A Dream of Liberation and Return: 69 years of the Nakba

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Mon, 15 May 2017 - 07:10 GMT

Flickr Palestine Nakba Day demo

Flickr Palestine Nakba Day demo

CAIRO – 15 May: The memorial of the Nakba reminds me of my grandmother, her doleful voice describing the events she witnessed while escaping from her home to Gaza in 1948. My grandmother had strong hopes that one day we would all return to the motherland. She would say: “We will go back and celebrate for seven days as if it is a wedding. We will go back and plant orange trees and pickolives”. She was keen on vividly describing every detail of the house so that we could recognize it when we go back.

As a Palestinian from Gaza, I need an Israeli permit to cross to the West Bank. When I first joined an international organization, I was granted a permit and I visited the West Bank. Throughout the way to Ramallah, I saw the Israeli settlements and I was wondering if I would see my homeland. Is the small white house that used to receive my father and his siblings still there as described by my grandmother? But it was not. My permit did not allow me to reach the areas fully-controlled by Israeli forces, the so-called “area A”. Grandmother, I promise you I will return to this land one day. If not I ... It will be my children or their children. But we will return.

My grandmother used to say that it never came to their minds that they would be away from their homes for months and years. That is why they left all their valuable belongings and only took the keys. Later on, those keys became a symbol of the Palestinian right of return and the only evidence our ancestors have of their roots in the land.

Given current circumstances in Palestine, I cannot see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and I do not think it will come into view anytime soon. The Palestinian fragmentation presented a golden opportunity for the occupation. Palestinian political factions are torn and this has adversely affected the Palestinian social fabric.

All Palestinian factions owe an apology to our generation and future generations for deviating from the path of restoring stolen rights and land. Thanks to them, the coming generations will inherit a homeland burdened by 10 years of division. It is another Nakba in the history of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian fragmentation turned the Palestinian cause off-course. The month of May saw exerted efforts by way of marches of return displaying persistence and resilience. It is now a platform to discuss; forced sieges on Palestinians, crossing points, electricity, elections, reconciliation, a government without rule, fighting factions; and more lies. We have strayed far away from our dream.

On the international level, the Palestinian issue has become relegated to the ranks of forgotten humanitarian issues in light of other escalating humanitarian disasters during the last decade. All decisions and policies regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are characterized by a long history of military, financial and diplomatic alignment with Israel. This has increased Palestinian disparity and frustration.

The memorial of the Palestinian Nakba every year is not purely celebratory; it is often mournful, a reminder that we seek to restore our place in our homeland. It is a painful memory. It’s a reminder that without the Nakba we would have had our own land, our own water, our own air, our airport to travel from and return to without restrictions. Our prerogative: liberty.

The Arab Nakba commenced way before 1948, starting with the French and British mandate and then later with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Planting the Zionist entity in the land led to the perpetuation of the Nakba and the dismantling of the Arab region’s ambitions.

The memorial of the Nakba comes less than a month after the Palestinian Prisoner's day on April 17. On that day, Palestinian prisoners held by Israeli forces demanded improvements to their conditions and an end to occupation violations which included the restrictions on family visits.

The Nakba of 1948, remains in the collective consciousness of Arabs and Palestinians as an indicator for a series of ongoing tragedies. Tragedies resulting from the ongoing Israeli occupation. Palestinian people are the only remaining people living under military occupation in modern history. It is a ghastly anachronism.

The man-made military plan of Nakba in Palestine describes a process of ethnic cleansing in which an unarmed nation was destroyed and its population displaced, to be replaced systematically by another nation with the consent of other states. The Nakba led to a profound loss for the Palestinian people.

On May 11 the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) confirmed that the number of Palestinians worldwide has multiplied about nine-fold and the Israeli Occupation controls more than 85% of historical Palestine.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau, more than 800,000 of the Palestinian population were forced to leave their homeland and move to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, neighboring Arab countries, and various other countries of the world in 1948. It was a new Diaspora.

According to the press release, documented evidence shows that the Israelis controlled 774 towns and villages and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns and villages during the Nakba. Zionist groups committed more than 70 massacres in which more than 15 thousand Palestinians were killed.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), last week the Israeli forces continued their flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law while the international community remained silent. These violations included using armed force against Palestinian civilians, the continuation of siege and closure policies, the building of settlements, arbitrary arrests, and the destruction of the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen.

These violations include the killing of a Palestinian girl in Jerusalem and injuring 24 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank including two children and five journalists. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces continued to shoot at Palestinian fishermen at the sea and farmers in border areas.

Palestinian Refugees: Status and Challenges

The Israeli occupation did not only try to conquer the Palestinian land, yet is also trying to blur the Palestinian identity by gradual effacements of the history and heritage of Palestinians. These attempts would culminate in the suspension of the Palestinians’ right of return.

In the same press release, PCBS mentioned that 53% of archeological sites in Palestine are located in areas under full Israeli control. The occupation prevents any excavations in or restoration of these sites. The occupation also promotes the Nativity Church in Bethlehem and Deir Quruntol (The Mount of Temptation) in Jericho, for instance, as part of tourism in Israel.

Without hyperbole, it can be said that Palestinians are now the world’s wanderers, scattered around the globe. Yet the Diaspora of Palestinians has divided them on the map but united them in the common pursuit of one unwavering goal: the right of return and self-determination.

Palestinian refugees and refugee camps are the ones preserving Palestinian collective memory. Three generations of Palestinians have lived in such camps. Though an oppressive place, the camp still preserves their culture and heritage.

It is the place where Palestinian forebears first gathered after the Nakba in 1948. Thus, the camp is precious to most Palestinians living there. All Palestinians, regardless of their political affiliation, are in agreement on the refugees’ basic right of return. The Palestinians direction has always been and will always be Palestine.

As a Palestinian refugee and a daughter of a refugee, I understand the meaning of migration. I know the meaning of lacking official documents and identification. I also know the meaning of having a refugee UN blue card. I know what it means to be affected by political changes in hosting countries. And above all, I know how this status affects your opportunities and life decisions. Most of all, you find yourself deprived of the right to plan your future and live the life you desire.

I was born in Kuwait, and I was six when the Gulf War broke out in 1990. I witnessed the war and for political reasons, Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait. My parents had to hold Egyptian travel documents issued for Palestinians from Gaza.

As a family we reached Gaza after days of crossing through Kuwait to Iraq then to Jordan and then to Egypt. When we arrived at the Israeli checkpoint, they found a necklace of Palestine with my sister. My father claimed that it belonged to him and he was denied access to Gaza. We lived for a whole nine months alone without my father and we received no news of him.

We were registered at refugee schools and my brother, who was studying in Egypt, could not travel back to resume his university education. When it was time for me to start my university years, I wanted to study at a Palestinian university in the West Bank “Bier Zeit” but I was not granted a permit to move from Gaza to the West Bank. My dream had been shattered.

We were registered in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) records. UNRWA is the mandated agency to serve Palestinian refugees including those in Palestine. The agency defines Palestinian refugees as persons who used to exist in Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and then who lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the 1948 conflict.

According to UNRWA, the total number of Palestinians who were in need of assistance when the agency started its operations in 1950 was 750,000. At the beginning of 2016, UNRWA records showed that there are 5.59 million Palestinian refugees registered and eligible for UNRWA services. Refugees constitute 42% of the total Palestinian population.

One third of registered Palestinian refugees live in 58 recognized Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These statistics represent the minimum number of Palestinian refugees, given the presence of non-registered refugees, and do not include the non-refugees who left or were forced to leave as a result of the 1967 war. The remaining two thirds of registered Palestinian refugees live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Hosting governments allocate areas of land for use by UNRWA to accommodate Palestinian refugees and establish facilities to respond to their needs. Refugees in these camps do not own the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to use the land as a place of residence. Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with a high population density, harsh living conditions, and inadequate basic infrastructure such as ineptly built roads and sewers. UNRWA is only responsible for running education, health, relief and social service programs. The agency is not responsible for security or law and order in the camps and has no police forces. This responsibility is in the hands of relevant host authorities.

Egypt received a number of Palestinians during the Nakba. However, it did not allow the establishment of permanent Palestinian camps on its territory. The three camps that were established in 1948 were removed after a few years. Many who had fled to Egypt were returned to the Gaza Strip, which remained under Egyptian administration until 1967. The Palestinians that remained in Egypt enjoyed many advantages, especially in terms of education. Egypt continued to follow this approach even during the crises in Iraq, Libya, and Syria and no refugee camps were established in Egypt.

On May 15 every year, events and actions around the world are organized to commemorate the Nakba. These events support the Palestinian cause and the ongoing struggle of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
These activities and events include the launching of electronic campaigns, petitions to the United Nations, exhibitions, films, marches, and protest vigils to shed light on the Nakba and its ongoing repercussions for Palestinians. In addition these events constitute an opportunity to renew the covenant of return, to discuss all aspects of the Palestinian issue and in a general sense, support Palestinians and reinforce their resilience.

Organizers of these events include the Association of Palestinian Refugees in Europe, international solidarity committees, municipalities, political parties, Palestinian embassies, and social media activists.
For information on organized events around the world, you can follow: @SamidounPP
As Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet once said: “To be a Palestinian means suffering an everlasting hope that has no cure.”

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