Nabil is a Palestinian friend of mine whose family was forced out of northern Palestine in 1948. He was born in Lebanon in 1973, lived in Tal Al-Za’tar refugee camp until the age of five, and finally moved with his family to Vienna (Austria) in 1978 due to the civil war. I met Nabil in Vienna in 1984, we attended secondary school together, and we have been best friends ever since.
On many occasions, Nabil and I would talk about Palestine, its past, its present, and its future. We would even talk admiringly about Palestinian food; the conversation often ended with a sense of homesickness. Strange, Nabil has never seen Palestine; he used to spend most of his summer vacations in Beirut, just like I used to spend mine in Jerusalem.
It always struck me how Nabil spoke of “Alma, Qada’ Safad” with such pride, passion, and familiarity; sometimes I felt that he perceived ‘Palestine’ as a dream land, a perfect place untouched by the merciless hand of time. His perception of Palestine differed from mine; it was a more idealistic perception.
Today, I took a day trip to the north of Palestine; I visited Nazareth and Lake Tiberias. The freshness of spring only made the beautiful scenery between Nazareth and the Tiberias area more hypnotic. The seemingly endless green fields, the giant mountains, the colourful flowers; it really seemed like a perfect place, untouched by time.
As we descended towards Lake Tiberias, my admiration of the scenery was interrupted by the tour guide’s explanation that “.the town on top of the high mountain to the left is called Safad.” I was thrilled. I immediately thought of Nabil, and his good old “Alma, Qada’ Safad!” The tour guide explained that Safad is the highest town in Palestine; it is 900 meters above sea level, which gives it a magnificent view of Lake Tiberias and the surrounding mountains. He also explained that Safad is an old city, very much like Jerusalem, with narrow roads and plenty of ancient mosques and churches. At that moment I was happy, I had promised Nabil that when he eventually comes to visit me in Palestine, I would take him to his original hometown. Now, I thought, not only will he be able to see Safad, but he will also be proud of its beauty.
Later in the afternoon, I went to speak to the guide. He was an old man, yet his knowledge about Palestine and its history was amazing. I briefly explained to him that I have a personal interest in Safad and its surrounding villages, and I asked him whether or not there are any Palestinians living in Safad. He said that Safad was invaded by Israeli forces overnight in 1948, its Palestinian inhabitants were terrorized and driven out, and most of its surrounding villages have been demolished. “What about Alma?” I said. “Alma no longer exists,” he replied pointing to a map he had on the table, “Alma was completely destroyed in 1948.” He then pointed on his map the exact location of Alma, and explained that, instead, there is an Israeli ‘colony’ of about 2000 inhabitants living there.
Alma is now called Ammiat, in Hebrew. But for Nabil, I am sure, it will always be Alma, Qada’ Safad.