Gaza fisherman clings to dream of return to Jaffa home

Palestinian fishermen's boats are pictured in the Mediterranean sea at the port in Gaza City on May 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2019

Gaza fisherman clings to dream of return to Jaffa home

  • Like many of Gaza’s 1.3 million refugees, Assi, 73, visits the coastal benches regularly

GAZA: Looking out across the Mediterranean, the elderly Gaza fisherman sits on a bench adorned with just one word — Jaffa.

Mahmoud Al-Assi comes often to this blue bench. It is one of more than 120 such brightly colored concrete seats that line the Gaza seafront, each marked with the name of a town or village in Palestine, before Israel’s creation in 1948.

They bear the Arabic names for Beersheba (Bir As-Saba’), Acre (Akka), and Tel Aviv (Tal Ar-Rabeea’) — all towns that now lie in Israel.

Like many of Gaza’s 1.3 million refugees, Assi, 73, visits the coastal benches regularly, as an emotional link to the towns their families left behind or were forced to leave.

He comes especially around May 15, when Palestinians lament what they call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” — their defeat in the war of 1948-1949 that surrounded the birth of the modern state of Israel. 

It is traditionally marked the day after Israel declared independence in 1948. Although Assi left Jaffa nearly seven decades ago as a child, he still regards it as “home.”

Like many Palestinian refugees, he seeks the right of return to his former homeland. But successive Israeli governments have rejected any such right, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.

“I have never lost hope, and never will, even when I am dead and buried,” he told Reuters as he looked out on the waters that bore him to safety when his father, a citrus merchant and fisherman, put him and his seven siblings on a boat to sail south from Jaffa to Gaza in 1950.

In his new life as a refugee in Gaza, those same waters provided a livelihood for him as he brought up his 18 children.

Two of Assi’s brothers fled to Lebanon, where they lived and died as refugees.

In Jaffa, another fisherman and an Arab citizen of Israel, Atta Assi, 86, recalled how Israeli forces had taken control of the town in 1948, imposing a curfew and a year-long “open detention” by erecting a fence around his neighborhood.

“I remember in 1948, when people were displaced, my father told my uncles: ‘Don’t leave here’,” said Assi, who belongs to the same clan as Mahmoud Al-Assi in Gaza.

“He told them not to leave because the best place to stay is here. But they didn’t listen and left to Lebanon,” said Assi, who began his life as a fisherman on the day the fence came down.

In the early 1970s, when times were more peaceful and Gaza wasn’t sealed off from Israel by checkpoints, blast walls and razor wire, Gaza fisherman Assi was able to travel the 60 km up the Mediterranean coast to visit Jaffa and see his birthplace.

He saw his family’s unfinished home had since been completed, and was inhabited, but couldn’t bring himself to knock at the door and see who was living there.

“Our house in Jaffa was just by the sea, nothing and no building separated us from the sea ... I remember the small mosque and I remember the seaport,” Assi said.

“I didn’t know whether Jewish people lived there or others. I wasn’t able to enter, I just could not do it.

“I felt broken, when you can’t enter your house. When it is your house and you can’t reach it. I cried.”

Palestinian historians say only 4,000 Palestinians remained in Jaffa after 1948, of around 120,000 who lived there before it became part of Israel.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 6 min 28 sec ago

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.