Life, Middle East

Palestinian names aim to keep occupied cities in memory

Palestinians name their daughters after cities occupied by Israel to keep them in memory of younger generations

Nesma Seyam   | 19.02.2020
Palestinian names aim to keep occupied cities in memory Jawad Abu Harb, a refugee from the village of Zarnouqah, named his first-born daughter “Bisan,” after a city located to the north of historical Palestine whose residents were displaced in 1948.

GAZA CITY, Palestine

His endless love for the city of Yafa (Jaffa), lost to Israel during the 1948 Middle East war, inspired the Palestinian Ali Masharqah to name his daughter after the city.


“My heart is all about Yafa. I learned the city of Yafa by heart, its mosques, streets, and archaeological sites," Masharqah told Anadolu Agency.


In 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their land by Jewish gangs, leaving behind some 400-600 cities and villages almost empty.


Ever since, Palestinians started to name their daughters after their cities in an attempt to keep them alive in the memory of younger generations.


Even though Masharqah’s family is from Hebron and was never displaced, they are known for naming their daughters after occupied cities.

"My cousins’ names are Safad, Karmel, and Bisan. It’s more of a family tradition," his daughter Yafa, 22, said.



Growing up, Yafa’s name was a source of joy and uniqueness and always brought her compliments.


“I make sure to narrate the city's history and describe its beautiful nature before even mentioning the dictionary meaning of the name, which is ‘beautiful lady’," explained Yafa.



Names from history


Jawad Abu Harb, a refugee from the village of Zarnouqah, named his first-born daughter “Bisan,” after a city located to the north of historical Palestine whose residents were displaced in 1948.


"Bisan is home for me. I have three sons; however, I insistently ask people to call me 'Abu Bisan'," Abu Harb said.


It is a custom among Arabs, including Palestinians, to call men by their first-born son.


By naming his daughter after the Palestinian city, Abu Harb said he wants to spark curiosity inside people to ask and search about Bisan and other occupied cities.


He named his two other daughters Seren, a village inside the city of Bisan, and Banias, a city on the border between Palestine and Syria.


Israel’s attempt to wipe out the Arabic names of Palestinian cities and replace them with Hebrew ones is another reason why Abu Harb insisted on giving all of his daughters the Arabic names of cities.


With an exclusive name for Palestinians, one of the things Bisan enjoys best is when people online ask about its meaning. She seizes the chance to introduce them to the northern city.


"I absolutely love my name. It has a historical and emotional dimension to it," the 28-year-old said. "It makes me feel rooted to my beloved Palestine."


Social media exposure also had an impact on parents’ choices for their kids’ names. It helped more people adopt the idea.


"It never makes me less unique. I still feel the same way about my name 28 years later," said Bisan.


Uniqueness

Eilabun Elfarra, 26, is a non-refugee from the city of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. She and her three sisters have very rare names in their community.


Every time Eilabun's mother gave birth to a girl, her father would grab a book about Palestinian cities and pick a name for the newborn.

In October 1948, Israel carried out a massacre in Eilabun, a Christian village north of Yafa (Jaffa).

“Nobody else in my entire school was ever named Eilabun. To this very day, I’ve never met anyone who has the same name as mine,” said Eilabun.

Eilabun enjoys the fact that her name is used to facilitate formalities or procedures. Officers listen carefully to her name's story and pass time during the workday.


"Palestinians should stick to their history, especially young generations who are more likely to never be able to visit the occupied land," she said.


Eilabun expressed her strong willingness to name her daughters after Palestinian cities and will pass the practice on to her extended family.


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