1948, Flight into Lebanon, Bishop Riah

man in bishop's attire.

"We had a big, black Dodge, which we loaded with mattresses, food for the journey and 14 people, including my father, who was driving, my mother, sitting beside him, two autns with their three children, and my sisters and brothers. There was not enough room for all of us inside the car, so my brother Rohi and I rode standing on the running boards, with our arms wrapped tightly round the door frames. This form of travelling had two advantages - first, it helped my car sickness, and second, Rohi and I could keep an eye on the wheels, to make sure they didn't fall off!

We crossed the border to the Lebanon. My father refused to register us as refugees. We lived off his savings and the gold my grandmother had left to my mother, which we sold in the markets of Beirut. I felt the tension. In the streets we children were exposed sto the taunts of the Lebanese children, who called us laji'een: refugees. For reasons I didn't even understand myself, I felt that thie term was humiliating, and I remember at least once getting into a fight with a boy who taunted me thus.

David Ben Gurian claimed that the Palestinian Arab showed no emotional involvement in Palestine: 'Why should he? He is equally at ease whether in Jordan, Lebanon or a variety of places. They are as much his country as this is. And as little.' But it wasn't true. I wanted to go home. Bible stories had increased the significance of Nazareth in my own mind - they must have done, otherwise why would I choose to return at such a young age and in such danger and difficulty? I remembered watching pilgrims from all over the world walking towards the Grotto of the Annunciation and keeling as they approached. All of a sudden my childhood, my playground, my school had been taken away from me. I wanted them back and I was prepared to return without my family."

NB. With great difficulty Riah Abu El-Assal and his sister, Suad, went back the next year to what had become Israel. He was 12 and his sister 13. Riah became in time the Bishop of Jerusalem.

Source: Caught in Between, Riah Abu El-Assal

Photo: Jerusalem Academy