During the mid nineteenth century, mounting tension between Maronite Christians and the Druze (Arab followers of a sect similar to Islam) culminated in persecution of the Maronites by the Druze, causing my ancestors to flee Lebanon. The backstory is as follows.
In 1842 the supreme powers in Constantinople, concerned that Lebanon had gone too far in its separatist policy, partitioned the country between the Maronites and the Druze, following the prin- ciple of divide and conquer. The Maronites, who actively embraced the educational and cultural influences of the West, became dis- proportionately influential in financial and state affairs and soon outdistanced the Druze economically and socially.
They also started to establish themselves in districts that had previously been dominated by the Druze.
Tensions simmered between the two groups until finally, in 1860, violence swept the country. More than eleven thousand Maronite Christians were killed by their Druze neighbors, and many of their buildings were torched. That same year my grand- father’s family moved to the ancient port city of Jaffa in Ottoman- ruled Palestine.
By 1867, eight years later, about one thousand of Jaffa’s five thousand inhabitants were Christians; the rest were Arabic-speaking Muslims and Arabic-speaking Jews who had coexisted peacefully for many years. Known as “The Bride of Pales- tine,” Jaffa was a hub of activity, linking the people of Palestine with other port cities around the Mediterranean and the western world.
My father was born in Jaffa, which today is a part of modern Tel Aviv. He told me many stories about his parents’ beautiful home in the neighborhood of Ajami, where his family lived until the 1948 war forced them to flee to Egypt. On that day he had no time to gather his clothes, his toys, or even his beloved collection of stamps from all around the world.
His parents, thinking the war would end quickly, left everything in their home. They took only the house keys with them, expecting to return in a week or two and resume life as normal.
But there was no returning. Jaffa had become part of the new Jewish state of Israel, and Palestinian refugees—which my father’s family now were—were not allowed to reenter Israel. The Israeli government gave the abandoned Arab houses to Jewish immigrants at no cost.