A story of a Palestinian family "touring" the Middle-East, Work In Progress
|Every immigrant's story is unique, people migrate for innumerable reasons. Most Palestinians are not immigrants in the true sense of the word. Immigration is an active endeavor, the household weighs their options and decides on a course of action. Leave or stay, both valid options with pros and cons.
I have met people who migrated for financial reasons, others for religious one. Some wanted more opportunities for their offspring or themselves. Becoming a refugee many times was more passive and not in anyway planned. In a region like the middle east it is not hard to find refugees, in fact, in certain areas, it is the norm.
Recently I talked to a family in Jordan, the conversation made me feel impotent. Their story starts in a village in historic Palestine, Al-Qabu. It was "depopulated" in 1948 and currently "hosts" an illegal Israeli communal settlement on its land. The semantics of the occupation seeps into everything, even my writing!
The word "depopulated" is a milder form of what happened to the indigenous inhabitants. It means people were brutally expelled people from their homes. It transfers the terminology from the inhumane to the surgical. The first time I heard it, it sounded a lot like "delouse." In the mind of those who use the term, it seems to have mattered little anyhow.
"Our story is different, my father didn't pack his valuables and leave," said Hamdan. The 69-year-old refugee added, "I was five or six then, but I remember the joy of returning to our home after we had left. We heard the war is over and that we could go back. My father didn't care if the land was under Ottoman, Jordanian or even Israeli control. All he wanted was to go back to his land and home."
Hamdan's family were from a small beltway of towns that Israel allowed coming back to their land. Land ownership was the main source of wealth, peasantry, the main occupation back then. So precious was land that it gave rise to the proverb "He who sells his land, sells his honor." The rural Palestinians used the respites in fighting to rush back. Their lands were ready for the season's harvest and it was important to them.
"The [1949 Armistice] Agreement came into effect and we thought we were lucky, we could go back!" Hamdan laughed as if surprised by the surrealism of their situation. "In spring, they came back and issued us evacuation orders, and then when we left they blew up our houses." He couldn't hide the dismay in his voice.
"That's when we went to Dheisheh, where I lived through my teens. At first, it was a campsite, tents provided by UNRWA. Somehow we survived, or better put we endured."
They lived in a refugee camp, and for twenty years or so, they started the foundation of a new life. Tents became bricks and roofs evolved through tin to actual concrete. They worked and started a new generation until the inevitable occurred. The Six-Day War of 1967 or as Abu-Mohammed insists on calling it an-Naksah or "The Setback".
"I had started my studying in Baghdad University, it was almost a guarantee for a decent future back then. I finished my secondary education finished under Jordanian rule. The path for a very decent chance for growth was almost there." His eyes shined for the first in the long hours I spent talking to him, I felt that I was meeting him in his student days. "Life was finally shaping up for me and I thought what better future can I have than becoming a physician. I even thought about setting shop in Dheisheh."
The Six-Day War was a pre-emptive strike by the Israeli army, it more than doubled the land held by Israel. The morale loss in the Arab population was crippling. Many of them thought fighting Israel in the current circumstance was fruitless. After years of Arab leaders preaching about how the Israelis were weak and craven; the young country shocked the region and the world. The Israeli propaganda machine became ecstatic, references to David and Goliath were not uncommon.
"Five armies failed us, not one, but five! The Arabs were the cowards!" The graying septuagenarian spoke about it as if it happened yesterday. "They all failed Nasser! The traitors made sure to make him fail. He went on to resign, you know, but the Egyptians rushed to the streets to demand he stay in power."
Conspiracy runs rife in the Middle East, especially when denial persists. A generation of pan-Arab nationalists still idolize a few heroes, Nasser included. Even decades after their incompetence and substandard leadership manifested in research and historical study.
The camp was a little small for Abu-Mohammed's ambitions, so he left to his uncle's home in Jordan. "Jordan was even a worse mess than Dheisheh, no-one knew who was boss. We still thought Nasser was running the show, we knew he wanted the Palestinians to be able to attack Israel. Hussein wouldn't let him"
"I joined the resistance" Hamdan added. "We knew if we could get Jordan to be free from the traitors and the Israeli collaborators then we can free Palestine." His demeanor was that of an apologist. He regretted this part of the story and it showed.
"It wasn't the King himself that we didn't like, he was OK!" insisted Hamdan as if trying to take me through the mindset of 1969 Palestinian guerrilla fighters in Jordan. "It was his retinue, they were all bought by Israel, Britain or the US. Some of them were Masonic!"
The old man was referring to a dark chapter in the history of the Palestinian guerrilla movement. This was between 1967 and 1970 when the Palestinian armed factions set-up a "state within a state." Jordan was their launching pad for attacks against Israel, no matter what the cost on the host was.
"We pushed it a little bit! But then we thought we could set up a republic like Iraq and Egypt and have that republic help us in regaining the land." The tone of his voice edged on conspiratorial as if someone was about to hear him and lock him up.
"Amman was too small for Arafat and Hussein, we thought Arafat would get us Palestine back. The Israelis and the British saved Hussein and we lost a few thousand men!"