A Nakba story: She died alone from hunger and thirst
By Rasha Herzallah
RAMALLAH, May 15, 2020 (WAFA) — In the midst of the massacres perpetrated by invading Zionist militias in pre-1948 historical Palestine that led to the creation of today’s Israel, and in the middle of bombardment and ethnic cleansing, what does it mean for a human being to die alone of thirst?
Can someone describe or imagine at least an event like this, or can they even imagine an event of this nature when death and displacement go on everywhere? But this is what happened to Ms. Nabiha Al-Huneidi.
Nabiha, despite being illiterate, was known for her extraordinary popularity and respect among the women of Lod, and was usually offered the main seat in any council, where she would tell women verses that she memorized and others she improvised, although she had not received any school education.
Nabiha was the daughter of the wealthiest man of Lod before the 1948 Nakba of Palestine. She got married to Mr. Daoud Tarteer, a member of the then wealthy Tarteer family, who died at an early age. The lady had to raise four orphans. She considered their education her top priority, and living up for her children and their future was the top mission in her life.
However, the events of the Nakba in 1948 started to impose another path in her life, as the Zionist militias destroyed the country, and her family members were displaced. Unfortunately, Nabiha died alone of thirst inside a mosque in Lod, and was buried in a place that is unknown until today.
A couple of years ago, a picture of a memorial public fountain went viral on the social media and read: “Free water available in honor of my grandmother Nabiha Al-Huneidi, who died alone and thirsty after we were expelled from Lod on July 13, 1948.” This photo became iconic, and people started using it to commemorate the Nakba on May 15 every year. However, the details of the story behind this memorial remained unknown to many.
Several weeks ago, we started searching for the location of this monument and its owner, and we reached out to many family members who are scattered in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, but they said they knew nothing about the story, and some of them said the photo was most likely taken in Jordan. Others said the photo was perhaps taken in Lod, while some told us that they knew nothing more about it than what was written on the memorial. Until that moment, Nabiha was unknown, as was her mysterious death story.
Our search continued until we came across a Facebook comment dating back to three years ago. The comment was on a picture published by an activist stating that the memorial was built in the “Tarteer Palace” in town of Surda, north of Ramallah. We were told that the owner of the palace had died in 2015, and his children had immigrated to the United States, and the house has been locked ever since.
The search continued until we came across a comment by Mahasen Tarteer, Nabiha’s granddaughter, on Facebook in which she praised her grandma and her cousin, who built the memorial. We talked to Mahasen, 74 years old, who resides in the Jordanian capital of Amman after she, together with her family, were expelled from her hometown of Ramle by Zionist gangs in 1948.
Mahasen spoke about her grandmother with great sorrow as she recounted what was narrated by her father, Ayoub, who and whose family were forcibly evicted from Lod while carrying his daughter, Mahasen, her brothers, and her cousins towards the town of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, for fear of massacres by the Zionist gangs.
By that time, Nabiha, who was 60 years old, stayed at home because her children were forced to walk tens of kilometers, and she was disabled and needed someone to carry her all the way.
“Because of the severity of the tragedy, my cousin was carrying her daughter and because of exhaustion and thirst, she left her under a tree, but my father returned there and carried her,” Mahasen says.
After a long journey full of fatigue and exhaustion, the father and his brothers arrived in Ni’lin, and after they had secured their families with one of their acquaintances, they returned to Lod to bring their mother. But they could not reach her, as the Zionist gangs were randomly shooting at people, bombing houses, and destroying everything they saw on their way. The family continued their attempts to reach Nabiha but all in vain.
Nabiha did not find anyone to take care of her, as she was unable to exert any effort without assistance, until she was found by the uncle of Mahasen’s mother, Hajj Ibrahim, who volunteered to help the needy and who moved her together with a number of elderly people to a mosque in the city. Hajj Ibrahim looked after them, supervised them, fed them and watered them but, as Mahasen’s father narrated to her, the Zionist gangs imposed a curfew on the city, arrested its youth and men, preventing Hajj Ibrahim from reaching her, and Nabiha had to face her fate alone.
On the July 13, 1948, Nabiha died in the mosque alone from hunger and thirst. She died alone, without anyone with her except few unknown volunteers who buried her in a place that is unknown to this day.
Nabiha is one of the tragic cases of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine that are narrated today by the grandchildren. Her tragic death is a symbol and evidence of hundreds of thousands of similar stories that remain untold until today. It is also one of thousands of stories that stand evidence to the most heinous crimes committed against the Palestinian people whose impact can be seen to date.