'Soon, we will return to our village': Gaza refugees remember Yibna's citrus trees 75 years after the Nakba

Two elderly men in Yibna camp [Mohammed Alhajjar/Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]
5 min read
15 May, 2023

Before 1948, the village of Yibna was one of the largest Arab villages in the Ramla district, its name appearing in many historical texts and annals, and referred to by numerous Arab chroniclers and geographers. It was situated on a hill on the Palestinian coastal plain in a strategically important position along the route of the old Gaza-Lydda (Lod) railway track, and its train station was 56km away from the old Gaza railway station.

Yibna was an agricultural village; its main crops were olives, citrus fruits and cereals, and its population in 1948 was over 6,000. The villagers were displaced from the village during the Nakba - the Catastrophe - of 1948 when around three-quarters of the Palestinian population were violently expelled from their homes and land by Zionist paramilitaries and the new Israeli army in the course of the Israeli state's establishment.

Yibna village was one of the largest in the district of Ramla in Palestine pre-1948 and lay on the old Gaza-Lydda railroad [The New Arab]

Due to the large number of families expelled from Yibna after it was occupied by Zionist forces in 1948, and who fled to an area in Rafah district (in the modern-day Gaza Strip), the name was eventually given to the area they settled in after the Nakba was Yibna Camp - in reference to their destroyed hometown.

Fleeing to Gaza

Elderly Palestinian Mariam Ibrahim Alkurd (80) was only five years old during the Nakba and remembers how the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip began forming, especially Yibna Camp, where she grew up.

"Before 1948, the village of Yibna was one of the largest Arab villages in the Ramla district, its name appearing in many historical texts and annals, and referred to by numerous Arab chroniclers "

In the beginning, her family moved to Jabalia village, and lived in tents for three weeks, she says, and soon the area became known as Jabalia Camp. Then her family moved to Tel Sultan, an area west of Rafah city which overlooked the sea, and lived in a tent given to them by the Quakers.

"I remember my father trying to stop rainwater leaking inside the tent - we had arrived there in the summer, and then winter came and it was difficult," she says in an interview with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition.

Then, her family moved again, and she spoke about the birth of Yibna camp: "It was an area closer to the Egyptian border, a sandy region where cactuses grow in abundance. My father and uncles gathered alongside several other families like the Al Hams, al-Mughayyir, al-Tawil, al-Banna and Nassar families, and they all settled in the area.

Girls sat on doorstep of a house in Yibna Camp [Mohammed Alhajjar/Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]
Girls in Yibna Camp in the Gaza Strip. The name Yibna comes from Yibna village which was in Ramla district before the Nakba in 1948 [Mohammed Alhajjar/Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

"Large tents were distributed to the families. Later on, the camp developed, and homes were built with clay walls, and others with stones which were then covered with red clay. Every family was in a home of two rooms. Later on, some houses in the camp were rebuilt with bricks; others with iron sheets with roofs made of asbestos. Some of those houses still have asbestos roofs today."

Yibna's prominent personalities

She continued: "In the beginning, they called the camp Batima, after the people of Al-Batani al-Gharbi village (who were expelled from their village in May 1948), and some call it Al-Khurasan Camp, related to the al-Akhras family. However, later, Yibna became the most used name for the camp due to the large number of former Yibna residents there, and also because several of them gained prominence as teachers and doctors and important figures in the community.

"Some even became political personalities, like the martyr Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, one of the founders of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, and the martyr Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar, the first general commander of Al-'Asifah (the then armed wing of the political and militant group Fatah) and a member of the central committee for the Fatah movement."

According to data collected by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, there is only one refugee camp in Rafah City, however, it differs from the other refugee camps in the Strip. This is because the camp has many different sections, with each part having become known by the name of its residents, or by the region or village they were displaced from, like the Shabura Camp, Sha'ut Camp, Yibna camp, and Tel Sultan Camp.

Following the 1948 Nakba, 41,000 people fled to Rafah City and lived in tents until UNRWA established Rafah Camp in 1949. According to its most recent statistics from 2022, the camp is currently home to over 125,000 refugees.

The Al Hams family was one of the most prominent Yibna families to settle in what became Yibna Camp. Mohammed Al Hams (64) explained that most of the villagers from Yibna had gathered in an area between the cities of Jabalia and Rafah, as they sought a place a safe distance away from the ongoing attacks by the Zionist gangs.

Naim Al Hams was the head of the Al Hams family in Yibna and one of the village elders. It was he who initiated gathering the Yibna families together in one place, and began to manage their affairs; just like he had done before the Nakba in Yibna as part of his role as village mukhtar ('mayor').

Al Hams adds: "Rafah's residents at that time christened the camp 'Yibna' because we were like one extended family - even to the extent that families preferred for marriages to take place between couples from [Yibna] village. The mukhtar decided that we should all live in the same area based on the hope that we would all return together. At the time I was a small boy, and the older generation would tell us all about how the country was before the occupation, always repeating: 'Soon, we will return to our village.'

"I remember well the crushing disappointment felt by the refugees of the Gaza camps after the Naksa (the Six-Day War of 1967, known as 'the setback' in Arabic), and how hopes of return receded. I lived most of my childhood building dreams around our return to Yibna village. My father was always talking about [the village]; and how he had a plot of land there full of lemon and orange trees."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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