countries. Half of the camp’s residents come from Beit Jibrīn.