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.


Iran says US talks ‘futile’, denounces black American’s death

Iranian parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf chairing a parliament session in the capital Tehran on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 01 June 2020

Iran says US talks ‘futile’, denounces black American’s death

  • Ghalibaf called for ties to be improved with neighbors and with “great powers who were friends with us in hard times and share significant strategic relations,” without naming them

TEHRAN: Iran’s new parliament speaker said on Sunday any negotiations with Washington would be “futile” as he denounced the death of a black American that has led to violent protests across the US.
Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force, was elected speaker on Thursday of a chamber dominated by ultra-conservatives following February elections.
The newly formed parliament “considers negotiations with and appeasement of America, as the axis of global arrogance, to be futile and harmful,” he said in his first major speech to the chamber.
Ghalibaf also vowed revenge for the US drone attack in January that killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Guards’ foreign operations arm.
“Our strategy in confronting the terrorist America is to finish the revenge for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” he told lawmakers, pledging “the total expulsion of America’s terrorist army from the region.”
Ghalibaf has also slammed the US over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis which has led to widespread protests across the country.
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets from New York to Seattle demanding tougher, first-degree murder charges and more arrests over the death of Floyd, who stopped breathing after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have soared in the past year, with the sworn arch enemies twice appearing to come to the brink of a direct confrontation.
The tensions have been rising since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark nuclear accord and began reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy.
That was followed by the US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January that killed Soleimani, a hugely popular figure in the Islamic republic.

FASTFACT

Iran’s parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf vowed revenge for the US drone attack in January that killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Guards’ foreign operations arm.

Days later, Iran fired a barrage of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq in retaliation, but Trump opted against taking any military action in response.
Ghalibaf called for ties to be improved with neighbors and with “great powers who were friends with us in hard times and share significant strategic relations,” without naming them.
The 58-year-old Ghalibaf is a three-time presidential candidate who lost out to the incumbent Hassan Rouhani at the last election in 2017.
The newly elected speaker had also served as Tehran mayor and the Islamic republic’s police chief before taking up his latest post.
In a tweet on Saturday, he slammed what he called the US’ “unjust political, judicial, and economic structure.”
This had been “pumping war, coups, poverty, indiscrimination, torture, fratricide and moral corruption to the world, and racism, hunger, humiliation, and ‘choking by knee’ in its own country for hundreds of years,” Ghalibaf said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif echoed his remarks on Twitter.
“Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter. To those of us who do: It is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism,” he said. The post was accompanied by an image of a 2018 statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which the text was changed to be critical of the US States instead of Iran.
The altered text read: “The US government is squandering its citizens’ resources.
“The people of America are tired of the racism, corruption, injustice, and incompetence from their leaders. The world hears their voice.” Pompeo responded to Zarif by tweeting that “you hang homosexuals, stone women and exterminate Jews,” without elaborating further.