Honoring the Struggle for Justice & Dignity (Issue No.36-37, Winter 2007 - Spring 2008)


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The introductory articles in this issue deal with the history of the Palestinian Nakba, and the international community's role in bringing about the 1948 Nakba; as well as the growth of the Palestinian grassroots right of return movement since the early 1990s.

The main feature of this Nakba 60 Special Issue tells the stories of Palestinian refugees in their own voices through 19 profiles of individual Palestinian refugees of different ages scattered across the Americas, Europe and the Arab World. The individuals profiled in this section cover a large spectrum of refugee experiences; stories from the population transfer of 1948, being trapped outside of their homeland during the war of 1967, the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the horrors faced by Palestinians of Kuwait in 1991 and presently in Iraq, as well as the views and experiences from internally displaced Palestinians living as Israeli citizens today. Information about these men and women's towns and villages of origin are also included with the profiles, offering a glimpse into the scope and magnitude of what it means to be a Palestinian refugee.

A chronology of the Nakba, a list of Nakba commemoration events worldwide, as well as an update of recent developments in the global civil society campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) are included in the documents section.

Many will agree that the past few months have posed many challenges to Palestinian unity; yet, when reading the stories of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced scattered around the world, one cannot but feel the symbiotic union of a people; something that transcends borders and politics, “something of the heart”, as a boy in the Al-Wihdat refugee camp puts it.

  This special Nakba 60 issue of al Majdal aims to honor the 7 million Palestinian refugees and internally displaced who live in forced exile today. Voices, from Chile to Gaza, that come together to tell of their love and longing for their home, land and people; voices that call for humanity, justice and dignity – and for return, the return of rights, all rights.

A demand, after 60 years of ongoing dispossession and displacement, that is stronger than ever. Palestinians - the indigenous people of the land which is now Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory - are suffering from historic injustices as a result of the colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources. They are struggling against an ideology - Zionism – that contends that there should be a Jewish State in ‘Eretz Israel’ - a territorial construct that includes all of the land of Mandate Palestine, and upon which a Jewish majority should be created and maintained. Concretely, this means that Palestinians are faced with discriminatory policies and practices that violate their fundamental rights, notably their rights to self-determination, equality, and return.

How the unresolved Palestinian refugee question stands for the failure of the international human rights and humanitarian regime

At the beginning of the 20th century, most Palestinians lived inside the borders of Palestine, which is now divided into Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Today, almost 75% of the Palestinian people are displaced, and Palestinian refugees present the world’s largest and longest-standing unresolved refugee case. Approximately half of the Palestinian people live in forced exile outside their homeland, while another 23% are displaced within the borders of former Palestine.1 Six decades after the first and most massive wave of forced displacement in 1948, Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) still lack access to durable solutions and reparations, including return, restitution and compensation, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. While more Palestinians are being displaced today, effective protection is still not available for them.

When the first news came from Tunis and Tel-Aviv in early September 1993 about the secret talks between the PLO and the Israeli government, the people of Palestine inside and in the exile were torn between enthusiasm and optimism on the one hand, and doubt and skepticism on the other. “Let’s wait and see”, said many then.

The situation of uncertainty did not last long. A week later, the secret Oslo talks were revealed and we learned that the parties had concluded the talks with a Declaration of Principles that was to pave the way for final status negotiations on the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, i.e. the agreement which became known as the Oslo Agreement or the Declaration of Principles.

Mohamad and Rawan Al-Bash - Damascus, Syria

My name is Rawan Al Bash and I would like to tell the story of my father since he was displaced in 1948.

My father, Mohamad Al Bash, is from the village of Tiret Haifa in Haifa, on the north shore of Palestine. My father’s family consisted of his father Ibrahim and his mother Ghazaleh and two children when they were exiled from Palestine in 1948; my father, who was only four years old at the time, was the oldest son.

Dr. Sanaa Shalan - Amman, Jordan

Dr Sanaa Shalan appears immediately as a strong, successful, articulate and proud young woman. Sanaa is a highly respected professor of Arabic literature at the University of Jordan. At only 27, she is a renowned writer who has won 32 awards, among them the Al-Shariqa Award for Arabic creativity for the story The Nightmare and the first Young Author Award of the Abd-Al-Muhsin Qatan Association for her short story collection Aina Khader.

 But above all Sanaa is a Palestinian refugee. She has a promising successful carreer in Amman, but she does not forget where she comes from and she strongly speaks about her identity as a Palestinian.

Mohammed Awni Obeid – Cairo, Egypt

Mohammed Awni Obeid is one of 70,000-100,000 Palestinian refugees living in Egypt.1 The majority of refugees in Egypt fled Palestine during the 1967 war. In the first years the Egyptian state, under President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Palestinians were granted equal treatment to Egyptians. But his successor President Anwar Al-Sadat, and to a much greater extent the current President Hosni Mubarak, gradually withdrew the privileges conferred to Palestinian refugees. Now, second and third-generation refugees born and living in Egypt are barred from obtaining permanent resident status in Egypt, and rely on their employment to maintain their residency status.

Mahmoud Kaddoura – Toronto, Canada

“Our lives became so much more complicated when Saddam’s Iraq invaded Kuwait” Having been born and raised in Kuwait, Mahmoud’s perception of his being a Palestinian refugee revolved around his father’s stories about their village of Suhmata and its people, the pools, the castle and the stories of his childhood visits to Balbaak’s Thakanet Ghoro (Gouraud) refugee camp. He would also hear about ‘Ein El-Hilweh, the refugee camp in Sidon where his mother was raised. “In Kuwait, it was very normal for you to be Palestinian or Yemeni or Indian, or indeed from anywhere in the world since most of the labor done in that country came from elsewhere.”

Hussein and Ghada Mubaraki (father and daughter) - Abu Snaan, 1948 Palestine

What did military government mean? The military rule was made because of the people who fled… If there wasn’t military rule we could have gone home. They made the military government so that all people were [permanently] exiled from their villages. - Hussein Mubaraki

Charles Tarazi - New York and London, United States and England

In 1948, Palestine was beautiful and vibrant. There were fields of olive trees, people everywhere, much commerce, and a thriving society. Palestinian culture was rich in its food, familial traditions, music and dance. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side , all part of the same social fabric.

Hashim and Samer Al-Huneidi - Oregon, United States

“In a heartbeat.” That is how fast it must have taken 18 year old Hashim and the rest of the Al-Huneidi family to realize after the massacre of 426 residents of their town, Al-Lydd, that they would have to flee to safer ground. “In a heartbeat.” That is also how fast Hashim’s son, Samer, would return to Al-Lydd today—if he only could.

Fatima Ahmad Owdeh – Deheishe camp, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territory

I was around 17-18 years old when we were expelled from our village, Deir Aban. This was 18 October 1948. We had heard that the Zionists had occupied Akka, Jaffa, and many villages and that massacres occurred, such as in Deir Yassin. We heard that the Zionists had put the dead and injured people into a hole and buried them alive in Deir Yassin, the same day that we heard that Abdelqader Husseini was killed. A street was later built on top of them. We were very afraid and when we heard about the story of Deir Yassin, all the civilians in the village went to hide in the mountains.

Rafat Abu Ghali - Al-Shabora refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestinian Territory

My family’s name is Abu Ghali and my family comes from Bir Saba. We used to own 48,000sq meters of cultivatable land. People used to cultivate their land in winter and move to another area called Sidna Ali, near Jaffa. There, they used to rent land lots and cultivate them. During the harvest season they would go back to Bir Saba. In 1933, the British came and expelled the Arabs from Sidna Ali in order to settle Jewish immigrants on their lands. They offered compensation to the land owners. The compensation was one camel, twelve cans of oils, and 20,000sq meters of land with a house built on it in Moqibla area near Jenin. Most people accepted the offer, among them was Khalil Abu Ghali, my grandfather. Those who rejected the offer were expelled by force. A Jewish settlement called Kabus was built there.

Mustapha Khaled Awad - Brussels, Belgium

His name is “Mustapha” as he likes to write it and for others to use … a young Palestinian man living in Belgium as a political refugee.  I first met Mustapha when I came to Belgium as a Masters student from Palestine. But actually I can say that I met him long before that, in my neighbourhood in Abu-Dis or on Rukab street in Ramallah, or maybe on one of my trips into the occupied land of “1948”, where his home village Al-Sumayriyya is located, in the north of Palestine. A Palestinian, alone, missing his people, without laughs or tears…without wedding ceremonies or funerals…without LIFE. I saw him in the faces of the people of my country, looking tired and so consumed, yet full of hope and faith.

Reverend Lilian Mattar-Patey – La Salle, Canada

While she was only two years old when her family was forced to flee their West Jerusalem home, Reverend Mattar was told the story so often that it is deeply entrenched as part of her own memory. Her father, Suleiman Hanna Mattar, was a successful banker with Barclays bank in Haifa, and the bank had moved him to Jerusalem. In the weeks before the Zionist attack on Jerusalem, her sister's closest Jewish friends had told her that there was going to be trouble for Arabs, her father had also been told that if they did not leave their home they would all be killed. So it was obvious when the sounds and tremors of explosions began to fill the house that they needed to leave.

Hussein Loubani - Nahr el Bared camp, Lebanon

One day we will return to our own Home,
And succumb to tender hopes.
We will return no matter how much time passes,
And distances separate us.

--A song by prominent singer Fairouz

Hala George and her family - Edinburgh, Scotland

Nothing in the disruption to me and my family described here compares to the continued suffering and desperation of those driven off their lands in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. My father’s family are descendants of the Crusaders and originally came from Malta via Greece centuries ago, hence the name and the fair features.

Mary Shoufani - Athens, Greece

My name is Mary Rayya. I am from Al-Bassa village in Akka District in northern Palestine. My village was totally demolished and destroyed and renamed Shelomi settlement. The whole population of my village, Christians and Muslims, was expelled in 1948. They were allowed by the Lebanese army to go to south Lebanon, to the town of Al-Nabatiyyah. Then they were moved again further north to Al-Damour. The Christian population of my village was convinced to move further north to live among the Christians in the northern suburb of Beirut. They lived in tents for almost 2 years and then UNRWA intervened and built a camp for them in Dbayeh (established in 1956). Our camp had 4 streets with barracks built on both sides; it was very crowded with houses stuck on top of one another.

Abu Rafik Masad - Santiago, Chile

Like all young Palestinians who were born and grew up under Zionist occupation, we have never known freedom, but this value was and remains the most coveted, regardless of the cost or sacrifice.

My family is from Al-Bakaa neighbourhood in Jerusalem. In June 1948, my family was forced to flee under attacks from Zionist forces. They took nothing, only the key. My family came to Bethlehem where I was born and grew up.

Walid and Arjan El Fassed – Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

On 11 november 1963 an old airplane landed on Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. On board the plane that arrived from Amman were 65 young Palestinians from Nablus. The young men were contracted by Romi, a Dutch company specialised in refining vegetable oils. Most of the men were working at The Jordan Vegetable Oil Industries in Nablus. With the help of Dutch experts the company made a restart and in order to educate the young workers, they would work in the Netherlands for two years and then go back to Palestine. The Netherlands was experiencing a shortage of workers at the time.

Mohammad Manasra - Växjö, Sweden

“The Palestinian peasant is an educated peasant.” Mohammad’s father’s words accompany the constant ringing in his ears that started when he was injured by a car bomb meant to kill him on the streets of Baghdad. “We were farmers, we knew the land, we loved the land and the land loved us.” It was this love of the land that led the villagers of ‘Ayn Ghazal, on the slopes of Mount Carmel to fiercely resist the Zionist onslaught in 1948. Despite the signinficant imbalance in the level of training and armament that clearly favored the Zaionist forces fighting to clear the area of its indigenous inhabitants, the defenders of ‘Ayn Ghazal, Ijzim and Jaba’ relentlessly fought to keep their families alive and on their land. “The Zionists called our three villages the ‘dirty triangle’ because they couldn’t defeat us, even though they were heavily armed with modern guns and artillery and planes while every three of the Palestinian resistance fighters had to share a rifle!”

Ziad Awaisy – Nazareth, 1948 Palestine

Ziad Awaisy was born the second of five children in 1974, in the Saffafra neighborhood of Nazareth. For his parents, both refugees of Saffuriyya, this was a great achievement – a son was born in their own home. Their first daughter was born the year before when – more than a quarter of a century after the Nakba - they were still living in a two roomed house with the father’s parents and brothers’ families.