Palestinian Refugees Remember the Homeland They’ve Never Seen
Date: 
May 20, 2020
Author: 

Seventy-two years after the Nakba, Abdulkarim Taha continues to reminisce about his homeland. A fifty-year-old Palestinian refugee residing in Wavel refugee camp in Baalbeck, Lebanon, Taha has never been to Palestine or seen his former home there. His memories are drawn from those of his parents who once lived in the farming village of Lubya, located near the town of Tiberias.

“My grandparents owned vast lands in the village, famous for olive oil and fruit,” Taha said in a phone call. “We didn’t need money or anything else; we were farmers and we had horses... we lived off the land.”

Lubya was a thriving and fertile Palestinian village located along the Sea of Galilee, where both Arabs and Jews lived together as neighbors. During the 1948-49 War, Israeli forces expelled Taha’s parents and grandparents, along with over 2,000 other Arab residents in what is known to the Palestinians as the Nakba. Taha recounted that his family walked for seven days, only stopping to seek shelter under fig trees, before reaching Lebanon.

“My parents really struggled [in the camp]; they had to work all day in the fields just to earn a few Liras to support me and my siblings,” he said about growing up in Lebanon. “But even when just washing fruits and vegetables at home, my parents would reminisce about something different and beautiful in Palestine each time.”

Today, the rubble of Lubya’s remains have been paved over by a newly planted pine forest erected by the Jewish National Fund of Israel.

Faced with limited job opportunities and numerous restrictions as refugees in Lebanon,  many of Taha’s friends have claimed asylum throughout Europe. But Taha is reluctant to leave behind the land that is so close to his ancestral home.

“Every refugee has the right to make a judgment that is best for them based on their individual situation,” Taha explained. “Personally, I believe I should continue to [stay] here in Lebanon until [I can return to Palestine].”

In a video Taha shared on WhatsApp, his eight-year-old son wears a button-down shirt with the Palestinian flag embroidered on the pocket.

“I did not see Palestine, I do not know Palestine, but I have never forgotten it,” the boy says, shaking his finger for emphasis. “One day we will return, and return only to our land in Lubya, nowhere else.”

Taha’s strong connection to his homeland, despite never having set foot in Palestine, is a widespread phenomenon among diasporic Palestinians. In Jordan, fifty-year-old Mahmoud Daboos, a retired history teacher, also bears the scars of his family’s forced exile in 1948. His father was expelled from the village of Beersheba, and his mother from the port city of Jaffa.

Growing up in the north of Jordan, Daboos shared a twenty square meter room with his parents and six siblings in Irbid camp. His parents, however, kept reminding him that Palestine was to be found everywhere around him: on the streets, in the accent of a friendly neighbor, in the smell of an olive branch carried on the breeze.

“Palestine is not something you can easily forget,” Daboos explained in a Whatsapp voice message. “Even if I haven’t ever lived there, it is in [my] heart and mind every day.”

Though a Jordanian citizen, Daboos says that he is constantly reminded of being a refugee.

In recent years, social media has played a critical role in sharing and preserving Palestinian refugee stories. On Nakba Day in 2019, Palestinians across the world shared photos of their grandparents with the hashtag #MyPalestinianSitty, (sitty being the Arabic word for grandmother), along with a short account of their displacement. Due to the global pandemic, the commemoration of the Nakba has been entirely virtual this year, with online rallies and lectures via Zoom being just some of the ways that Palestinians have commemorated the Nakba.  

Meanwhile, with the focus of attention on COVID-19 everywhere, Israel is preparing to move forward with the annexation of the Jordan Valley (in the occupied West Bank), in line with the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan released earlier this year.

Full Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley would leave an estimated 50,000 Palestinians homeless and allow the Israeli government to redirect resources from 12,355 acres of agricultural land to the growing number of illegal settlements.

Currently, the land that accounts for a third of the West Bank in Area C is already riddled with Israeli military bases and outposts that gravely impact Palestinian life: full-on annexation would further prevent the development of Palestinian infrastructure, restrict access to crucial water sources, and leave thousands of inhabitants at risk of food insecurity.

While Palestinians like Taha and Daboos dream of return, many more Palestinians may soon face yet another stage of the Nakba. As they commemorate this week, expulsion and dispossession are not simply part of the past. As long as there is Israeli military occupation and expansionism, the Nakba remains an ongoing reality.

About The Author: 

K. Kunzl is an American freelance journalist whose reporting on the Middle East focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read more