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July 27, 2009
Village holds legacy of “catastrophe” for Palestinian man

The Zakariyya mosque. Photo: Jen Marlowe

Jen Marlowe is a filmmaker, writer and human rights activist currently traveling throughout Israel and Palestine.

She describes exploring the destroyed village of Zakariyya with Sami Al Jundi, a Palestinian acquaintance whose mother fled the village during the 1948 war. A Jewish community now resides in the town, whose name was changed to Zekharya.

The mosque was surrounded with a chain link fence, with barbed wire on top and signs in Hebrew attached: “Zekharya Village. Dangerous building. Entrance is forbidden!”

Despite the signs, the fence did not completely encircle the mosque and Sami, our friend Marcy and I entered the grounds easily. We picked our way through the rubble, pushing aside the undergrowth blocking the door. The structure was crumbling; it had not been maintained for over sixty years. Sami stood in silence looking at the mosque, taking in the eroding interior along with the piles of trash and scrap metal on the floor. The mosque is among the few remains of the Palestinian village Zakariyya — Sami’s mother’s village.

Sami examines the remains of the mosque. Photo: Jen Marlowe

I’m writing a book with Sami, to be published by Nation Books next year. The book details his life experiences, shedding light both on the Palestinian narrative — sorely missing from the U.S. media — and Sami’s own unique outlook on life.

Sami and I interviewed his mother two years ago about her memories of Zakariyya, including her flight as a small girl in 1948, during what Israelis consider their war of independence and Palestinians consider the “Nakba” (the Catastrophe), marking the beginning of the dispossession that has been central to the Palestinian experience since then. Zakariyya is one of approximately 400 villages (numbers vary according to the source) that were destroyed in 1948. Like many of the others, there is now an Israeli town built on and around Zakariyya’s ruins. Its new name is a Hebrewized version of the original; Zakariyya became Zekharya.

Sami’s mother passed away four months after we interviewed her, before we could ask her follow-up questions. So we decided to venture to Zakariyya ourselves. Sami began getting nervous as we lingered in and around the mosque. “We may not be welcome here,” he said repeatedly. “Someone might shoot us.” There was no real danger of being shot. Sami was tapping into a deeper fear, connected to the violence his mother witnessed in 1948.

The Arabic name of the village is scratched out. Photo: Jen Marlowe.

The Zakariyya school is still standing near the village’s entrance. It was converted into a small convenience store. As we approached it on our way out, I asked Marcy to pull over so I could photograph it. I investigated the entrance’s road sign. The name of the village is written in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Or it was until recently; the Arabic was almost entirely scratched out.

“It wasn’t like that when I was here last time,” Marcy said.

Marcy was in Zakariyya a week ago. This vandalism was fresh.

Less than an hour later, we were sitting in Deheisheh Refugee Camp, talking with Sami’s uncle Mustafa, two years younger than Sami’s mother. We asked Mustafa to fill in the missing gaps of his sister’s story, and he was more than happy to oblige. Sami and I learned the details of how his grandfather died fighting the British in 1939 and the attacks that pushed out the residents of Zakariyya.

Zakariyya holds a prominent place in Mustafa’s house in Deheisheh and in his heart. A 1921 photograph of the old school (now convenience store) with students sitting cross legged outside is framed on a shelf. A map of Zakariyya is on the wall, with the former houses indicated and a code to decipher which areas were inhabited by which families.

An image of the old school.

Mustafa spoke not only about his memories of losing Zakariyya. He spoke about a more recent pain as well. His older sister, Sami’s mother, had been struck two times with brain tumors. The first was in 1977 when Sami was fifteen years old. She received a life-saving surgery. Mustafa came to the hospital in Jerusalem every day. He fed her daily, tenderly. She would eat only from his hands. The second tumor took root in her brain in 2007. But this time, Mustafa could not feed his sister as she lay on her death bed in Jerusalem. The Israeli military would not issue him a permit to visit her.

Mustafa and Sami sat in silence as I digested this information. The evening call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque in the camp. It was time to wrap up the interview. I had one final question. “Did you realize in 1948 that you were leaving Zakariyya for good?”

Jen Marlowe and Sami outside of the mosque. Photo: Marcy Newman

Uncle Mustafa’s eyes glistened slightly, both from the memory of his beloved home and the fresh loss of his sister.

“Until now I don’t accept that I left for good. As long as I am alive, I have hope that I will someday return.”

Those who were forced to leave their homes will always be filled with longing to return to them. Acknowledgment and empathy are natural responses. But Mustafa’s yearning seems to be met with something other than empathy by the current residents of Zakariyya. With fear, perhaps? Dismissal? Contempt? Whatever it is, it permits the ancient mosque of the historic village to dilapidate to the point of ruin. It permits the Arabic word “Zakariyya” to be scratched out on the entrance’s sign. As if by scratching out the name, somehow the existence of Zakariyya and its people will themselves be erased.

Mustafa’s very presence, however, is a form of resistance to this deletion. Sami’s uncle sits surrounded by memories and remembrances of his home, waiting in quiet dignity for his longing and his claim to be acknowledged rather than erased.

– Jen Marlowe

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.




Joshau, Palestinians do not hate Jews, they hate the occupation which is = to Zionism= racisim= stealing and killing. In historic Palestine the three relgions coexisted with minor or no problems until you and your parents came from Russia and Poland and Germany to kill and steal


she recieved her life saving treatment in the capitAL NO DOUBT SPONSORED BY ISRAELIS DO PALESTINIANS EVER DO THIS NO they never help jews out of pure hatred


I read the comments, having been moved by Jen’s sensitive account of a life’s experience in this land so foreign to my experience. And in seeing various views, I don’t know where the answers lie so that people of different religions and ethnic groups can live together and prosper. I think it is important for us to give value each other’s heritage, even it if is not ours. I most admire those who work to that goal. It is gut wretching to think always of winners and losers in the Middle East. Thanks, Jen, for working so hard to build bridges.


Beautifully written, Jen. I have to wonder if the “this is wildly pro-Arab” commenters are responding to your piece or actually read it, or if they just post the same rant whenever they see someone challenge the propaganda. You are brave and honest, sister. Safe travels, I look forward to reading the rest of your postings.


I have strong sympathy for the Palestinians, and also believe that a two state solution must be arrived at, but Jen’s posting was very slanted. It was a shame that Sami’s mother fled with her family back in 1948. The reason for her flight is not made clear. I’m sure had she been expelled that point woul d have been mentioned. It isn’t. I suspect that she and her family left after encouragement that they would be able to return after the Jews were pushed out. Not many people gave the new state any chance of surviving. But survive it did, and it thrived. It built a hospital that treated this little girl when she was grown and developed a brain tumor.

When Sami’s Uncle Mustafa was asked if he ever thought he was leaving Zakariyya for good when they left in 1948 his reply is telling: “Until now I don’t accept that I left for good. As long as I am alive, I have hope that I will someday return.”. It doesn’t seem to imply that he is looking forward to returning to a city in an Israel, but to the village he left in a “Judenfrei” country. It’s too bad that he left in the first place. Did anyone ask what was the reason for the flight?


great article, jen. such an important story to tell and i cannot wait to read the rest in the book!


This is good journalism. Quibbling over the particulars of whose land it is or was historically does nothing to address the problems of gross iniquity of wealth and power that divide the Jews in Israel from the Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank. There are some things that we “civilized” Americans should be able to say, flatly, are WRONG. The ravages of war and its fall-out, hunger, sickness, destruction of people’s homes for no reason: these things are simply wrong, regardless of who perpetrates them. Jen’s article focuses on the material struggles of Palestinians rather than Jewish issues not because she’s “pro-Arab,” but because she writes with class consciousness and with a finely calibrated moral compass. In fact, I think her commitment to the Palestinians perfectly exemplifies Jewish values as I was brought up to understand them.


I recently read that Israel’s conservative Minister of Transportion is proposing the removal of Arabic from road signs. Apparently that’s already being implemented (officially or otherwise), with the Arabic having been recently scratched off the sign for Zakariyya/Zekharya, as depicted in the photo above.


Curious of what Howard Greyber says, when he wrote Remember Turks are NOT Arabs. Thats fine, so I’m curious why they called it The land of Palestine and not the land of Jews? or the land of Israel. As everyone remembers the British after they took it from the Ottoman Empire called it the British Mandate of Palestine. Right so are Palestinians Arabs?


A very solid piece of writing by Jen Marlowe. I’m glad to see her writing back in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Like the villages and towns and the people who lived in them, Israeli policy seems bent on wiping out the history as well. Jen is a true people’s historian.


It is wonderful to read from the perspective of Sami, an Arab Israeli, who values the positive elements of Israel and the Jews but is clear eyed about the negative from Israel and from Palestinian authorities as well. If it is possible to be reasoned, Sami and Jen are just that!


[…] Marlowe has a new blog on the ever disputed Levant on PBS’s World Focus site. Her first post relates a personal […]


Jen Marlowe’s narrative with Sami is slanted wildly pro-Arab. When formed by the U.N. vote in 1948, Israel was attacked by armies of five (5) Arab nations, and, by the grace of God,survived.
Sami’s mother probably was treated free at the famous Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which my American mother supported all her life. Most Arabs poured into the Holy Land (Holy only to Jews and Christians) since 1900. Read Mark Twain’s book “The Innocents Abroad”. His group of pilgrims visited the Holy Land in 1869 by camel from Damascus, and noted how empty it was, with Jerusalem a small town of less than 18,000, the majority not Arab! Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) is NOT Arab land! Ottoman Turkey ruled the area from 1518 to 1918. Remember Turks are NOT Arabs. There has never been a separate Arab state in the Holy Land in ALL history! Judaism’s ties to the Holy Land go back more than 3500 years (read the Bible!).
Howard Greyber, Ph.D.


Although this happened in the beginning of 1948 and Israel would like the world to just forget about it for their sake. Is this another one of those instances where Israel has acquired territory by war, against the U.N. Charter that states that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war?

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