Middle East Eye / May 15, 2023
An eyewitness to the Nakba in 1948, octogenarian Shehdeh Taha has also been among the victims of the latest Israeli air strikes on Gaza, with his home destroyed and his family displaced.
Shehdeh Taha, 85, has experienced two Nakbas – catastrophes in Arabic – in his lifetime.
The first occurred in 1948 when he was 11 years old, as well-armed Zionist militia forcibly expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their lands to establish what is now called Israel.
The second occurred in his 85th year, earlier this May, when Israeli warplanes destroyed his house while bombing an adjoining house, leaving him, his 19 sons and grandchildren homeless.
“Before the Nakba, we lived contented lives, mostly engaged in agriculture. People led simple and carefree lifestyles,” he recounted, speaking to Middle East Eye from in front of his destroyed home.
Originally from Beit Lahiya village in northern Gaza, Taha witnessed how Palestinians were forced to flee to the Gaza Strip by the armed Zionists without any of their belongings.
During that time, Zionist militants committed numerous attacks and massacres, resulting in the deaths of 13,000 Palestinians and the depopulation of 530 villages and towns. Taha heard firsthand accounts by the displaced Palestinians.
“I listened to the heart-rending stories of the expelled civilians, recounting the atrocities and massacres committed against them by the Zionist gangs. Those gangs were killing anyone,” he recalled.
At 15 years old, Taha married his wife, Haniyeh, who was 18. His father bought him a taxi, and he reminisces about the 1970s and 1980s when Palestinians were allowed to drive freely between Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. He was a well-known taxi driver, transporting Gazan workers to various places in Israel.
“I miss that time,” he said.
When he turned 29, Israel launched the Naksa war, occupying Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Desert. The war resulted in the deaths of around 20,000 Arabs, including around 6,000 Palestinians.
“I have vivid memories of the bodies of Gazan women and men who were killed by Israeli forces being thrown on the streets,” he told MEE. “During their occupation of Gaza, Israel killed a significant number of people, particularly in the areas where their troops were stationed.”
Taha and his sons miraculously survived against the odds. In the early 1980s, while driving his taxi in Rishon Letsiyon, a city near Tel Aviv, he and a passenger in his car were shot by Israeli soldiers. Shehada suffered injuries to his feet, while tragically, the passenger lost their life.
“I quickly left the car and took cover among the nearby trees,” he said. “The soldiers searched for me for a while but couldn’t find me. Once they left, I managed to get back into the car to escape, but I ended up fainting. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in an Israeli hospital. Thankfully, I was eventually permitted to return to Gaza,” he recounted.
“I still don’t understand why they shot at me without any reason. It was just a routine drive. A year later, they approached me and asked me to collaborate with them. I refused. Despite considerable pressure they put on me, I remained steadfast in my refusal.”
Taha reflected on his past, stating, “I used to make good money and was happy and rich.” This financial stability allowed him to marry three wives and have 21 children, although unfortunately, four of his children passed away due to diseases in the 1960s and 1970s.
Two of his wives also died in the last two decades. Throughout the successive Israeli wars on the impoverished Gaza Strip, Taha’s house suffered partial damage on three separate occasions.
Regarding the recent events, on 9 May, Israel launched a five-day assault on Gaza, resulting in the loss of 33 Palestinian lives, including six children, three women, and two elderly individuals. Additionally, 190 people were wounded, including 64 children, 38 women, and 13 elderly people.
In retaliation, the Palestinian resistance fired a total of 1,234 rockets, with 976 of them landing in Israel.
On 12 May, an adjoining home to Taha’s was bombed by Israel, resulting in extensive damage to his house and rendering it uninhabitable.
“When I saw the rubble of my house, I was overwhelmed with deep sadness and cried. It was our sanctuary, where all 20 of us lived. Now we are homeless, residing in a tent right in front of the wreckage,” he says from within the tent.
“Take a look at my room; it has been completely destroyed. All my clothes are buried under the rubble. Where will we go? I am still waiting for assistance from a charity to provide us with new clothes,” he said with a sense of uncertainty.
During the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, a total of 2,041 residential units were damaged. Among them, 93 were completely destroyed, and 128 units became uninhabitable.
On 11 May, the Israeli army contacted Taha’s son, Ahmed, instructing him to evacuate their house and notify their neighbours to do the same, as they intended to bomb an adjoining house.
“After informing my neighbours, the Israeli army contacted me again, stating that they no longer intended to bomb the house for the safety of our children and women,” explained Ahmed, who is 42 years old.
“However, the following day, I received another call, demanding that we evacuate our house within 10 minutes. There were 53 of us living in our house. We sought refuge in a nearby UNRWA school to protect ourselves,” Ahmed told Middle East Eye, sitting alongside his displaced father.
Then the building was bombed. “We made the difficult decision not to inform my father about the destruction of our house. He is elderly, and we have nowhere else to go,” Ahmed said, highlighting the challenging circumstances they faced in finding alternative accommodation.
Despite the circumstances, Taha insisted on seeing his house, and numerous videos captured his heart-wrenching reaction as he cried loudly upon witnessing the destruction of his home.
“We couldn’t even salvage our clothes. What have we done to deserve this? We are impoverished civilians with no military or political affiliations. Now we are left homeless. Where will my daughter, who is battling cancer, find shelter? Where will we live? Are we destined to remain homeless in squalid conditions?” said Ahmed with anger in his voice.
“My father experienced the first Nakba, and now all of us are experiencing this second Nakba. It is our fate.
“All we desire is a home where my elderly parents, who are currently homeless, can find refuge. Nothing more,” he concluded, expressing their fundamental need for a place to call their own.
Ahmed al-Sammak is a freelance journalist who lives in the Gaza Strip