Nicaragua: Moises Hassan Recalls his Palestinian Father

“It hurt him to recall he’d been forced to leave his homeland.”

Moises Hassan’s parents, Musa Ahmed Hassan and Maria Elsa Morales. Courtesy photo / La Prensa

Palestinian emigrants like Musa Ahmed Hassan settled in Nicaragua and founded their families there.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Musa Ahmed Hassan was a Palestinian immigrant with a business in Managua’s Central Market, which reached its heyday in the forties. His second child, Issa Moises Hassan, grew up to become a well-known political figure in Nicaragua. Today, Moises Hassan tells La Prensa that his father spoke little about his life in Palestine. He didn’t teach his children the language or any Arab customs. However, over time, his son realized the great sorrow his father guarded within.

As a child, Moises Hassan never asked any questions about his Palestinian origins. His six siblings kept his mother, Maria Elsa Morales, very busy. Moises spent most of his time at the family home with them. However, when he grew up, he discovered his father’s old passport and noted that the document identified him as a British citizen.

“’Why didn’t you tell us that you’re British? I demanded,” recalls Hassan, who was a young adult at the time of that incident.

Issa Moises Hassan Morales. Photo from La Prensa archives

Moises Hassan’s father left his country around 1930, when Palestine was a British protectorate. The region fell into Great Britain’s hands after they captured it from what was then the Ottoman Empire, in a war that was fought in the international context of the First World War. (1914-1918). The victorious European countries divided up the Arab territories formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and Palestine ended up in British hands.

The British occupation brought many changes and conflicts to Palestine, among them the arrival of hundreds of foreigners, who were offered land by the British – land that had previously been in the hands of Palestinians. That caused conflicts between the natives and the outsiders, but the latter had the backing of the British occupiers. That situation caused the displacement of the Palestinians.

Moises Hassan knows that his father was a farmer in Palestine and worked on his family’s land. When he left his homeland, he left his first wife and the two children he had with her. He never saw them again.

Trip to America

With the British passport he was issued, Musa Hassan traveled to the United States around 1930. Once he arrived in the US, he got a call from his brother Issa Hassan, who had settled in Nicaragua. He told him he’d found in that country the prosperity and peace he’d never had in the land of his birth. That’s how Musa Hassan headed to Central America with some of the assets he’d left Palestine with.

Musa was 36 years old when he arrived in Nicaragua. Together with his brother Issa, they established a business selling cloth and clothing in Managua’s now vanished Central Market.

“I never knew my uncle, because he died before my father married my mother. My only reference is that I carry his name,” Moises Hassan relates.

He also recalls that in the street where his father had his shop, there were three other businesses owned by Palestinians.

In Matagalpa, in the north of Nicaragua, there are several other Palestinian families who established prosperous businesses, one of them the Haslam family. Other well-known Palestinian families are the Zablah, the Frech, and the Zarruck, among others. It’s well understood that the exodus of the Palestinians had to do with poverty, the Israeli occupation and the wars that have raged in this zone.

A Palestinian flag waves over a panorama of the Palestinian sector of Silwan in East Jerusalem. Photo: La Prensa / AFP archives.

Marriage to a young woman from Nagarote

A few years after settling in Nicaragua, Musa Hassan met Maria Elsa Morales, a young woman of 19 from a prominent family in the town of Nagarote, some 30 miles northwest of Managua. Maria Elsa’s maternal grandfather had emigrated from Spain and built Nagarote’s first Catholic Church.

The young couple were wed and settled in Managua, the capitol, where Musa’s businesses were located. Moises Hassan recalls that his father would get together with other Palestinians in the Arab Club, the only place he went for distraction.

“My father was a good Muslim. He didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go anywhere except to his work. His only diversion was to go to the Arab Club two or three times a week, in the peaceful Managua of that time. There, he got together with his fellow countrymen; they played cards and chatted. But he never talked too much with us about his life, nor did we ask him much. We sensed that maybe my dad was hiding some sorrow that he didn’t like to talk about much. It’s the impression I have, as if it hurt him a little to recall that he’d had to leave his homeland in the face of the invasion of foreigners,” Moises Hassan tells us.

He did know that his father never stopped communicating with his family in Palestine and helped them out economically, although he never went back to his country. Musa Hassan died in Nicaragua in 1961, at the age of 67.

In 1997, Moises Hassan tried to enter Palestine. He was in Jordan at the time, participating in a gathering of the children of Palestinians brought up in Latin America. However, he was not allowed to enter the territory.

“I had it all planned; I had addresses, some money, I arrived by land and wanted to enter through the border at Amman City, the Jordanian capital. I arrived by bus, but they stopped me at the border and held me until the next bus arrived, and they could send me back. So, I never was able to see Palestine,” he remarks.

All the Hassan brothers shared a middle name

Musa Hassan and his wife had six children, of whom four are still alive. One of the Arab traditions that Musa conserved with his Nicaraguan family was to give each of his five sons his own name as a middle name. “Musa” is “Moises” in Spanish. He also tried to give his daughter Sara the middle name “Moises,” but his wife objected. Moises Hassan was the only one his mother actually called “Moises,” because she never liked the name “Issa,” as it seemed to her a girl’s name.

The Hassan family’s oldest son, Anuar Moises Hassan, was a recognized journalist with La Prensa during the sixties, covering crimes and local events. He was married to Rosario Murillo from 1968 – 1972.

Omar Moises Hassan, the fourth brother, was killed by dictator Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard in the seventies for being a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Amin Moises Hassan, another of the brothers, became a doctor and died of an illness in his adult years.

Moises Hassan is a civil engineer by profession and holds a PhD in Physics from the University of North Carolina. In his youth, he participated in the Sandinista insurrection. When the Sandinista guerrilla army triumphed, he served as a member of the Government Junta for National Reconstruction from 1979 – 1984.

Moises Hassan split with the FSLN in 1988, and later became a critic of the FSLN’s dictatorial regime under Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murilllo.

In 2021, the Ortega authorities prohibited him from returning to Nicaragua, after he left the country to visit one of his daughters and to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. He had opted to receive his vaccine out of the country, for fear of being singled out as a critic of Ortega if he appeared at a Managua clinic. In February 2023, he was one of 316 Nicaraguans the Ortega regime stripped of their nationality and declared stateless – 222 released political prisoners and 94 Nicaraguan dissidents who had left the country. His house in Managua was subsequently looted by the Police.

Hassan, now 81, lives in Costa Rica and has accepted Spanish nationality. Like his father, he says his heart holds heavy regret for never having learned his father’s language, not having communicated more with him, and from having lost nearly all his family photos in the house the police looted in Managua.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.