Al-Lydd – Al-Ramla District
Zohriyya Maḥmūd Ḥanafi,
speaking from al-ʼAm‛ari refugee camp, 2011
I was born in al-Lydd in 1935. Our house was in the center of the city, behind the animal market. On July 11, 1948, Haganah and Irgun forces entered the city and during the fighting we were forced to leave. The Jews came to our house and told us to go. They arrived with heavy weapons and we had heard of the Deir Yasīn massacre, so we knew that there was no other choice. Before the evacuation there had been nearly 20,000 people living in al-Lydd. On the day we left, more than 400 were killed. Our house was also next to the Dahmash mosque, where a terrible massacre took place. More than 170 people were killed when the Jews entered the mosque. People had thought they would be safe in that sanctuary but it turned out they were wrong.
We fled first to the old city of al-Bira [al-Bireh], and from there we went to Gaza. Eventually, we came here, to al-ʼAm‛ari camp, where we have lived ever since.
It was after 1967 that I went back to the house for the first time. An Iraqi Jewish family was living there. They welcomed me inside for coffee, and while we were sitting there, I told them it had once been my house. They said if I wanted it, I could buy it back from them. This, even though all the furniture inside—even the chairs we were sitting on—were the ones we had left behind when we fled the village. I left, and didn’t go back again until the early 1970s. The house was still there, but this time the Iraqis told us that if we didn’t leave, they would call the police. We decided it was better to go, and since that day we have never returned.
Even if I wanted to go back now, I would need a special permit to enter Israeli territory—something they will never grant me in these difficult times. Today the city is called Lod, and the old name has been lost. But when you go there, go to the Dahmash mosque and ask for where the animal market used to be. The market was between the mosque and our house, so you will know, just after the market, that you are standing where we once stood all those years ago.