1948 remembered by the people who were there

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Hanan Akavia, 81. A survivor of Auschwitz, in 1948 he was a member of Kibbutz Ginegar. He later became a diplomat.

We learnt Hebrew and prepared ourselves for fighting. But in the meantime we realised that the people of Israel were not very interested in what had happened to us. They had one goal, which was to fight for the defence of Israel. We were also fighting for Israel and we did not speak about our pain in the concentration camps. We believed we had to be like the other people [in Israel] and I believe we were unlike other people, with our pain inside. We did not speak about that. After the Eichmann trial [in 1961], people understood.

In May, we heard by radio that Ben-Gurion had declared the State of Israel. The people went out into the streets and were singing. My feeling was good. I was a part of the whole people. It was euphoria. But the same day, we heard that three of our friends from Ginegar in the Haganah had fallen and we began to organise ourselves against the attacks of the Arabs.

At the time of the War of Independence, we were proud of it. After years, I realised it was a tragedy for the Arab people.

My hopes [then] were not fulfilled. I believe in not [having] wars. And for our children not to be in the military – that was our dream... We have too many enemies. Today we say we are strong, but I don't know. I hope that Israel will survive.

In 1948, Geula Cohen, 82, was a broadcaster for Zionist faction Lehi [Stern Gang]

We broadcast in many places to avoid getting caught; it was when we stayed in one place that we were found and I was arrested. In May 1948, Ben Gurion declared independence, and I saw the Israeli flag go up. One the one hand I was happy to have any inch of my historical territory. On the other, we had borders [allocated by the UN] that were a joke.

I was broadcasting especially against [UN mediator, Count] Bernadotte. He wanted an international Jerusalem. He was killed by Lehi. I was the one who was broadcasting against him. Every organisation for liberation in history used weapons ...for us terror was a vehicle to gaining a state. For the Arabs the goal is terror, to exterminate a people.

Sixty years ago, Attia Hjazi, 82, lived in Deir Sneid, now part of Israeli territory, close to the border with Gaza.

Deir Sneid was only half a kilometer from the [kibbutz of] Yad Mordechai. We had good relations with them before the war. They were Palestinian Jews and immigrants. My father was the mukhtar [local leader], and he regularly visited the Jews' mukhtar. We were connected by the common interest of agriculture.

When the Egyptian army came [during the war], they told our fighters they could take a rest, saying, "We'll do it". They occupied Yad Mordechai, and when they came to Deir Sneid, the Jews attacked them, and we understood that the Egyptian army was covering its withdrawal, not fighting. By October, they left us all with no protection whatever, and the Jews bombarded the place. My brother was injured. When we saw the Egyptian flag coming down at Yad Mordechai, we left for Beit Lahiya [in Gaza].

The only hope we have now is God. There cannot be two states because the Israelis don't want it. With the settlements, the wall, the confiscating of land, they want us in ghettos.

Mustafa Abdel-Shafi, 86. In 1948 he was a doctor in Majdal, now part of the Israeli city Ashkelon. His brother Haidar led the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 Madrid Conference. Today, he lives in Gaza.

When the Palestinian leadership was preparing to revolt against the UN decision in November 1947, I argued that we should accept it. It was obviously biased in favour of the Jews who were one-third of the population [and] given more than 50 per cent of the land. But my argument was that the question wasn't whether we were right or not. I said: "I tell you. We cannot resist this. We should create our own independent, democratic, state according to the resolution." People told me I should be quiet because it was dangerous to talk like this. But we could at least have kept 44 per cent of the land, and now we are fighting for 22 per cent.

I don't hate Jews. I am very sorry for what happened to them at the hands of Hitler. I would respect them if they were ready to live with us as neighbours. But they are acting as oppressors ...they will not allow us to have our own state.

Uri Avnery, 84, was a commando in the Israeli Givati Brigade, and later a pioneer of the two-state solution.

It was a war for survival on both sides, which quickly became a war of ethnic cleansing. Very few Arabs remained in the land we conquered, but no Jews remained in the land the Arabs conquered. I am not Zionist and not anti-Zionist. I created the term post-Zionist. Zionism had glorious achievements and [made] grievous mistakes, including the injustice to the Palestinians.

What Olmert and Tzipi Livni mean by a two-state solution is not what I mean. They mean turning the West Bank into a kind of chess-board far removed from a Palestinian state. If Israel is going to survive another 60 years we need to change the mentality and fix the borders on the [1967] green line, create a really modern Israeli society based on science and culture, develop like a normal people and put an end to the war with the Arab world.

Zuhdiyeh Haboudeh Ikdeish, 72, from Nablus. Sixty years ago, she lived in the village of Ejzem, which is now part of Israel. Her son, a Fatah activist, is in prison.

The village was a five-piastre bus ride from Haifa. I didn't go to school because my mother needed me to help at home. My father was in the resistance, so we were 11 children and my mother. The Jews told us to go to a citrus grove owned by a local man. They were normal. They didn't beat us. After two weeks, they told us to get on buses and go to Jenin. It was the season of grapes and figs. My mother put her gold in our shoes to stop the soldiers taking it. We left everything else. We had citrus, sesame, everything. The Jews harvested it, put it in sacks, and took it.

In 1978, I went back to see the house, where Jews were now living. I didn't have the courage to go to the door, but we had a picnic on the land. The army asked what we were doing. We said, "This is our land". They said, "After you have finished eating, put the fire out and go home".

I hope my grandchildren will be able to go back to my beautiful village. There will be no peace without a return.

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