Remembering Bir al-Saba'
06/2006
Remembering Bir al-Saba'

 

Excerpts from the booklet:

Forward

Beersheba was founded by the Ottoman empire at the beginning of the 20th century, a small, modern city which size never grew beyond 7,000 inhabitants. It was home to merchants from Gaza and Hebron, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze, Bedouin and others. Beersheba was located outside the UN participation plan of November 1947, but nonetheless it was conquered by Israel in October – November 1948 in the framework of Operation Yoav. The operation was headed by Southern Front commander Yigal Allon, and in its course all the residents of the following communities were conquered and expelled: al-Khalasa, Bayt Tima, Dimra,Bayt Jirja, Dayr Sunayd, Hiribya, al-Majdal, Barbara, Hamama, al-Jiyya, al-Khisas, Ni'ilya, Iraq Suwaydan, Iraq al-Manshiyya,Ajjur, Kudna, Ra'na, Zikrin, Dayr al-Dubban, al-Qubayba, Khirbat Umm Burj, Bayt Jibrin, al-Dawayima, Dayr Al-Nakhkhas, and al-Jura. Beersheba was conquered on 20-21 October 1948 with the use of aerial bombardment. Some of the men remained for a short time afterward to help the IDF clear the city; later they were transferred to prisoner of war camps. As far as is known, there are no remaining refugees from the city living within the borders of the State of Israel.

This brochure was prepared by Zochrot to accompany an organized visit to the city and its remains on 8 July 2006. Its purpose is to shed some light on the Nakba of Beersheba. It includes testimonies of Palestinian refugees who lived in the area of the city as well as research material from different sources.

This is the seventeenth in a series of such brochures by Zochrot. Prior brochures have been produced on Deir Yassin, Lifta, Ayn Ghazzal, al-Haram (Sidna Ali), Ayn al- Mansi, Haifa, Acre, Lydda, Ramleh, Jalame, Isdud and Majdal, Sheikh Muwannis, the Golan, Suhmata, al-Lajjun, and Ijlil.

This brochure is an expression of the desire of individuals who live in this country to end the conflict between them and bring about reconciliation between their peoples.

The Battle for the Mosque

The battle for the mosque began in August 2002. The Association for the Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights, together with other Muslim organizations, petitioned the High Court to instruct the municipality and supervisory government offices to allow Muslims to pray in the structure and to cancel the plan to turn it into part of the Negev Museum.

Given the complexity of the subject and that it touches on religious, national, security, budgetary, cultural, and other matters, the respondents reasoned that it would be appropriate for a broad ranging examination of the subject and its ramifications to be carried out by a professional intergovernmental committee, which would formulate its suggestions on the matter and submit them to the court. The municipality and relevant government offices were assisted by affidavits from the General Security Services, which vehemently opposed the use of the structure as a Muslim mosque for prayer. At one point a senior GSS official signed an affidavit in which he wrote, among others, "Allowing the possibility for Islamic elements to take over the structure of the mosque in Beer Sheva, in this manner or another, will in time bring about negative outcomes such as incitement against the state, combined with hatred and the enflaming of passions, and even the danger of amassing weapons, and will result in the desire to takeover other territories in the area." In February 2001 the Prime Minister appointed a committee headed by Government Secretary Israel Maimon, which submitted its recommendations eight months later. Among the recommendations: "The present, designated purpose of the structure must not be changed to a purpose that existed over 50 years ago, and the structure must not be reverted for use as a place of worship." The municipality accepted the recommendations of the council and expected the High Court to make a determination in its favor. On the opposing side, the Muslim organizations continued to wage their battle.

Last week, as stated, the High Court handed down an intermediate decision, preceding the final decision that is expected in the coming months.

The Mosque Will Be Used for Needs of Muslims

Local newspaper "Kol Ha-Negev," 21 January 2005

by Yaakov Levy

In a longstanding battle between the BeerSheva municipality and Muslim representatives, the High Court has suggested an idea for a settlement: The mosque in the old city will operate as a social-cultural center for Muslims, but not as a place of worship. The parties are to respond within 60 days. Eli Boker warns: "Blood will be spilt here. The place will turn into a center for Muslims from all over the world. We are losing Beer Sheva." Muslim sources: "We would be even more satisfied if they would let us use the place as a mosque."

Last week the High Court deliberated over a petition submitted by Muslim organizations against the Beer Sheva municipality regarding its intention to turn the mosque in the old city into a museum. The High court proposed that the mosque be used for the purposes of the Muslim population in the area as a social-cultural center but not as a place of worship. The court ordered the parties to examine the proposal and formulate their positions within 60 days.

The proposal was received with satisfaction among representatives of Muslim organizations, while on the opposing side Jewish organizations are planning to battle the idea. Adv. Morad al-Sana, representing the Association for the Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights, appointed by the petitioners, said in response to the intermediate decision, "We are satisfied, but we would be even more satisfied if they would let us use the place as a mosque. There has been some progress.

We will submit our positions. We still haven't decided." Immediately after he was informed of the High Court proposal, Eli Boker, former deputy mayor and the person leading the battle against turning the structure into a mosque, assembled a press conference in which he called the suggestion "a grave decision." Boker further warned: "I know that blood will be spilt here, and we want to prevent it." Regarding the proposal itself to turn the mosque into a community social center, Boker said, "We have the sense that the Bedouin are carrying out an ideological battle and are taking us over step by step. The court is out of touch with the residents of Beer Sheva.

There is no doubt that the Bedouin will pray and the place will turn into a center for Muslims who will come from all over the world. We are losing Beer Sheva and the Negev." Minister of Knesset Yaakov Margi of Shas, who appeared at the press conference with council members Andre Ozen and Zechariah Ohev-Shalom, made clear that he will submit a motion for the Knesset agenda to discuss the matter.

Margi: "It's like a man who is sick with every illness and they continue to prick needles into him. It's the last nail in the coffin of Beer Sheva, and it is grave and dangerous." Ozan and Ohev-Shalom accused the municipality of being inept and submitted a motion for the Knesset agenda to urgently convene the council to discuss the latest developments. The Beer Sheva Municipality is trying to minimize the intermediate decision. A spokesperson for the municipality responded that "the matter depends on and hangs before the High Court. We have 60 days to respond to the proposal, and that is indeed what we will do."

Interview with Hajja Rakiyya al-Sana'a

April 2006

There were many British police stations in Palestine, and there were many British soldiers who were without their wives. Not one of them brought their family to live in al-Seba [Beersheba]. In my whole life I never saw a British woman who came to visit Palestine.

The governor was Muslim and the officers were Muslims... At every station there were two or three British and the remainder were Arab officers. The governor was an Arab from Jaffa whose name was Aref al-Aref, and there was another governor who was called Abed a- Razaq. I never met a governor or an officer. It was forbidden for women to be seen by men, but I know about them from my father, who passed away.

All the soldiers and officers were Bedouin. The police officers were Bedouin, and so were the officers and the commander. All of them were Muslim Bedouin fellahin [peasants].

We had a guest room in the house, and Arefal-Aref would come to visit my father. My father would sometimes invite the governors to our home, and that way we would see them. Sometimes they would come to us to recruit young men for the army.

My father was called Hajj Ibrahim al-Sana'a. He was the sheikh of his tribe. Here in the Naqab [Negev] there were about 70 sheikhs. They would come to us to meet at the al-Seba council, and take care of people's requests. My father would arrive riding on horseback from the area near Gaza all the way to the meeting of the sheikhs, which was in al-Seba. Some hour and a half [it took him] on horseback.

There were many people living in al-Seba, but the city was small, not like today. We would get on buses to go to Gaza. I would ride on mule-back and take my young son with me to the doctor in al-Seba. In al-Seba there was a hospital, and most of the doctors were Christians from the al-Mufti and Abu Bseiso families. Until today there are houses in Beersheba, like the house of the al-Shewa family, the al-Azazwe family, the Abu Haniya family, the Abu Bseiso family. Many others lived in al-Seba too. We didn't live long in al- Seba but we let other people use our homes. For example, family members who came to al-Seba for medical treatment – they let them live in our houses, and my father would hold meeting with the sheikhs there.

Under the British our lives were happy. We had a life of comfort, a good life. We reaped and fertilized our crops and worked, we were satisfied. But when the British left Palestine we knew they wanted to transfer her to the Jews. In al-Seba there were some 70 mukhtars [village leaders]. They would come from all over the Naqab in order to meet in al-Seba. When people started selling lands to the Jews, Hajj Amin al-Husseiniyya came to consult with my father on how to prevent the sale of land. They asked people not to sell to the Jews and told them, 'Tomorrow the Zionists will conquer you.' Later, Hajj Amin fled because they wanted to kill him. That meeting took place in al-Shariyya in 1938 at the initiative of my father. Hajj Amin brought all the sheikhs from the Naqab in order to have them swear they would not sell land to the Jews. My father gathered all the Muslim fellahin in order to have them meet Hajj Amin. They came from Jaffa and Nazareth and from Jerusalem, and had a large meal, and the women cooked and made coffee. The women would work the land and harvest it, and would work in weaving and knitting. The women worked harder than the men.

Hajj Amin brought a large sword and placed the Koran on top of it and said, 'Say, 'I swear not to sell the land and not to betray our honor.' And in that way he had each make an oath, one by one. They distributed the leftover food to orphans in Gaza. After they took the oath, they sold the lands anyway. Later Hajj Amin fled, and my father was silent and did not say another word on the matter. Unfortunately they sold the lands and betrayed our honor.

Some effendi [Turkish notable] from Gaza named Ibrahim al-Mufti brought my father a gift. He sent him a taxi loaded with rice, sugar and cloth and asked my father to sign a document for him for the benefit of the Jews. My father refused to sign it and told him to go back to Gaza. There were people who sold lands to the Jews. I know of the first one to sell his tribe's lands to the Jews, according to what I heard. The people of this tribe always would go barefoot, and suddenly they started wearing shoes. Suddenly they had money.

We didn't live long in al-Seba. We lived on the periphery, but we would go to al-Seba to the hospital for example... In al-Seba we had seven houses. Today the houses are located near the main street. Our houses in al-Seba belonged to my father, Hajj Ibrahim, and to Hajj Abed al-Karim. They would go to their houses from time to time as needed, or when they wanted to host other sheikhs or to hold meetings. The women would go there sometimes to cook and bake. We lived most of the time here, in Laqye. We had houses here, and all our belongings were here.

The Jews came, took our lands by force, and told us that there was nothing left for us here. They closed down the mosque and barred anyone from entering. The Arabs did not have weapons to defend and fight like the Jews did. Later we lived in Laqye for three years, and then they expelled us to Tel Arad.

On the day the Jews conquered al-Seba, my father went there. He wanted to drink water from a faucet near his house, but the Jew who lived there would not let him do so. My father said to him, 'You foreigner, I installed this pipe with my own hands, and I have documents that prove that these houses are ours.' So the foreigner agreed to let my father drink water. How unfortunate that Israel took over this country and would not even let people drink the water from their own houses.

Israel wanted lands without people. The British are the ones who brought the Jews and sold them the land. The Jews would come and inspect the land, and we thought that they were looking for water. We didn't know that they wanted the land. They would come to a particular site, put up tents, and then leave. We would see the markings left by the tens. Only in hindsight we understood that they were planning to conquer the country.

I would hear about the revolt and about the insurgents. In those days of the revolt there was great chaos. The insurgents would come from the mountain, from Hebron, from Jerusalem, but later they became afraid, the revolt ended, and the British returned to al-Seba. The British ruled the country for 35 years, and then they left. On one of the nights we suddenly saw that the Jews entered al-Seba. They started putting people on trucks and sending them to Gaza. After they expelled the people they settled in the area, and told us: 'Go to the mountain. If we findanyoneleftby8o'clock tomorrow, we will kill him.' People started getting on buses and going to Gaza, and there were those who chose to move and live in the desert. The governors of Beersheba, Aref al- Aref and Abed al-Razaq, are the ones who delivered the city into their hands.

The killing and the murders started in the north of the country, later moved westward, and then reached al-Seba. The city surrendered quickly, without war or resistance. The city women would run barefoot, and the blood ran down their legs ... and then they expelled the people to the West Bank. We stayed in al-Laqye because we had land and houses there, and because Gaza was faraway from us. The rest went overseas.

Then the mukhtar came and said: 'Stay where you are, give up your land... no harm will be done to those who surrender. If you surrender, we will give you identity cards. Surrender for the sake of your homeland and for the sake of your children.'

Once they brought a woman and put her in a chair in order to take her photograph and give her an identity card. My father came and said to them, 'A woman must not be photographed,' and asked her to get up from the chair. And from then on they started giving women identity cards without photographs. I never had my picture taken except when I needed to so I could go on Hajj [to Mecca]. After they gave us identity cards we stayed in Laqye for three years. In those years there was tremendous anger at the Jews. They came to my father and told him 'move to Tel Arad.' My father said to them, 'I don't want Tel Arad. I want to go to Abdullah [King of Jordan],' and he asked them for permission to leave for Jordan. But Abdullah refused us entry, and we stayed some 40 days on the border. All the people went after my father because he was the leader. But then they started to tell him that he needed to return to his country and to live there. And my father decided to return. When we came back here the officers told my father that he must move to Tel Arad. My father and my brother, Mahmid Abu Khlil, said they didn't want to move to Tel Arad. The army pursued my brother so as to bring him back. They took my father out of the house by force and destroyed the house. The sky was red from the fire and shooting. And all this was to frighten the people. They started beating people and forcing them to take their belongings on their backs. Once, they broke someone's hand and said to him, 'Yalla, pick it up! Pick it up!' They forced him to carry his belongings with a broken hand. And that is how they transferred us from Laqye to Tel Arad. I remember once they killed 6 people from the al-Shariyya council. Al-Shariyya is near Ashdod, Netivot, near Gaza. The lands belonged to the al-Sana'a tribe. They killed six people so that people would be frightened into leaving.

They burned houses, burned fields, killed men and started to expel people to the streams, and that is how people became afraid and left. My father had a new house with stone facing, and the Jews burned it, and all that remains of it today is two pillars. They also destroyed the palace of Hajj Hassan who fought against the Jews, and expelled him to Gaza. They shot my uncle, Khalil, after he already lost both hands, and there was another one who died while trying to fight. My brother together with Abu al-Walid from Gaza and my uncle, Abed Rabbo, were together in the resistance. My father lost two fingers, but he managed to escape the shooting.

My uncle was the leader of a gang, he built a fortification of sandbags around the palace that they could use to shoot from behind. And they had weapons. And then people told Hajj Hassan, the owner of the palace, to take down the sand bags and disperse the gang and the weapons, because if the Jews came and saw it they would kill him. When my uncle came in the evening and he learned of this, he asked them to leave for Gaza. My mother was their guest and she left together with them. In the morning the Jews came and didn't find a soul in the house. They found a shepherd and killed him. They thought he was my uncle. But later they arrested my uncle, and he sat in prison for three years. They put him in jail with a mad dog.

There was a brother who worked with a doctor in the hospital in al-Seba, named Sabar. The Jews came and shot him in the stomach.

The Jews would come to arrest people, but my father would tell them that those were poor, miserable people, so that they wouldn't arrest them. Later they forced us to leave for Tel Arad. We took everything we had with us from home, together with the grain and the sheep.

When they came to expel us to Tel Arad, the Jews encircled Laqye so that we would not run away. There was a Jewish police station here. I remember that the day we fled, my mother left a pot of food cooking, my father pulled me by my hand, and my uncle, Ahmed, held an iron chain, and my hair got caught in the chain.

They pulled us out by force, forced us onto buses, and shot anyone who resisted. They beat us with clubs and killed women and men near the eastern road. The eastern road is the one that leads to Beersheba from the Hebron junction. There were people who departed without a single item from home. There was a family that left their son at home because they were so afraid, and fled.

Twenty days after we moved to Tel Arad my father died there. He died of grief. And we stayed to sow and reap the land. We suffered terribly just to get some water in Tel Arad. We had to go long distances and to climb hills to search for water. They cut off our water and destroyed our wells. The soldiers would come in with tanks and aim them at us, and the people were afraid. I remember that they would enter our houses at night looking under the young children to see if there were weapons in the houses.

They waged a general war against us. Everything was forbidden: onions, oil, chicken... they did not permit anything, and we had to smuggle things in from the West Bank. But when they caught someone smuggling they would kill him. Even sugar was forbidden. I swear, when I gave birth to my son, Abedal-Rahman, my father went to ask for permission from the officer to bring oil to anoint the child. When people saw the tanks coming closer to the area, they would throw the oil away so that they wouldn't see it. They would even hide the dates in the chicken coops, because it was forbidden.

We lived in Tel Arad for about 25 years. Later they came to Hajj Hassan and said to him: 'What do you think about leaving together with your tribe for Tel Arad?' Hajj Hassan said that he wanted to consult with the tribe. The elders said they didn't want to leave Tel Arad, but the young people said: 'Sheikh Hassan, it is better to return home even if we eat sand there. We work in the city of Rehovot and drive there every day from Tel Arad, which is 50 kilometers from Beersheba, and it is far. We want to be a little closer.' We returned to Laqye only in the 1970s. But my children, Aamneh, Abed al-Rahman, Ahmad, Husan and Maryam were born in Tel Arad.

I wish they would return our lands and houses. The Jews tried to bargain with us over their lands and ours, but we refused. They wanted to pay us one dunam in exchange for a hundred dunams that they received. We did not agree. We want our lands back. There is no justice. Today we buy our lands from the Jews... there is no justice. The government wants territory without people. There is no equality. The Jews are liars. They only want the country. They want to erase us. Today they strangle our communities and villages so that we won't build and expand the villages. We will not be able to fight the Jews. The Jews can expel us and kills us, and we cannot do a thing about it.

My parents hired more than one attorney to return our houses and lands. We have documents and land registry certificates, but the state does not want to return our land to us. 

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