BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Now living in the narrow concrete streets of Bethlehem’s Duheisha refugee camp, Hajjeh al-Jaafari dreams of returning to the town where she was forced to flee sixty-seven years ago.
Well into her mid 80’s, Hajjeh remembers the day her family were forced to flee the village of Deir Rafat, west of Jerusalem.
“We thought we would be coming back very soon, we left carrying nothing. My mother put away the lard and yogurt, checked on the cows, goats and hens making sure they were safe until we returned,” al-Jaafari told Ma’an.
“But those who returned were killed by the Israelis.”
After news reached the villagers that those attempting to return were killed, al-Jaafari’s family realized going back meant certain death.
The village of Deir Rafat, around 26 km west of Jerusalem, now lies in ruins, having been destroyed by Jewish militias after villagers fled in 1948.
Al-Jaafari’s family were one of around 500 Palestinians who fled the village, according to Palestine Remembered, a group dedicated to documenting the history of the Nakba.
One of the last remaining members of her family who fled their village that day, al-Jaafari still dreams of the landscapes where she spent her childhood, a place she will never see again.
“The key to our home is still with me and I still tell my children and grandchildren stories about our beautiful village,” she says, surrounded by bookshelves filled with testimonies of other Palestinian refugees and the history of the Nakba.
“Just spending an hour there would replace all the years of refuge and suffering.”
More than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number over 7.5 million with their descendants — fled or were driven from their homes in 1948, with the Nakba marked every May 15.