Salman Abu Sitta was ten years old when his Palestinian village was overrun by Zionist forces and his family forced to take refuge in Gaza. His life in exile took him to many countries, including Canada where he became a citizen, taught at UWO and even helped found the Canadian Arab Federation. But he never gave up thinking about and planning for the day when he and his family would return to the land from which he was expelled. A new memoir sheds light on the drama of his expulsion, and the struggle to regain justice for Palestinian refugees. Read more.
Salman Abu Sitta, born into a prominent Bedouin Palestinian family, was just ten years old when he was forced to flee his home near Beersheba in 1948. As for many Palestinians of his generation, the profound effects of that traumatic loss would form the defining feature of his life from that moment on.
In a moving memoir, Abu Sitta draws on oral histories and personal recollections to vividly evoke the vanished world of his family and home from the late nineteenth century to the eve of the British withdrawal from Palestine.
Alongside accounts of an idyllic childhood spent on his family’s farm estate, Abu Sitta gives a personal and very human face to the dramatic events of 1930s and 1940s in Palestine under the British Mandate conveying the acute sense of foreboding felt by Palestinians as Zionist ambitions and militarization expanded.
Following his family’s flight to Gaza during the 1947/8 mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, Abu Sitta continued his schooling and university education in Cairo, where he witnessed the heady rise of Arab nationalism after Egyptian King Farouk was overthrown in 1952 by Abdel Gamal Nasser.
The book describes the brave but losing struggle by Palestinian Bedouins to keep control of their land in the face of well armed and well trained Jewish forces (“English, French, Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian…”) determined to drive them out. Its account of the savage brutality of these Zionist militias is difficult to comprehend, but entirely consistent with the actions of today’s Israel toward the Palestinians still trapped in Gaza.
The second part of the book is a sometimes humourous chronicle of Abu Sitta’s peripatetic exile existence. First as an engineering student in Nasser’s Egypt, then his crucial, formative years in 1960’s London England and then his life as a family man and academic in London Ontario and several periods working as an engineer in Kuwait. All of this against the backdrop of political events in the region, including the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the 1991 Gulf War.
He also details his involvement in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, including his strong opposition to the “Oslo Accords” which he rightfully predicted would set back the Palestinian movement significantly.
Abu Sitta’s narrative is imbued throughout with a burning sense of justice, a determination to recover and document what rightfully belongs to his people, an aim given poignant expression in his “Atlas of Palestine” a painstaking cartographic and archival work on Palestine, for which he is justifiably acclaimed.
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