Abu Maher al-Yamani, a legendary leader of the Palestinian revolution, a founder of the Palestinian section of the Arab Nationalist Movement and an early leader of resistance during the Nakba, after being a pre-Nakba trade union leader in pre-48 Palestine, died in Beirut on January 3, 2011. He was a founder of the General Union of Palestinian Workers and of many Palestinian organizations in Lebanon, a social, political and military leader beloved in the camps of Lebanon. He was 86 years old.
Below is his “Testimony”, translated from the Arabic by Adib S. Kawar. His tale of resistance during the Nakba is an excellent read and an important story of the resistance of that era, as well as posing important questions of strategy and tactics that remain relevant today.
The following interview was conducted by Adib S. Kawar and translated from Arabic in 2007. It is an interview conducted with Abu Maher al-Yamani, conducted by Kawar, and published as a chapter in his book, “Testimonies of Uprooted Palestinians”.
Ahmad Hussein Al-Yamani’s testimony chronicles for Palestinian Arab resistance against Zionist occupation of the Palestinian Arab Galilee, told as he personally planned for and participated in, and the suffering he experienced, Abu Maher is one of the most important resistance men who planned and fought on all fronts during the battle in spite of the imbalance of power between Palestinian Arabs and Zionists, Zionists were armed and trained for years by British occupation while Palestinians were disarmed, persecuted and executed. Abu Maher refused to be uprooted from his land in spite of the dangers on his life he was sure he will face, and his intuition was very true. He was taken prisoner of war, persecuted and humiliated, but would never betray his mission and ideology and beliefs. But all that, for Abu Maher, was less painful then to be uprooted by the force of arms and Zionist terror. Abu Maher Al-Yamani is a man who never tires or gives up hope, he is a human being of a special and rare character in struggle and planning to retrieve the stolen land, and defend the Arab people’s honor and dignity, its unity and liberty…
Place of birth: Suhmata, Galilee, Palestine Date of birth: 1924 Present place of residence: Beirut, Lebanon
Question: Tell us about the days or weeks that preceded the Zionist invasion of the Galilee:
Answer: The central Arab committee of the Galilee received an invitation from the leadership of Al-Inqaz Army to meet a number of Arab leaders from various Arab states in the Lebanese town of Bent Bail on the Lebanese/Palestinian border. Among those were: Akram Al-Hourani /Syria, Ahmad Hussein / head of the Egyptian ‘Egypt Al-Fatat Party’, along with members of its leadership, Adib Al-Shshakli, Colonel Madloul Abbas, Colonel Mahdi Saleh / Syria and Dr. Amin Rwaiha / Lebanon. The members of the central committee welcomed the Arab Leaders and strugglers, and specified along with Al-Inqaz Army leaders the locations in which Arab resistance fighters shall be stationed. And we specified to them the fields in which Palestinian Arab volunteers shall participate in the war efforts allocated to them in fighting against the invading Zionist enemy. We returned in the company of the military field commanders: Colonel Mahdi Sadik, Colonel Madloul Abbas that are liaison officers with Al-Inqaz Army in the Lebanese villages of Bent Bail and A’taroun in south Lebanon.
Q. Was there coordination between Palestinian resistance forces and the Lebanese in south Lebanon?
A. During our visit to Bent Jbeil we got introduced to south Lebanese families of: Bazzi, Baydoun, Azein and others that gave us all possible help during our fight against the Zionist enemy, and after the Nakbah to the uprooted Palestinians from their land and homes, and all through their stay in mount A’mel in south Lebanon.
Q. Did you receive enforcements from other Arab states?
A. Colonel Yusuf Kamal, Head of the military committee, accompanied by battalion leader, Shakib Wahab, and some of its commanders made a tour in the area to specify convenient locations for their deployment: Beit Jen, Ar-Rameh, Kisra, and Shafa Amr. After a field study of these locations of deployment in Shafa Amr region near Haifa. The leadership delegation was warmly received by the inhabitants, many of whom joined Arab fighters to fight against the common enemy, especially in monitoring Zionist enemy movements in the colonies located in the region among which were Kafr Ata, Bayalik, and Motskin that was well known to them.
Q. What was the role played by your central command committee?
A. Among the problems we faced in our resisting Zionist invasion was shortage potentials in materials, arms and ammunitions, the short time between the end of mandate and the beginning of the decisive battle. And as well known mandate authorities were forbidding Palestinian Arabs to practice their right of arming and training themselves or actually resisting it with all ravaging force, while it used to arm and train the invading enemy to help them to seize, occupy and colonize Palestine. Local and central committees and others and their branches gave the necessary services to Palestinian Arab citizens from Lebanon, organizing local guards, and participating in battles against the Zionist enemy, attacking enemy colonies near Lebanese border, it also arranged for shelter, supply of water and food to uprooted Palestinians in Nazareth and Tiberius district’s villages especially those who took refuge in Lebanon, and lawyer, Jamil Hamid , was put in charge of the legal committee took charge of solving disputes among citizens.
Q. were there any trespassing committed by citizens during the battle?
A. Rarely but one day a man called sheikh Jabber Addaiesh from Barqa village in the company of two friends of his came to the central committee of the Galilee at Tarshiha, and claimed that a Bedouin partner of his in a flock of cows and goats ran away with them, he requested a permission to catch up with him. I felt that this man was preparing for smuggling the flock to areas occupied by the enemy. We organized with the headquarters of colonel Mahdi Saleh to frustrate the smuggling, and we succeeded. The intelligence of Al-Inqaz army had information about the man and his relations with the enemy. It is known that he became Knesset member on the Zionist Labor Party list.
1. If possible those local fighters join his battalion that are spread over in several locations facing some Zionist colonies among which are Affouleh and Nahlal.
2. Help in transporting wounded soldiers to clinics in Ar-Rameh and Tarshiha, and when necessary to Sida and Tyre hospitals in south Lebanon.
Of course we cooperated in this field and expressed our willingness to extend our help in what ever is needed to succor Arab fighters who came to defend us and our land. We returned to Tarshiha were we explained to colonel Mahdi Saleh what was agreed upon with Colonel Abbass and started our contacts with all villages garrisons, and Tarshiha’s was the best organized and trained the commander of which, Muhammad Kamal Assaid Agha and his assistants expressed their willingness to join Hitteen battalion. Before the garrisons fighters leave to join Hitteen garrison we received the news about the fall of Al-Shajarah village near Nazareth, and that Colonel Madloul Abbass was seriously wounded, and his assistant Akram Ad-Diri fell martyr in the battle, also the Palestinian poet fighter also fell martyr while reciting his poem:
BY: Abdul Rahim Mahmoud Translated by: Adib S. Kawar
My soul I shall carry on my palm and throw it into the valley of death
For it is either a life that pleases a friend or a death that the enemy it shall infuriate
Two aims the nobleman’s soul has Approaching fate and reaching destiny
What is life for if dreaded not my presence is and inviolability is my fame
If I speak the world listens and my speech echoes resounding it is
My martyrdom I see coming but to it my pace I mend
To see my death rather then lose my rights and my country it is the goal
Men’s death that is what it is for and who wants a noble death this is what it is
it is when the symbol of disdain that is what I am Fear I don’t and for me life is cheap
With my heart the face of the enemy I shall slap For my heart is steel and my fire inflames
My homeland with the sword I shall protect and my people shall know that the man for it is I am
The losses of Hitteen battalion were estimated at two hundred men between martyrs and wounded, and upon the request of Colonel Saleh the commandment of Al-Inqaz army sent a medical group under the leadership of Dr. Amin Rowaihah that treated simple wounds and sent the serious ones to hospitals in Tyre, Saida, Beirut and Damascus. After that lieutenant colonel Adib As-Shishakly arrived in Ar-Rameh in, which he took for a center. The commandment settled the results of As-Shajarah battle and then the Inqaz army Battalion was distributed around in the area’s villages among which were Ar-Rameh, Al-Maghar, Mayroun, As-Sufsaf, Al-Malkiah, Quds, Al-Kroum, Shaab, Sakhnin, Kufr Annan, Kawaka, Ailaboun, Kufr Anan, Assamouie, Saasaa, Sahmata, Tarshiha and Mualia.
Q. What were the repercussions of Al-Shajara battle?
A. As a result of this battle and the big losses that Al-Inqaz faced, the enemy concentrated its assault on Shafa Amr, from where its land forces supported by tanks coming from Kfar Ana colony. The enemy announced that Shafa Amr fell without fighting, and from there they proceeded towards Safourieh in the neighborhood of Nazareth, at the time the Inqaz army forces withdrew from it, leaving local fighters alone. enabling the enemy to occopy it and completely demolish it as was done with hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns, after looting all movable properties. (As per Dr. Walid Al-Khalidy book, “Lest we forget” 418 Palestinian Arab villages and towns were leveled to the ground in occupied Palestine).
Q. No doubt this exposed Nazareth city to Zionist invasion, right?
A. Unfortunately the repercussions were quite bad on the moral of on Palestinian Arab citizen as a result of the battle and fall of Shafa Amr, which enabled the enemy to attack Nazareth, the center of the Galilee district, and they started uprooting the people, to depopulate the country from its Arab citizens and expel them to Lebanon, carrying nothing except their babies and the clothes they had on.
Q. In addition to the repercussion of Ashajarah battle, did the fall of Nazareth further increase the
situation to the worse?
A. As we said Al-Inqaz army forces withdrew after Al-Shajara battle, which affected the moral of the citizens in areas that enemy forces did not reach yet, but in spite of that local committees continued to supply our people with what was available of food supplies that we could collect and provided shelter to the already uprooted villagers.
Q. And for the Central Committee?
A. The committee met and took the following decisions: 1. To demand from the people to steadfast in their villages that enemy forces did not reach, and not expatriate to Lebanon or to anywhere else, even if they were occupied by the enemy, as this was a strategic aim for the Zionist enemy, which wants to empty Palestine out its people and owners. 2.To permit the people to leave their villages during the day to their olive groves and fields to protect themselves from air raids. 3. To intensify night guarding and resistance men patrols. 4. To put in charge Lieutenant Colonel Yousuf Kamal, ex-officer in the Palestinian border guard corps, and in charge of the performance of the military committee, to put appropriate arrangements for local military groups and their capabilities. But in spite of all these arrangements and that coincided with the arrival of uprooted Palestinians from Nazareth and its villages, and the spreading news of savage massacres the enemy was committing , and the news of Deir Yassin massacre, which were spread by the Zionist propaganda machine to frighten Palestinian Arab citizens to drive them to run away, and Zionist air raids on villages, some asked the military committee to allow women and the young to leave their villages leaving behind men to defend them.
Q. Did the Central Committee agree on the request?
A. Certainly no, for in spite of the pressures of the situation on the ground, and those of some of the inhabitants, the committee insisted on its stance for not permitting any body to leave irrespective of age or sex, instead we continued stressing on that people should steadfast, we asked them to confront and resist the enemy. Our excuse was if we allow women and children to expatriate then some of the men shall follow their families when the situation becomes worse, thus they shall be participating in helping the enemy to fulfill its plans. We also arranged for a campaign by distributing a brief bulletin to tell the people: Zionists want to expel and chase away Palestinian Arabs to replace them in their land and homes. Resist and steafast and don’t help the enemy by uprooting yourselves.
Q. Did you personally carry arms and fight?
A. while some of the inhabitants were leaving my father bought a “Sten” machine gun for six Palestinian pounds and handed it to me, leaving for him the old rifle that he bought in the 1936 great Palestinian revolution that lasted from 1936 to 1939. Besides executing my task as secretary of the Central Committee, I was participating with Yusuf Kamal in recruiting fighters, gather them and send them to join Al-Inqaz army as per the request of its command. To encourage our fighters I was joining them when they left Maalia village, to make ready to attack Jeddin fortress, which was a gathering site for the enemy forces that was getting ready to attack our villages.
Q. What about your brothers?
A. The moment we arrived at our fighters gathering place my brother Hani arrived unarmed, he approached me insisting on giving him the Sten to replace me for other wise he shall remain in the village as he is now unarmed, he added saying it is better for the cause that I return to duty at the Central Committee. Upon his insistence and his willingness to sacrifice his life for the cause I handed him the gun and returned to Tarshiha.
Q. Sure you thought of the worse, did you take the necessary arrangements?
A. The enemy air raids continued on Maalia and Tarshiha villages. That morning I was in my village Sahmata, I and with my colleague Faris Gamil Abdul Latif went to tarshiha, and before we reached it Zionist airplanes raided the village’s outskirts , but in spite of that we continued walking towards the Central Committee office, and started collecting all documents and reports so as they will not fall in enemy hands in case they occupy the village. After burning the archives I decided to go the headquarters of Colonel Mahdi, and while on the way Zionist airplanes strongly and anew air raided the entrances of Maalia and Tarshiha as well as our village. Upon reaching the center we found with him Dr. Amin Rowaiha, we asked him about his assessment about the situation, I still remember what he said, “If air and canon raids continue , we have to expect an all over attack on the area, they aim at destroying our fighting forces, and disperse our fighters. I shall continue my contacts with the commander in chief Fawzi Al-Qawqji in Ain Ibel (South Lebanon) and with you whenever any new developments take place, Dr. Rowaiha and I are discussing transferring the field military hospital to Harfish to a location behind the line of confrontation.
Q. Did the enemy commit any massacres in Tarshiha and its neighborhood?
A. We left the colonel and the doctor discussing the transfer of the hospital, and took a tour in Tarshiha. the scenes were frightening: buildings were flattened to the ground, women and children under the rabble, a man returned from his guarding appointment to search for his wife and children under the rabble of his house, he was alone weeping for his mother and brothers that he lost under it, citizens carrying what ever they could and walking aimlessly fetching safety. Some old people were sitting in front of their houses cannot walk.
Q. What were the results of Zionist air raids on the battle in the Galilee?
A. Air raids continued on the area that resulted in an intensive transfer northward towards Lebanon, citizens left their home some of whom took refuge in olive groves, and others to safer villages that were not air raided yet. Or actually less dangerous, the rest were walking aimlessly, and by the fall off the night the village was a ghost town. As for my family, they took refuge in a cave in the olive grove near by our house. Al-Inqaz army transferred its headquarters and the military field hospital to the north east that is beyond the immediate frontlines.
Q. Did you have an active role in urging fighters to continue fighting and resisting in spite of the critical
situation on the ground and the great imbalance in power between our and the enemy forces?
A. I went to see the situation at the site of the transmission equipment of Al-Inqaz army outside the village, which was run by two technicians, Mahmoud Hassan Dhaher from Deir Al-Qassi and Hamad Hejo from Al-Quds (Jerusalem) especially that Hamad was my class mate at Tarshiha School. Hassan explained to me the deterioration of the situation on the battle field, and the request for assistance that had never been answered in spite of the repeated insistences by Al-Iqaz Army, as retreating orders were already given to fighting detachments. The enemy launched a new front to the east of Safsaf and Jish villages, and the command feared if the rapid attack continued by the enemy forces the road in front of our forces on the hills surrounding Tarshiha and Sahmata, and thus will be wiped out. Ahmad told me that he is thinking of leaving the center to his colleague, Mahmoud, and go to find about the fate of his family in Deir Al-Qassi. I told him what can you do for them whether they are dead or alive, you are now a fighter in the middle of the battle, and you have a very important task to fulfill, you are organizing communication between the command on the front and back lines of the battle. He accepted and remained at his site beside his colleague, and upon his request I brought food for them especially that the catering truck did not pass by them that day. This is while his colleague went to his village in the ambulance and he shell be back soon. While on my way to get them the food an enemy plane air raided the building housing the transmission equipment and the main road, I returned to see my friend Mahmoud lying on the ground where we were sitting, shrapnel hit him and destroyed the building with what ever was in it. Jamil Kaddourah took him to the field hospital in Harfouch, and from there to Lebanon where he died in Bent Jbeil. God bless his soul he was gallant, faithful and sincere.
Q. Did other members of your family support you in your fighting and organizational activities?
A. After my visit to the transmission center I returned to our village, Sahmata, to see that our house as well as other neighboring houses were hit during air raids, but fortunately the family was taking shelter in the cave as mentioned here above. I followed them and my father started talking to me about God’s will, and my mother thanking God that drove them to take refuge in the cave just before the air raid. My father asked me to join him out of the cave , because he wanted to talk to me about an important matter, and when we were alone he said: “Now Ahmad what is your opinion, don’t you see with your own eyes caravans of neighboring villagers, and army vehicles and even our own village people leaving. Why do you obstinate fate. Why don’t you think about the future son? Why? I started calming him and begging for his blessing, and try to convince him that Al-Inqaz army is still with us, and cannons are ready, and army vehicles are going back and forth carrying ammunitions and help. Why are you afraid father? Why should we leave our houses, we should remain with the army that is protecting us, we should give it moral support, why should we desert those who came to support and help us. We should not leave our houses. And when he didn’t see any positive response from me, and my insistence on resistance, he told me with tears envelop his eyes, he said God bless and protect you son. We moved to a place overlooking the main road, to see a column of army trucks stopping beside us, we went to find out what is happening, and among those present was Officer Akram Adairi, who was wounded in Ashajarah battle, we approached him and saluted him, I asked him about the situation, he replied: “The commandment decided to move the artillery to the hills near by Fastoutah village, to the north of Sahmata, and the army headquarters shall be moved from Tarshiha, and probably we shall make of your village a station.” I asked if he needs any help from us, he replied “No we are waiting for the arrival of the rest of the cars; so I tried to convenience my father, on our way to the cave, that there is no need for worry and loss of hope, he shook his head, and I am not sure whether in approval on what he heard from officer Adairi and from me or of belittlement.
Q. What was your assessment of the movements of Al-Inqaz army?
A. We returned to the cave and I told the family about what we heard, and latter I returned to the main road, to see army trucks loaded moving towards the east, and some were coming from Hajd Al-Kroum on their way to Lebanon, where Al-Inqaz Army head quarters was stationed, I realized that this was a withdrawal movement.
Q. What else?
A.I returned to the cave where my father spoke first to say: “I didn’t believe what the officer told us that the artillery is being moved to Fastoutah hill, and the headquarters shall be stationed in our village, don’t you see that it is a withdrawal movement? I tried to convince him anew that what we heard is the truth, but he tried to bargain a deal with me, saying: “Take your older sister and brother and leave the village, and I with your mother and the younger children shall remain here”. I stubbornly replied: “Please father relieve me of this task, I shall never leave the village. I shall remain and if necessary die here, and this is the last thing I shall tell you”. It seems that my voice was high and harsh enough to be heard by the rest of the family inside the cave to make them all rush out to find out what is taking place, I told every body: “If you are looking for safety leave the village and leave me alone, but if you chose to steadfast here, in our land let us all stay together. Man dies once. whether we go to Syria or Lebanon. We shall all die at the end. As for me I prefer to die in Sahmata with one quick enemy bullet, better then die in far away from my homeland and birth place regretting what I did”. This is how I replied my father in front of my brothers and sisters, who were all not used to see such a behavior and stubbornness from me. Hearing this, my father could not control his tears.
And in the same manner I proceeded addressing my brothers and sisters: “Where to go and how do you expect to live? I visited Lebanon and reached Saida, and met the district governor, and saw in what conditions those who left Palestine before us are living, they are living on sidewalks; so if you decide to leave the village. leave it, and don’t ask about me, I shall never leave it alive”. Then I turned to my parents and said: “If it is a matter of profanation of the family’s honor, rip opening pregnant women’s bellies and denude them, the families honor. I tell you this is the machinegun in my hand and beside it a quantity of bullets; so if the enemy approached us I shall not give them the opportunity to touch any of us. I shall shoot you all leaving one bullet for myself that shall penetrate my chest. We shall die with honor, and avoid the hardships of walking out of our land, and the disgrace of vagrancy and need..” My father asked: “What is your opinion about what Ahmad said?” My mother replied: “We all would rather die together then leaving Ahmad alone”. She cried and the rest cried with her. My father then asked me what do you say if we go to Kafr Smei’ village, which is near to Sahmata, and it is said that its inhabitants shall not leave, and thus we shall all stay in Palestine near our village?” I replied: “I have no objection as long as we remain in Palestine”. My father had friends and acquaintances of the Falah family there, and I have a class mate among them. My father rose up and said: “I shall go with some of your brothers and sisters with some of our belongings to Kafr Smei’, and you with your mother and rest of your brothers and your baby brother till my return, to join the rest and stay there till God decides our fate”.
Q. Could you reach Kafr Smei’?
A. The moment my father and brothers and sisters left we started hearing the roar of enemy tanks coming in the direction of Tarshiha while its machine guns bullet were being fired in the air to frighten the inhabitants to push them to run away, especially that the Inqaz Army had already completed its withdrawal from the region. Then I got convinced with my father’s assessment of the situation and that the army was withdrawing!!! My father didn’t go to Kafr Smei’, because he didn’t want to bother his friends under these hard conditions, instead he sent my brother Hani to tell us that they were going to Ain Tarba, where he found a water fountain and orchards near Sahmata, and father knew the owner of an uninhabited house there that we can stay in. On our way to Ain Tarba my sister Hanieh’s toe was hit by an enemy desultory bullet. After reaching the fountain I asked permission from my father to go to meet colonel Yousuf Kamal, member of the Galilee Central Committee to discuss the situation. He was with some dignitaries of Al-Biqiaa and Sahmata also discussing what they should do in case enemy forces reached there.
Q. Under these critical conditions did those present decide to leave?
A. Colonel Kamal opened the discussion by saying: “We as a central committee are no more in a position to do any thing to protect the inhabitants, as Al-Inqaz Army decided to withdraw from the region. The enemy has all the potentials, while we don’t have the strength to resist, and all what we can do is to remain in our homes, and I advise every body to keep calm, and not take any action that shall make the enemy to avenge”. Every body decided to stay in their homes and not to expatriate. Upon taking this decision the meeting was adjourned. We the inhabitants of Sahmata agreed to return to our homes, among who was Hassan Ayoub. We reached the village at night, and the agreement was to meet in the morning with who ever was still in it, to find out that the enemy had already entered it from the eastern and western sides, and started to attack the empty houses in search for arms, and by sun rise the enemy forces started calling by laud speakers every body to gather in the square, because the army shall search, and any body found still at home shall be executed and his house demolished. Every body gathered in the square while enemy soldiers were surrounding us. The commander asked about the mokhtar and somebody told him that he went to the olive groves, and pointed to his brother, Ahmad Saleh Kaddourah, he ordered him to go and open the divan’s door, and when it was found closed they broke it open and searched it. The commander announced that they want all weapons the inhabitants own, and used to fight them. He added that they know that we joined the attack at Naharia, Hanita and Jiddine, and if not all the weapons are surrendered within one hour every body will die, and shall demolish the village over your heads. The commander of the unit approached me, and I was the youngest of all those gathered, and asked me about the arms I had with me and that I was fighting with. I replied: We all don’t have arms to hand it to you”. He slapped me on the face, cursed and quieted me, and started asking every one around the same question, and all repeated my answer, all what we know that Arab forces were stationed in Tarshiha and withdrew.
Q. What happened to you when taken prisoner of war?
A. The Zionist commander chose HAJ Hashim Kadourah, Khaled Mahmoud Kadourah and me, and told the rest: “You stay here under guard, and we shall take those as hostages up till our return, and if we hear one shot soldiers shall kill you all and I shall kill those”. They used us as human shields, they tied each of us on the front of a tank, and the column of tanks drove with these on which we were tied at the head of the column and we drove towards Biqa3a village, and before we reached there we met groups of people approaching the tanks carrying white flags. The commander dismounted his tank, and approached them surrounded by soldiers, then every body returned to colonel Yourself Kamal where they held a meeting while we were still tied on the tanks with robes almost breaking our bones. We of course didn’t know what was discussed in the meeting, but we were hearing the inhabitants saying that the Zionist commander is Ibrahim Hillal”.
Q. Who is this Ibrahim Hillal?
A. Ibrahim Hillal is one of three Jews who were living in three houses in a normal manner up till the 1936 revolution, and along with Hillal there were Haskin and Barr am working in dairy production. But Ibrahim proclaimed his Islam and started attacking Jews and Zionism brought by the Jewish agency. But at a sudden we stopped seeing him, and the villagers were about to forget all about him, up till he showed among them as commander of the Zionist unit to enter his village a “conqueror”!!! The news spread among the inhabitants. A part of the caravan returned to Sahmata, and upon our arrival in the square, and the rest proceeded to Tarshiha. Upon our arrival in the square they untied and disembarked us down from top of the tanks and put us in the shop of Ahmad Abdul Kader till the morning.
Q. What did occupation forces do with Arab homes?
A. Occupation soldiers went around the village searching homes and gathered who ever they found women and men and put us in the house of Abdul Wahab Salamoun at the edge of the square. In the morning they brought new detainees and put them with us, among who there was my father and brother Hani. While standing with Hani a Zionist soldier approached us whom I immediately recognized as he was a colleague while I was working in the Public Works Department in Haifa, he was Yousuf Jacob Besifi, and he knew that I left my job in the department to join the Palestinian Labor Society. While Besifi was talking to me an officer approached me and slapped on the face and giving me a flood of curses. He ordered one of the soldiers to take us to a nearby place where we were searched after stripping our cloths. He took my watch, fountain pen and the money he found in my wallet, and tightly tied us to an olive tree to an extent that the robes cut into our skin, then he ordered us to raise our arms as if we were crucified unable to move, then started cursing and hitting us. and told us with broken Arabic: “Recite you death prayers you sons of ..”.
Q. Did soldiers proceed with investigating you, and how?
A. After the morning meal of torture, curses and all sorts of degradations, they transferred us to the school where the officer’s headquarters was located. The officer ordered those who were there to leave the room, and started interrogating us anew with questions such as: Why did you leave your job in the Works Department, what was your job in the Labor society, and where were you militarily trained , where are your weapons, but my answers didn’t enable him to convict me with what he considered to be outside his occupation law. Then he called the mukhtar’s brother and repeated the same questions he asked me, and Mr. Kadourah’s answers were identical to mine that made him end at loss. Interrogating us ended to start with other citizens.
Q. Was the Zionist enemy satisfied with gathering Arab citizens, interrogating them and leave them alone in their homes and villages?
A. Five of us were called, Muhammad Said Kadourah, Khaled Mahmoud Kadourah, Hassan Kadourah, Abdul Arrahman Hussein Kadourah and me, they put us in one of the school rooms, and ordered soldiers to expel the rest of the citizens men, women and children from their homes and homeland. Soldiers started executing the order firing over their heads to terrorize them. One of the soldiers was shouting in Arabic: “Go, follow al-Qawekji. Al-Inqaz Army. Go to Lebanon. don’t dare to return. We shall kill any body who shall try to return..” But in spite of this the Zionist enemy claimed that Palestinian Arabs willingly and voluntarily deserted their land and homes.
Q. What did the enemy do with the emptied homes?
A. No more then two days passed, when a taxi car arrived in the village with civilian Jews, accompanied with trucks from which Arab laborers dismounted who started an organized looting campaign of all the movable properties found in the houses, tobacco bales, for which Sahmata was famous for its plantation, as well as what ever they found in these houses of food products that were preserved for the remainder of the year: grain, cereals, oils and ghee .., and furniture. They used to fill the trucks and leave with what they looted to return again for what remained un-looted yet. Then most of the houses were demolished; so as their owners will not find shelter to return to.
Q. How many martyrs fell in Sahmata?
A. A number of martyrs fell as a result of air raids and firing at unarmed Sahmata’s inhabitants among who were: 1. Ahmad Hussein Qadourah, a young man who was shot dead by targeted enemy fire while his father and others were watching. 2. Mustapha Ali Qadourah while returning to the village with his cows. 3. Abdul Wahab Salamoun, a very old man who was assassinated in his house. 4. Hussein Mousa, Killed in front of his house in the eastern neighborhood of the village. 5. Khalil Salamoun, Killed in his bed while sick. 6. Attalah Mousa, hit by an enemy bullet while crossing the road. 7. Ahmad Hamoudeh, hit by shrapnel. 8. Khalil Abboud, of Al-Biqai3ah village, killed while visiting Khalil Salloum. 9. Mouzeh Mousa, Wife of Assad Nimer, hit by shrapnel during a Zionist air raid inside of her home. 10. Sumaiah Amer, wife of Tawfiq Al-Abed Ali Qadourah killed inside her home. Here another round of arrests started, interrogations, torture, uprooting then expulsion to Lebanon. Looting of Sahmata homes lasted for many days, trucks were coming empty in the morning to leave in the afternoon filled with people’s life long toll and sweating. We were standing and watching feeling our hearts being torn from our chests while bleeding, and can’t complain, fight or say a word. What was hurting most was that Palestinian Arabs were forced to take part in the looting by forced corve’e labor and do the lowliest types of work for the occupiers. These men were intentionally passing by us to apology for participating in looting the belongings of their compatriots, they were forced to that by the force of arm under threats of death. Other Palestinian Arab citizens were forced to help in the looting of other villages among which was Deir Al-Aqasi village. Enemy trucks were roaming the villages to gather young and middle aged men to take part in the looting.
Q. Is it possible that the enemy did not notice you in spite of all your activities in resistance and organizational work?
A. Unfortunately no, one morning trucks arrived as usual to proceed with the looting process, and there was among the workers somebody that knew me, it was not long before a car stopped and an officer ordered me to mount the car, and when I asked him why, he replied you soon shall know you son of b. The car continued up till we reached the Tarshiha police station that became and enemy occupation forces center. The officer spoke in private with another for sometime, then left me there to continue with the looting campaign. The moment the officer left the police station they started beating, slapping, kicking, and cursing the father, mother, sisters. and the people, while none of the soldiers have yet asked me any question. Soldiers where practicing their hate authority. Things continued like this till the evening when I was led to a dark room where I spent the night without a mattress or a cover nor food or water. By morning a new course of torture started. I was led by a soldier to the station’s yard barefooted and without a shirt, and was ordered to sweep it while being beaten, kicked and cursed and without food or water. At noon they led me to the officer’s office who told me: “We know a lot about you, we know that you were in Haifa, know that you worked at the Arab society, know that you carried arms in Sahmata, know that you fired at Israeli Defense Forces, we know that you practiced high responsibilities and that you did not leave the village in agreement with the commandment of men who are planning to return if they could. and. and. don’t try to deny it for we are sure of what we are saying”. He continued to ask me and I was denying all “accusations” other then that I was working at the Arab Labor Society in their interest. I added had I been what you say would I have stayed to fall in your hands, and expose myself to dangers. He interrupted me with a strong punch and a bad curse and said: “Didn’t we tell you that you stayed in agreement with them to be their contact and guide.” The officer ordered a soldier to take me back to the dark room with a special “recommendation” for a new course of beating, kicking and curses before giving me some left over, but before I was returned to the room I was ordered to sweep some rooms and cleaning the toilets. Things continued in this manner for a period of about ten days during which integrations, courses of torture and my toilets cleaning job. Questioning sessions were repeated over and over while answers continued to be unchanged, and the usual courses were intensified. And during one of the sessions I was presented by a piece of paper and the officer ordered me to read loudly. The paper was a message addressed from the secretary of the local central committee in Yanouh village inviting him to attend the general meeting of the central committee during which the question of attending the conference that Hajj Amin Al-Hussainy called for to be held in Gaza to be attended by the areas dignitaries. signed by Secretary of the central committee, “Ahmad Hussein Al-Ali”, the name I used sign with. The moment I finished reading the paper he asked me: “You were denying that you were a responsible person with a high stature, and deny that you had relations with armed men, and now we are giving you the proof on what you were denying, what do you say now, do you have any thing else to say? Your name and your signature, do you want us to get you witnesses to confess in front of them?” I replied, “And where is the proof you are talking about, is it this paper, is it the proof?” He replied, “Isn’t this is a proof enough?” I took out my identity card and handed it to him, and said my name is Ahmad Hussein Ali Suleiman, and if the proof is a synonymous name, every body knows that all common names are repeated.” Questions continued unchanged and so were the answers, and so were beatings, slapping, kicking and cursing. And said, “Denying won’t be of use, we shall send you to somebody who can deal with you better you son of a ….” He ordered to be returned to the same room, where I started thinking of who could have given them the paper?. Did they search his house as usual when they enter a village? Was there a security breakthrough in the local committee in Yanouh? What is important is that they have in hand some sort of a proof for what they consider a crime, on the basis of which they could continue their investigations. As I mentioned earlier soldiers were taking the detainees to abandoned villages to loot food products, furniture, windows and doors and take them to a gathering place in the colonies of Affoulah and Nehlal. Detainees were left without food and water all day long till they return to the camp to eat the slice of bread and boiled potato. Mr. Ibrahim was telling me while crying about the fatigue that he used to undergo while they were pushed to work rapidly in carrying looted Arab properties from homes to trucks. That was not surprising Zionist brutality, racism, bloody massacres, burning and thieving was nothing but a small fraction Zionist racist ideology, and who ever reads some old and new Jewish Zionist literature shall not be surprised to be imposed on him.
Q. Up till when detention lasted, and when and how did the journey to the Shatat (diaspora) and refuge after detention started?
A. Detention didn’t last long, but what happened after it was more bitter and worse, the operation of uprooting started, as Zionist intelligence centers used to after interrogating and torturing detainees used to be transferred to force and hard labor camp in Atlit where they used to work in stone quarries. Few weeks passed after which we, while in Nahlal detention camp, ten of us detainees among whom were Mahmoud Ibrahim Maarrouf were called and ordered to mount a military truck, which drove us to an unknown location. We thought that we were being taken to Atlit, but the truck drove in the opposite direction, that is to the north guarded by another truck full of soldiers. The caravan used to stop at every military post where the officer used to disembark and enter the post and return moments later, and when we passed near my village, Sahmata, I threw a last farewell look at my birth palace. Upon reaching Al-Mansourah village at the Palestinian/Lebanese border the officer ordered us to dismount the truck and listen well to him speaking in clear Arabic saying: “Look well around you, here you see all around Israeli Defense Forces all over the area, you are at the Lebanese border, and we advised all military posts we passed by, Aka, Tarshiha, Saasaaa, lists of your names, we are releasing you now, to follow your folks, don’t dare to think of returning. Walk in this direction, pointing to the north, don’t look backwards, or even right and left. And who ever disobey orders we shall shoot him. You shall reach the Lebanese village of Rmeish and there you will manage yourself. Go.Go.yalah. yalah.” The moment he finished soldiers started pushing us northwards, upon reaching Rmeish soldiers started firing in the air to terrorize us, to try to convince us that they are serious in what their officers told us.. This was the moment our journey into the Shatat and refuge started. We arrived in Rmeish and Mr. Maarrouf took me to the Khoury family with whom he had old and close relations, and I used to hear from my uncle Jamil that he too was a friend of the family.
Q. Abu Maher, tell us about how you resumed your resistance activities in the Shatat after your uprooting.
A. I resumed my resistance activities and movements through which my patriotic and nationalistic personality was developed, as an Arab citizen displaced by the Zionist invaders from my homeland and my birth place, Palestine in 1949. I was later known by my resistance movement name, “Abu Maher Al-Yamani”. Abu Maher said, “My experience in my practical life taught me many lessons, lessons from those successful in life, to whom I harbor all the respect estimation, that success is specific morals, in which one should abide with when facing difficulties, the most important of which: 1. Bearing with difficulties, without bowing to them. 2. Perseverance and follow up, to achieve set goals. 3. Accuracy in work and taking care of details. 4. Organization, Integration of efforts, to insure the safety of the structure. 5. Honesty in all its constituents: Reliability, credibility, cleanliness, transparency and purity of the tongue.
“Palestine shall remain the cynosure for its people and the rest of the Arabs, insist on a continuous struggle to liberate it, and the return of its people to their homes and land in it all, what ever difficulties and hardships they may confront irrespective of time and sacrifices they have to make. Liberation and return shall remain their focal point in life to achieve their inalienable rights in their land, when hope shall be achieved and goals are reached? “Contrary to the Zionist enemy’s hopes that the coming generations shall forget Palestine, but history proved that the new generations are the generations that shall reply to these questions, and God wills hopes that our future generations shall achieve the set goal. Lives of nations are not measured by years, history also proved that those who believe in their just rights and cause shall never give up and shall continue their struggle till victory is achieved. And we shall be victorious and shall return liberated as resisters and not bargainers and shall not relinquish in our rights in our land.”
Q. What in your opinion are the reasons for the fall of Palestine in general and the Galilee in particular.
A. The journey to the Shatat started when we arrived in Rmeish, as a result of our uprooting from our land and the fall of the Galilee in the hands of the Zionist gangues. Immediately at this moment I started trying to reply this question that was in my mind, and the minds of my Palestinian and many other Arab compatriots, why did the Galilee fall and so quickly? The question is still following me step by step, and still don’t get the right answer, in spite of the fact that I was always listening to answers coming to me from here and there that never convinced me and did not satisfy me and quench my thirst for the truth. Time passed till I got hold of the memoirs of Akram Adiri who participated in the battle of Palestine in 1948 as an officer in the Inqaz Army, and who occupied many important political and military posts in Syria, and among the reasons he listed are the following:
1. The lack of a strategic choice for the vital goals that should be defended, the commandment of the army wanted to defend all sites together and so they lost them all.
2. Goals did not suit possibilities and means.
3. Al-Inqaz army did not follow a suitable pattern to its abilities and means.
4. The lack of coordination between Lebanese and Syrian armies with Al-Inqaz Army during the battle, and in spite of the participation of a battalion of the Syrian Arab army the night of the fall of Al-Jish and Asifsaf villages and capturing a part of it because it was not familiar with area, and taking part in the battle at night, and sending another battalion to fight the battle thus enforcing the Lebanese front, while it could have had a counter attack from its front, and the Lebanese army could have made counter attacks from the north to loosen the pressure on Tarshiha, as Arab forces in it were resisting, but its resistance would not be able to continue due to the big shortage in French ammunitions. 5. There were no means of transport to Yarmouk 2nd battalion to the front, which could have had launched from Faradiah village, and could have liberated Saassaa village. 6. The lack of enough French ammunition, as most of Al-Inqaz Army forces were armed with old French weapons from WW II left over. 7. In spite of the withdrawal Al-Inqaz Army forces could have returned and liberated Tarbikha and Salhia, and form a resistance force, within Palestinian territories, that could sneak to the Galilee and fight a gorilla war there, and establish resistance bases for fighting on new bases, such a strategy could have threatened enemy lines of communication, and the colonization of the Galilee, but orders were given to Al-Inqaz Army not to fight on the Lebanese border. These forces were re-gathered and reorganized in a battalion under the leadership general Anwar Bannoud of the Syrian army, and was put in charge to defend the central sector of the Lebanese front assisted by an official Syrian army regiment. With the loss of the Galilee Arabs lost the most important base for Arab popular war, and had the Galilee remained Palestinian up till now the route of history of the Palestinian cause would have been totally different now and from its basis. All these defeats, without doubt, confirms that Arabs were not only militarily and politically defeated, they were defeated on all fronts, because they didn’t come to a unified political concept, and one political/military strategy, and had they succeeded in that, they would have been able to defend crucial strongholds in Palestine, and Zionist invaders would not have been able to occupy lands that were not supposed to be Jewish in the partition plan.
Q. Do you think that there is a possibility to liberate Palestine from Zionist occupation?
A. Abu Maher replied: “Arab history should repeat itself, and the Arab nation shall liberate Palestine from the river to the sea, and every occupied Arab land extorted by the enemies of the Arab nation. Arab history taught us that a great hero shall be born in our Arab nation, that shall follow the step of the great leader, Saladin, that shall unify the Arab land and lead its unified armies, which shall defeat fascist Zionists, and liberate not only Palestine but also any occupied Arab land, its redeem exploited fortunes, from the Zionist enemy and its strategic allies, the British and American colonialists. “Palestine and its eternal capital the city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem), was and shall be the basic axis of Arab struggle between Arabs and colonialists. “For sure, history shall repeat itself, and when the Arab nation is reunified from it’s dispersed status, and its discordant and feuding rulers hit at the right track of its interests, and reunify their states, armies and economies by means of dialogue, and understanding.
“Then and only then, Arab march, with a coherent Arab force, with high morals, and a spiritual Christian and Islamic mobilization, to defeat Zionist invaders and occupiers, as did Richards the Lion heart, the leader of British forces in the Crusader’s invasion was defeated before them, as well as all other western invaders. Up till we achieve all what we hope to do, Arab masses shall continue working with zeal, conviction and faith: Resisting, without formfitting and bargaining with our historic and legal rights, this is a deep rooted faith that the Arab Nation shall be victorious after a long struggle. Al-Aqsa and the Church of Resurrection shall remain minarets that shall direct the Arab Nation in its march of struggle and resistance up till our homeland and people are liberated from extortion in the Shatat on the track of return and liberation. After the end of this torturous voyage since the day I was detained in my beloved Sahmata at the end of October, after the fall of the district of the Galilee in the hands of Zionist gangues, which the enemy started to call “The Israeli Defense Forces”, while it is nothing but an army of occupation and extortion; after uprooting its indigenous and rightful people from our beloved Palestine. The hardest of all what I suffered was, as I said, was this last look at my birth place, our village, beloved Sahmata, while that military truck was speeding from the detention camp on its way to throw us in the unknown at the border of Palestine. in ashatat. I was cuffed on the hands and feet, thus I could not throw a last look of farewell on it, all what I could do was to throw a side glance, a hot tear and un- matched cry from the bottom of the heart.
Q. How did the voyage in Ashatat start?
A. In reaching the Lebanese/Palestinian border that was applied in 1923 by British/French colonialism by their two representatives Sykes the British and Picot the French in application of their ill famed agreement of 1916, which was followed also by the ill famed Balfour Declaration that stated on presenting Palestine to the Zionist movement to establish a “national home for the Jews on its land, which required our uprooting and expulsion from our ancestral land. We started walking without knowing our way, feeling pain for leaving our homeland, looking to the sky and prying not to abandon us and give us the strength to enable to liberate our land, redeem our rights and return to our green land, our lost paradise. After a long walk in-between rocks and thorny plants Rmeish showed in the horizon in Arab Lebanon. As mentioned above we were warmly welcomed by the Khoury family who also felt pain in their hearts for what happened to us.. They told us about the condition of those who preceded us into Ashatat, and about the help they extended to them on their way to the north. to Bent Jbeil and from there to Tyre (Sour), where the red cross established a temporary camp to shelter the uprooted Palestinians. Sour people used to bring to the camp blankets and some home appliances to the red cross to distribute them as they see fit.
Q. How did you find out the where about is you family?
A. The following day after our arrival in Rmeish, and while preparing to leave it to Sour, I was surprised with the arrival of my uncle Jamil in the company of his son Rizq, who returned to Rmeish to take his horse that he left with them after their expulsion from Sahmata, and sell it to spend the money to support his family. It was a happy surprise especially that they all thought that the enemy had killed me after the occupation, and I told them about our torturous trip, and how I suffered on the hands of the racist enemy. My uncle reassured me about the safety of my family, and told me that they were settled in one of the warehouses in Tripoli harbor in northern Lebanon, and told me that he and his family settled in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh. My uncle gave me some Lebanese money and took me to a taxi stop and instructed the driver that was going to Beirut to disembark me in the Beirut-Tripoli garage. The driver took me to Tripoli and disembarked me in front of the warehouses. I saw there some kids playing and among whom was my brother Hani, who the moment he saw me shouted while running to the warehouse: “Mother. mother my brother Ahmad came.” And the rest of my brothers and sisters ran towards me crying and shouting “Our brother Ahmad came..” My mother ran out of the warehouse while crying, laughing, thanking God, and pushed her way between the kids and hugged me rapping her arms around my neck. She led me to the warehouse, in which there were twelve families, the women gathered there surrounded me congratulating me for my safety. I was as a suckling baby in between his mothers kind arms, surrounded by brothers and sisters as if we were in a bird’s nest. I gazed around and asked my mother about my father, She replied that he returned to Palestine three days ago to search for you. She proceeded saying: “We were all fast asleep, and it seems that your brother Burhan was dreaming, and saw you dead; so he started shouting and crying saying, ‘poor Ahmad he died. Jews killed Ahmad.” Your father and I woke up, and started begging God for your safety and return me to them. In the morning, after your brothers left the warehouse, remaining alone with your father he said to me: “Saiida, after what we heard from Burhan while dreaming I decided to return to Palestine to search for Ahmad, ‘take care of the kids’. He didn’t leave me the opportunity to ask him any thing. And before he left he told me, ‘If I were late and the children asked about me, tell them that I found work in the mountain, and I shall return in two weeks time with money to buy them new cloths’. He bid me god buy and left, begging God to return him safe”. I remembered old women’s saying, “Crying in dreams dispels distress”, and burhan’s dream concurred at the time of my release with my release from detention, and expulsion from Palestine, and arriving safely in Rmeish and my return to my family.
Q. You said that your family was in Sour’s camp, how come they reached Tripoli?
A. One day the officer in charge of the camp came and told them, pack up and get ready for a trip, the train shall come to take you to Syria. The train arrived at noon and they mounted it to start their second leg into the Shatat. The train moved supposedly to Syria. On the way they used to distribute Bred, Sardines and water. Hours later the train reached Tripoli harbor, and did not move any further. They asked what is the matter, they were told that Syrian authorities had received enough refugees and cannot take any more. They stayed in the train for several days, and they were not allowed to get off it except to go to toilets, and the police was surrounding it so as not to allow them to prevent them from sneaking into Lebanon. And when matters did not reach a solution they were allowed to disembark, and they were transferred to the harbor’s warehouses. A number of families settled in each warehouse up to its full capacity with a blanket hang by robes to separate one family from the other. I remember that the owners of the warehouse emptied them to allow the refugees to take shelter in them. I asked my mother how did they manage to live even though all help was given to them on the train was halted, she said, “After disembarking from the train the Tripoli people counted the number of the refugees in each warehouse and were given what they could up till matters could change. We were plagued by Zionists who expelled us from our land, but he brought us our people in Lebanon to help us and support us in our tragedy, God protect and bless them.
Q. What about your father who returned to Palestine to search for you?
A. My father received a letter from the red cross in reply to his asking about my fate. Zionists confessed that I was taken prisoner of war by them, and that I was registered by them under number 4145 on December 8th 1948, she added that your father took a copy of the letter to show it to those from who he wanted to get their help to search for me. My father returned from Palestine and upon reaching Rmeish he was informed by Muhammad Salim Kaddourah, from Sahmata, who was still there, that I was in Rmeish and went to Tripoli. Our meeting was warm, and it reminded me of when I was a student in Tarshiha, after I escaping being drowned in a flood.
Q. And what happened later?
A. My father related to us about his trip to Palestine, and how he used to walk by night and hide during daytime, and he tried not to leave any trace that would show that somebody passed by from there, up till he reached Kafr Samie3 where he met a friend there from Fallah family that my father worked for, he apologized because he doesn’t have any relations with the enemy. Then he met a member of the central committee, Yousuf Kamal and asked for his help, who replied that the enemy knows his past, and he suggested that my father go to Yarka village to meet Sheikh Jaber Addaish, my father didn’t know what happened between me An Jaber as I mentioned earlier. He went to see Jaber and when he asked him to help in finding locating me, Jaber who remembered the old incident, namely my refusal to allow him smuggle his horde of cattle and goats to the occupied land, he told my father, “God bless Ahmad’s soul he tried to run away from the detention camp and soldiers fired at him, killed and buried him in an unknown place. Don’t bother yourself you better leave here as if Jews see you they shall detain you, and will end where your son is”.
When my father heard that he also started his journey into the Ashatat anew, he walked for two days between mountains and valleys without food or water up till he reached Rmeish, and proceeded back to Tripoli, as I said earlier Mr. Kaddourah that congratulated him for my safety.
The interview was conducted with the 83 years old Abu Maher, Ahmad Hussein Al-Yamani, who refered us for details to his four volume memoirs: Arabic language:”My Experience with life”