Testimonies given during Zochrot's tour of Lod on January 11, 2003, by Fayeq Abu Mana, who was a 20-year-old in Lod in 1948, and Aaraf Muharab, head of the al-Wahda movement and a municipal council member. A question-and-answer session was held with participants of the tour.
Fayeq Abu Mana: Lod was a quiet city without war. There were only Arabs here, Christians and Muslims, no Jews at all. Ben Shemen was the neighboring Jewish village and we were their friends. The war started and there were battles and they came to occupy Lod. The Jewish soldiers came from the direction of Ben Shemen dressed as Arabs like the Jordanian army. There was a war and there were casualties everywhere in Lod. In the room next to here there were many dead. There were many bodies. They were buried not far from here, near the main road. They buried them in a pit, I mean a jama’a [mass grave], everyone. Down in the city there is another mosque. It has a room that people entered, about 75 people. Someone from Lod took grenades and threw them at the army and killed a few soldiers. One of the soldiers, his brother was killed. He went to the mosque and killed all the people in that room.
We sat at home and they told us to burn the corpses. We burned them on the spot. They said to go to the mosque and take the corpses out from there. How take them out? The hands of the dead were very swollen. We couldn’t lift the corpses by hand, we brought bags and put the corpses on the bags and we lifted them onto a truck. We gathered everyone in the cemetery. Among them was one woman and two children. They said burn. We burned everyone.
They took us to the ghetto. They put a fence from the school across the whole area. One day they told everyone to gather by the mosque and they took us to a prison camp, in Sidna Ali in Herzliya. Later they transported us to Sarafand. At the camp we did all the work of the military: Digging, hauling, food, cleaning the kitchen, etc.
They only took the men. I was there with another four of my brothers. They left the women at home. They didn’t know why they had taken us. I never carried a weapon. Maybe so they would have labor there. We were at the camp for nine months.
I have a brother who was released from there to Jordan. I wanted to go to Jordan too but they convinced me to stay. I got a release and they gave me (as they did for everyone) a form to write where I wanted to go. I wrote “Jordan.” The release came and they told me to go to Lod. I said “I don’t want to” so they told me to stay in the camp until I got the release. I said okay. An officer came and told me to go to Lod and there I could gather what I needed and I would go to the Red Cross to transfer me to Jordan. I just stayed in Lod. The people who returned to Lod were those who had families. In total there were only 40 or 50 families who stayed in Lod.
Question: Why did those families stay in Lod, why weren’t they expelled?
Fayeq Abu Mana: One day a group from the army came. We were in a single house. They said to leave for Jordan. We have no choice, what can we do. We were forty people in the house in two rooms and we made tents. From Jaffa, from Lod, from the whole family. They came and told us to leave. We left. Two elderly women stayed, my mother’s grandmother and my grandmother, my father’s mother. How will we take them? There was nothing we could do, we left them at home. They will die… we left with the carriage in the direction of the headquarters and they told us we needed to get identity cards. Next to the mosque there was a house that they turned into an office and they’re writing things down and they tell us to go to the Dodge truck. There were about 40 or 50 people. They gathered whatever was left in Lod.
I went to get in the car and someone came, an officer from Lod who was called Ginsburg. He would operate the electric motors. He says, what are you doing here. I told him such and such. He told me to bring my uncle. I said what will we do with mother and grandmother who had stayed at home. He said come with me, he took my uncle with him to the slaughterhouse near Kargal. They made a checkpoint there. He gave him [unclear], they were doing a selection there. ‘This guy is good for prison camp,’ ‘this is a small man with women, straight to Ramallah’. Because of that I stayed in Lod, otherwise we would have also been expelled.
Question: What happened here during the war?
Fayeq Abu Mana: During the war they took us from the houses in the middle of the night, two or three in the morning, shouting, “Get out, get out, put your hands up,” and starting to shoot over our hands. They entered the houses and shouted at us to get out. It was forbidden to close the door of the house, forbidden to close a closet and forbidden to close a door. We went out.
Someone came, an instructor or an officer, and told everyone to get out and go near the mosque. He told us to be inside the houses and that we were not to close a cabinet or a door so that they could conduct searches. Later when we came out of the house we saw six soldiers with a baby. They gave her to us. A month and a half old. Her mother fled. The six had raped her. She’s a very young woman so she ran away. She didn’t want to see, not her daughter and not anything. At the headquarters they told us to take care of the baby and maybe we would find the mother or father. We took her in a carriage and we found the mother downstairs. She said, ‘They raped me and I can’t do anything.’ She took the girl. The officer came over to us and then we returned, otherwise they would have expelled us.
Question: What was the relationship like with the people from Ben Shemen?
Fayeq Abu Mana: We had a very good relationship with them. There was no shooting and no nothing. But the army came in from the direction of Ben Shemen. There were a lot of families who helped them. But there was no bad relationship. A lot of military came in here. There was also the Jordanian army.
Before that a Christian priest came and Abu Rajab Khasuna came from Lod and another sheikh from Jaffa. The Israelis told the three of them – so I heard, maybe it’s a lie – to go to Jordan, not to shoot, and to finish it off peacefully. He told them that they can leave peacefully and they wouldn’t be hurt. But later they shot one of them and they killed Abu Rajab Khasuna by the wall. Later they started driving everyone out. Lod remained a city without people. Later a lot of priests came, from the surrounding areas.
We stayed in our home. They didn’t destroy the city and new Jewish immigrants came to live. I opened a barber shop. I learned to be a barber in the prison camp. But my profession is copper casting. I worked at the British army in WWII at Beit Nabala.
Question: At the camp did you also work at destroyed Arab villages?
Fayed Abu Mana: Yes, they took us to clean, to take out the belongings. Here in Lod contractors came. One of the contractors took cabinets from the houses. In Lod there were maybe ten thousand bicycles, someone came and lifted just bicycles. Another took a sewing machine. There were contractors like that. They cleaned out everything there was in Lod.
When we were in the prison camp we worked with someone from the 10th Palmach battalion. They would bring us to Ramle and until this day I’m with the officer who would bring us to Sarafand, until today I am his friend like my son. Until today. He’s called Dov Kaminski from Petakh Tikva, now he’s moved to Rosh Ha’ayin. He came over on Saturday the 16th of the month for the holiday, he’s at my house all the time. We stayed friends, he was such a good man, we treated him like a father.
Aaraf Muharab: Lod was occupied in July 1948 so it was already the IDF, not the Hagana like in other places. An organized army. Certainly it was thousands, some people talk about tens of thousands of soldiers who were in Lod. I think Benny Morris writes something like that. What makes Lod and Ramle special is the military size and effort that were invested here. The occupation of Lod was a military operation by any definition. There was a program to enter from the eastern side which was supposed to be more secure for those who were in Lod. In terms of people who resisted there were about 1,500 people in Lod who were armed. They were assembled from leftovers from the Jordanian army and the residents of the place who fled here from other places. Lod was occupied on July 11, 1948 in a military operation in which there was no chance for the residents to hold up. In Lod they also bombed from planes for the first time. Two planes that had a frightening, demoralizing effect even though they were light planes and not advanced.
Fayeq Abu Man: They were light piper planes.
Aaraf Muharab: People who experienced it here talk about the demoralization caused by the air bombing. They occupied Lod and later the people holed up in their homes. The political and military decision, Benny Morris also notes this, was to drive out the people of Lod and Ramle. When they saw the people holing up they shot at the houses to get the people out to the streets. Then, they shot above their heads in order to direct them to the east.
Fayeq Abu Mana: They also killed a lot of them.
Aaraf Muharab: They directed them eastward. People who documented this journey say that a large number of people, up to hundreds, died as a result of this disorganized escape in the direction of Ramallah. The army opened the way to them and between 300 and 400 died of thirst and hunger and injury. The escape route to Ramallah was very difficult. Why nonetheless did people stay in Lod? Indeed, there was a decision ahead of time to leave people who were needed for the military effort. One group of several hundred stayed and worked at the train station, two kilometers from here, and another group were needed for hard labor, to clear away the corpses. There also remained about 500 additional people, what are called the [----], including Fayeq. There was also a military hospital.
Fayeq Abu Mana: This whole place was a hospital without money.
Aaraf Muharab: these two groups of about 500 people each, they fenced them in behind a wire fence and they were truly under martial law. The one didn’t know that the other existed for several months.
Fayeq Abu Mana: I learned of the other group only after about a year. After three months they took us to the prison camp and until then we didn’t know a thing about the other group. We stayed in our homes.
Aaraf Muharab: There were people there who worked at the train. After they occupied Lod and Ramle there was a lot of loot left over here, stores, furniture, etc. They needed it for other places so they used the train workers to help in the effort which primarily had a military character. The army didn’t say at the beginning of the war that if you surrender you will stay here, rather that you should surrender so you can leave in peace, or simply that the battle will decide for you.
Fayeq Abu Mana: Near my barber shop, there’s a grocery store, and next to that was the military fence. I would receive permission to get from the fence to the grocery store, a distance of 10 meters.
Aaraf Muharab: In Ramle as well few people remained, close to a thousand, out of about 30,000 residents, but there everything was done by agreement. In Lod there were more resisters, and in Ramle they saw they didn’t have a chance so they reached an agreement with the occupying government, with the military government, and therefore the transfer of the population was done in coordination with the army. They did it on buses. Most went in the direction of the east but there were those who left southward to the direction of Gaza. The expulsion was done with the agreement of the Ramle leadership. The result was identical. And the action in Lod and Ramle were carried out simultaneously. Most of the military power was in Lod because here there was resistance. The forces that protected the area of Lod was from Rosh Haayin to the airport. It was the area belonging to the Arab state according to the 1947 partition plan. The partition line passes westward to Lod and therefore there was a defense force here. We are talking about the remnants of resistance. In April 1948 there was total defeat. So we’re talking about defeated forces that went through the defeat of the Nakba three or four months before that. Therefore it wasn’t a real resistance.
It also wasn’t clear to residents of Lod and Ramle that the cities would be occupied because it was area in the Arab state. But even if they had prepared for this it is clear that the battle had not chance because the state army is preferable in every respect to the opposition forces. The idea that the state of Israel would have airplanes was taken from the British who in 1938 used planes against what they call ‘the Arab revolt.’ The leadership of the Zionist movement saw the utility of the use of planes and therefore they started thinking about using airplanes. But this wasn’t possible for them as long as the British were here. When the British left the Jews purchased a number of planes, I don’t know how many exactly. The use of planes was before the entry of the organized army. In solely military terms the planes had no effect because they were inaccurate, but it is clear that in terms of demoralization they had a great effect. Because to sit in the city and to see that bombs are falling on you is not a pleasant feeling. Here are the Scuds of Sadam, see how scary they are.
Fayeq Abu Mana: Now when you see suicide bombers here, they learn from the Jews who bombed the Seraya building in Jaffa and some sixty, seventy people there went, and Shamir also killed Lord Bernadotte.
Question: Is there some kind of marker on the mass grave?
Fayeq Abu Mana: No, we took a large door, six meters, and put in on stones and we put dates and we put the corpses on the door and burned it. There is a marker there, it’s the cemetery and the place is known. There’s no gravestone, who will make a gravestone? There were even Christians and Muslims there together. We didn’t differentiate between them. Everyone in one grave. Not a grave, ash, everything ash went. Burned, you know how? It’s a fire some five meters high.
Question: According to what I read two Jordanian army reinforcements came here. Did you understand why they entered here?
Fayeq Abu Mana: They came to help Lod. But they came followinig an agreement with the Jews to finish with Lod. They came through Ben Shemen. The chief of the armed forces of the Jordanian army was English, Glubb Pasha.
Question: It’s clear there was an expulsion, but how was it done in practice?
Fayeq Abu Mana: Say they came to this house and said to the people, “Go to Jordan, got to Abdallah.” Who ever they didn’t reach stayed. But by the time they reached every house the people were staying in their houses. After some two weeks… we were on a side street so they didn’t immediately reach us in the beginning.
Aaraf Muharab: Everyone who stayed in Lod after 1948 did so according to the army’s will.
Fayeq Abu Mana: I have an older brother who bought an expensive watch, for three dinars. They told him, ‘Give us your watch.’ He said no. They told him they would cut off his hand if he didn’t give them the watch. ‘Take the watch off,’ I said to him. It wasn’t the army, they were just criminals. Some people are good and some people are like that.
Aaraf Muharab: Whoever stayed here was here because the army needed him for work on the train, to remove corpses and such. Some were expelled to Jordan after they were in the prison camp. There were many vineyards and orchards in the surrounding area and people hid in them. When things died down and there was relief. Martial law was arranged, which lasted until 1951 or 1952, I don’t remember exactly. When martial law stabilized, norms were set for people in terms of what was allowed or forbidden for them. In the beginning of the occupation when they put them behind the wire fence the people’s lives depended on a single local officer, the whole world at his whim.
After that things changed and some of the people started returning to their homes. What’s interesting is that people who were in this ghetto, like Fayeq, wanted to return to their private houses, but the authorities didn’t let them do so. In most cases they gave them alternate houses but in an obsessive way they didn’t let them return to their own homes. There was a clear policy not to permit people to return to their houses in order to determine the principle of return to one house. And thus the absurd situation was created of present absentees, because the people were residents of the city but they didn’t live in their own houses. Ownership of the house was transferred according to the absentee property law to the custodian of absentee property. The person was present but was absent in his city. In the early 1950s they started using the courts. But lawyers cost a lot of money and therefore it was difficult to appeal to the court. The people lived in rented houses. Today as well the Muslim Waqf is belongs to the general custodian. This predicament has persisted until today.
I was born ten years after the Nakba. And I want to connect it to what is happening today in local problems. Sometimes it seems to me that people experienced more than one Nakba. Two days ago a house in Lod belonging to a woman with nine children was destroyed and now she is discarded. We made a decision to rebuild the house but it’s not certain that they wouldn’t try to destroy it again. Most of the crimes are committed in fact because there is order. No suffering can be used as a reason to cause suffering to another, otherwise there is no end to it. I don’t think that Zionism is totally evil but you have to recognize the injustice here. Jews here thin, that they are continuing the path of Herzl and they don’t see a difference between the expulsion of 1948 and expulsion today. You’re talking here about a demographic problem and that is the basis of racism. If Jews don’t relate to the Nakba as a one-time event maybe they will understand what is happening today.
Today in Lod there are 20,000 Arabs out of 70,000 people. Most of the Arabs today are not the descendants of those who remained here since 1948. Most of the Arab population came to Lod from expulsions from other places. For example after 1948 people remained in Majdal, near what is today Ashqelon, so around 1950 when the situation stabilized there were 1,500 people there and they moved them to this area. I belong to a different group. My parents lived in Bassat al-Faleq, near Netanya today, where Nachalat Poleg is, close to the Wingate Institute today. In 1948 they received an unequivocal order to leave the place and to go to Jordan. They loaded up their belongings and went eastward but according to the ceasefire agreements with Abdallah the southern triangle was transferred to the state of Israel. They remained in the area of the state and then they left for Qalqilya. Some of them stayed in Qalqilya and some of them infiltrated back. They hid of a certain period of time. When things died down they asked to return to their homes but the military governor refused but told them to go to Lod.
Lod was to a certain degree a place to solve problems for other places. There were people here from different places. These are not big numbers, but a few tens of people from each place. Only from Majdal there were more, hundreds. The first Jews who arrived in Lod left because the situation of the city was bad. The wouldn’t live in Lod because the city was empty and looked like a ghost town, so the Jews abandoned it. I remember from the 1960s that there were many stone houses in Lod. I saw photographs from before 1948 and the city was much lovelier than today. There were many architectural pearls. In the 1950s the policy was to house the Jews who came here and the Arab refugees in the houses that were here. In the 1960s they started building housing projects. But still most of the area was stone houses.
The Amidar company founded the Lod Development Association in the 1970s which started building and instated a more aggressive policy of getting rid of all that symbolized the Arab history of Lod. Massive demolition of all the houses went underway. You could see the heavy equipment tearing down the houses. In terms of planning the houses were slated for evacuation and there were negotiations with the residents to evacuate for other apartments.
There was the desire to erase every trace of Arab Lod. In the period when Maxim Levy, who died recently, was head of the municipality, this policy reached its peak in the 1980s. Many Arab houses were destroyed. Today there remain only a few Arab houses. I sit on the preservation committee but the committee has never assembled. I will be very surprised if the municipality agrees to do something to preserve the Arab houses. Also civic activity, which is not so political, is always putting Zionism into it and it’s not clear to me why. They wanted to build a new city but they could have done it differently. I think that their obsession over what signifies Arab history is intolerable.
When Maxim Levy entered office here they started talking about the fact that there are too many Arabs in Lod. Today they talk about it openly. Since the last elections the prime minister came here seven times. There is tremendous interest because of the ‘demographic problem.’ Sharon pressures the mayor to destroy the houses of Arabs here and in exchange he will give a lot of money to the city. Because if they let the situation continue the city is likely in their view to become an Arab city. The same problem also exists in Acre, where the proportion of Arabs is similar. There is a legal policy here of demolishing houses, not like in 1948. The government uses for this purposes the Building and Planning Law which gives them complete authority and the Arabs don’t have representation on the planning committee at different levels. There is clear discrimination here in planning. There is no planning for the Arab population. There are no Arab representatives in the regional committee and on the national committee there is one Arab who is a political appointee. On the regional committee there are 13 representatives of government ministries so there are no Arab representatives there. Most of the rezoning decisions are in the hands of the regional committee.
I don’t want to use the word ‘discrimination’ because discrimination means, say, that 80% is apportioned to one side and 20% to the other. But here they give zero percent to the Arab side. It’s not discrimination but hostility. Planning in Lod is carried out purely in favor of the Jews and the Arab areas are an obstacle to the plans and nothing more. The Arab population will never be at the center of some plan. It will be at the center of some other plan, as an obstacle. For example if they build a Jewish neighborhood like “Ganei Aviv,” it wasn’t built on Arab areas. They gave it to that contractor with all the help, but the infrastructure of this neighborhood came at the expense of the Arabs. And they didn’t give the Arab citizens even a single building permit and not only that but moreover they demolished their houses. That is an example of planning in mixed cities. I think that in Lod planning is hostile toward Arabs. The term ‘illegal construction’ really discriminates against the Arabs.
Question: I looked into buying an apartment here and I said the place is full of Arabs to see how they would respond. They relieved me and said that there are population committees so that Arabs won’t come in here. They said it explicitly. My friend bought an apartment here and signed an endless number of documents and they tried to get a written commitment from here that she would not be able to sell the apartment in the future to Arabs. She was angry because why should they tell her who to sell to. She decided not to sign on the purchase. Does this continue?
Aaraf Muharab: It still continues. The government has two methods. The Migdalei Zohar company builds in Ganei Aviv and there is no law that requires or forbids them from preventing sales to Arabs. In the U.S. there is a law against racism, here there is no such law. It’s hard to understand how there is a law that forbids incitement to racism and there is no law against racism in practice. In my view the government is aware of this because the moment there will be a law against racism, the essence of the state of Israel will change. Racism exists all the time. There is affirmative action but at the same time continuing discrimination. I can’t grasp it. The Barak government talked about affirmative action. On one of Matan Vilnai’s visits here I told him, ‘I’ll let you off on affirmative action, but are you willing to let off on the discrimination?” He didn’t know how to respond.
In the neighborhood across from here if an Arab buys an apartment the price is $170,000, for Jews the price is $130,000. Ethiopians are moving out of the neighborhood and Arabs are moving in. The policy of the new neighborhoods is not to absorb Arabs. In the Ganei Yaar neighborhood, which is a relatively good neighborhood, you need the consent of the residential committee to sell a house to someone. A large part of the Arab population of Lod are collaborators who were brought here primarily after Oslo, close to 500 families, but also after 1967 and also during the present intifadah. In the beginning they were settled in the Arab neighborhoods but later they fled to the Jewish neighborhoods.
The Jews in Lod don’t like the Arab collaborators and not the other Arabs either. They are inferior socially. The ministry of defense purchased 42 apartments in the Ganei Aviv neighborhood for the collaborators despite the prevention of sales to Arabs, but the Ministry of Defense broke this and purchased them from the Migdalei Zohar company. They wanted to take them out of there and they had a meeting with the head of the committee, Arie Bibi, and the police. I asked them, “Is it that you don’t you want them because they are collaborators or because they are Arabs? If it’s because they are Arabs then I can’t be with you and if it’s because they are collaborators then I am surprised at you because those are people who assisted the state.” They were embarrassed. Today I also wonder about my position regarding the collaborators. Because they are also victims.
Trans. Talia Fried