Amid the scorching sun of Haifa, I embarked on a journey that would forever etch the tale of Sami Saadeh into my heart. The Israeli organization ‘Akevot,’ with their expertise in excavating the archives and unearthing the occupation’s practices, guided us through the historical depths of this city. Among the topics explored were the Kafr Qasim massacre and the military orders that sent tremors of anguish through the lives of the oppressed, including Tantura, Latrun, and many others.
In the midst of unearthing the military archives, an investigator stumbled upon the story of Sami Saadeh. As I read the archives earlier, I was halted by the many names; the sorrow emanating from each letter seemed indescribable. The letters were a testament to the pleas and requests of the inhabitants, addressed to the Minister of Minority Affairs of that time. They recounted the tales of displacement, hardship, and struggles endured under the yoke of Military Rule. The language, influenced by an era of Ottoman rule, bore the weight of tradition and respect while also reflecting the oppressive power dynamics that permeated every word.
The story of Sami Saadeh seemed to transcend the pages as if it were a poignant tale plucked from the writings of Ghassan Kanafani. Unlike those who fled, Sami chose to remain while his wife and children sought refuge elsewhere. For families like his, fleeing would have meant relinquishing a part of themselves. So they endured, facing the full force of occupation’s brutality.
Before 1948, Haifa was a thriving city home to about 50,000 Arabs and an equal number of Jewish immigrants. The city flourished economically, boasting the Iraq Petroleum Company’s refinery and serving as a pivotal port for Iraqi oil exports.
Sami Saadeh, once a respected employee of the company, found himself alone as war loomed. His family was lost, and his home was no more, having been snatched away by Israeli authorities. He rented a place on Abbas Street, where the 84 stairs he climbed daily to reach his apartment bore witness to his struggle. The haunting echoes of his footsteps lingered as I stood at the entrance, unable to count those steps myself. The weight of his determination to reclaim his rightful place in the city he called home weighed heavily on my heart.
One day, he returned from work exhausted, only to find intruders claiming his home as theirs, driven by a false sense of entitlement. Despite several interventions and a state judge’s involvement, Sami regained possession of his home, but the intruding family was allowed to stay in one room, for they had nowhere else to go. Sami’s determination to evict them persisted, yet the saying “to whom to tell your problems if your opponent is the judge” felt applicable. He even sent a letter to David Ben-Gurion, seeking justice through any means possible.
As I traced Sami’s path through Haifa with the group, I felt the weight of history upon my shoulders, understanding the oppression that had accompanied displacement and dispossession. The city, once bustling with life, had been emptied through various means, leaving only isolated ghettos and concentration camps (the words ghettos and concentration camps are the exact words used by Israeli officials in the documents), where destruction, crime, and terror thrived. I gazed at the building that had housed the Absentee Property Guardians, its current owners have reclaimed it, and wondered about those who remained trapped in those camps – the hundreds of thousands we see today.
Yet, amidst the sorrow and injustice, hope prevails. Sami’s story continues through the unwavering dedication of his son, Raed, his wife, Pauline, and his grandchildren, Layla and Saji. They embody the resilience of the Palestinian people, standing firm in their struggle for justice and recognition, carrying forward the torch of hope ignited by Sami’s unwavering spirit.
As the sun sets on another day, the Saadeh family’s journey remains a testament to the power of hope, courage, and unyielding perseverance. They endure a living legacy that defies oppression, symbolizing the enduring spirit of a people who stand tall, rooted in their land and heritage, united in their quest for a brighter future – a future where justice and peace prevail.