Sixty-seven years ago,
Palestinians woke up to a tragedy that ravaged their hearts and distorted Palestinian life forever. Over 800,000 people, approximately half of the population of then-mandatory Palestine, were evicted from their homes and their ancestors' lands. The horror was engraved on all of the faces; a language and reality they shared for decades—many to this day.
Scattered all over the Middle East and prevented by Israel from returning home, dignified landowners who overnight had turned into refugees didn't need to ask about the fate of their home. The broken bodies and spirits of hundreds of thousands forced into exile answered their question. Palestine was no more.
Today, almost seven decades after the ethnic cleansing, some of the Palestinians born in Palestine are still alive and still remember the horror of the 1948 dispossession and those miserable days. The generations who were born after the loss of their homeland—be it under the Israeli military occupation or in exile—and who didn't witness the tragic experiences lived by parents and grandparents, do still retain the story. In their hearts and minds, the memory of the Nakba (catastrophe) is as strong, present and fresh as for those who witnessed it and so are the hopes and dreams that refuse to fade despite the savage winds of war and time. In many ways it has a close parallel with 1947 partition of Bengal.
Unable to return to their home that became present-day Israel, Palestinian refugees were obliged to live in great uncertainty about their future in the 59 refugee camps established by the United Nations. There, they awaited action by the international community to pressure Israel to implement the right of return. Sitting in their tents winter after winter, the only hope for them back then was the one offered by Article 11 of UN Resolution 194 of 1948, which resolves that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date". Sixty-seven years after that belated date, millions of Palestinian refugees are still barred from returning home and still live a life of perpetual waiting, enduring multiple hardships in their long exile.
A quick glimpse at the situation of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, the refugees locked in the Gaza prison, those living behind the apartheid wall in the West Bank, those Palestinians who are currently on the run for their lives in Yemen and those risking their lives in the Mediterranean taking death journeys to escape insecurity and search for safety for their families, tells the same old and new story of continued Nakba, one of constant suffering with no end in sight.
The narrative about refugees is always associated with empathy, poverty, backwardness, powerlessness and violence. Poverty and violence are imposed on Palestinian refugees who, despite the unbearable situation, are still counted among the best educated and hardest working in the Middle East. They still hold on tight to their dreams and demands for rights.
On the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, the new generations are better aware of their rights, and ready to fight to gain them back. In truth Palestinian refugees are being erased not just by Israel, but also by the powers and systems that endorsed the 1948 tragedy, allowing it to continue unchallenged. They are further harmed by complicit governments' silence.
Vol. 47, No. 52, July 5 - 11, 2015