Dr. Bishara A. Bahbah, a professor of investment, finance and wealth management who lives in the United States, is one of many Palestinians whose family still has the deed to their land in Palestine, a 68-dunum orchard in the Lod-Jaffa area.
He also has his family’s UNWRA food card which shows the monthly rations they received when they were living both in the Zarqa Refugee Camp and then the Old City of Jerusalem.
“In contrast,” he wrote us when we were setting up this photograph, “I have on my wall my Harvard PhD which clearly demonstrates that even if Israel takes our lands, they can never take away our brainpower and our unshakable will and determination to succeed. They would have to chop off our heads from our bodies first for them to ultimately succeed.” And with that, we thought it was best to let Dr. Bahbah speak for himself.
Name: Bishara Assad Rizek Issa Bahbah.
Where you live now: United States.
Where your family lived in Palestine: The Old City of Jerusalem
What happened to you/them in 1948
My father, who was a barber, had a barbershop at the King David Hotel. When Zionists blew up the hotel, my father was in his shop at the hotel. Some woman, we don’t know who, said to him: “Bahbah, jump! A bomb is about to explode.”
He jumped from the second floor as the bomb was exploding. The shock caused my father’s hair to turn grey within a a few months. Shortly after, my family fled to Jordan and ended up in the Zarqa refugee camp, where they took shelter for two years. After that, the family returned to the Old City.
One of my sisters was born in the refugee camp.
What memories do you have of your home?
Our rented house in the Old City still exists. Nine of us lived in one bedroom with no running water or electricity. I remember as a child studying using a lantern. I also remember when it rained, the water would seep through the aluminum blocks that made up the roof and the room would be full of buckets to catch the water.
However, my grandfather, on my mother’s side, owned along with his brother, some 68 dunums (orchard) close to Jaffa. My grandparents fled and came to live with us at first in the refugee camp, and later in the Old City. You have a copy of the deed/map of the orchard. An Israeli hospital has been built on the family orchard and by most estimates the land is worth today more than $100 million.
How do you identify yourself now, in terms of nationality?
I am a Palestinian national and a US citizen. I have no other passport than the US one. In 2009, Israel took away my Jerusalem residency, represented by the blue ID card that they issued. They claimed that since I am now a US citizen, my
center of life is no longer Jerusalem and simply took away my right to reside in Jerusalem. Now, when I go back to visit family, I go in using the US passport and I am given a 90-day visa like any other American citizen. Of course, I am fortunate that I have the US passport. At least I get to visit my own land.
Where is home for you?
Home is in the United States. I cannot live in Jerusalem even though I lived there when Israel occupied Jerusalem.
I stayed in Jerusalem until 1976 when I went to the United States to continue my college education. I went back in 1983 after receiving my PhD from Harvard University and became the editor-in-chief of Al-Fajr newspaper.
My travels in and out of the country were the excuse that the Israelis used to strip me of my residency and right to live in Jerusalem.
Do you have hope that you will ever get the right of return?
Absolutely! It will always be home, no matter where I live in the world. In fact, I registered my children who were born in the United States in my UNRWA registry.
When I die, I want there to be a record that we are Palestinian and Jerusalemites. It is our eternal right and no one can take it away from us.
What would you like to tell the world about the Nakba?
The Nakba is a tragedy perpetrated against us by the world. The UN General Assembly voted to divide Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state.
It is the world’s moral obligation for having given away what was not theirs (Palestine, my homeland) to the Jews/Zionists. By attempting to absolve themselves from the horrors that befell the Jews at the hand of Hitler, they committed a bigger injustice against the Palestinians. Shame on them.