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In memory of the Nakba: Preserving Palestine's collective narrative Open in fullscreen

Belal Dabour

In memory of the Nakba: Preserving Palestine's collective narrative

An entire generation have memorised the stories of their ancestors on the Nakba [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 May, 2016

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Comment: If this is your land, where are your stories? asks Belal Dabour, as Palestinians across the world mark the anniversary of their uprooting by Israel almost seven decades ago.

It’s Nakba day, again! The last colonial enterprise has made it for another year, shielded by its international benefactors and protected by our own division and failures.

On May 15, Israel declared its independence, not from those who expelled Jews from Europe, but from the Arabs who received them.

Over 1948 and early 1949, some 800,000 Palestinians were made refugees, expelled from cities, towns and villages that were ethnically and systematically cleansed by Zionist gangs.

Around this time of the year nearly seven decades ago, my family was driven out from its original city al-Majdal. Horrified by news of Zionist militias massacring nearby villages, my grandfather’s and thousands other families fled their homes in a massive exodus.

They moved south, finally finding refuge in Khanyounis, a Mediterranean city that now lies in the southern part of the temporary political entity called the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, a Jewish family ceased their house at gunpoint, settling in it under alleged biblical claims.

I have never been to al-Majdal or seen my family’s house, except maybe in photo obtained by distant cousins. They visited the old house a couple of years ago in a journey that took them 30 years, from the day their father emigrated to Canada, to their birth on a foreign land, and until the day Israel granted them tourist visas as Canadians, not Palestinians. Had they been Jewish, they would have been able to move to nowadays Israel anytime they desired, and even receive financial incentives to settle on someone else’s land.

Had they been Jewish, they would have been able to move to nowadays Israel anytime they desired, and even receive financial incentives to settle on someone else’s land

Ironically, Israel calls it the “law of return”, but how does one “return” to a land where he or she has never been?

One of such “returnees”, an eastern-looking woman called Ayelet recently responded to a tweet where I talked about three Gazan siblings who died in a fire caused by a candle, a fairly common happening under Israeli siege. The nuisance wasn’t her discarding the fact that Gaza was besieged; I am used to Zionist trolls throwing all sorts of nonsense. It was her listing of “Ashqelon”, – the Israeli name given to al-Majdal, my hometown – as her hometown.

I have never been to al-Majdal. In fact, I have never been to the lands that lay beyond the Israeli fence surrounding Gaza. The closest I have ever been to my hometown was on strawberry season a couple of months ago, when I was able to glimpse at the outskirts of “Ashqelon” from a low hill in northern Gaza Strip, while carefully trying not to get shot at for stepping into the poorly-delineated and unilaterally-imposed Israeli buffer zone.

Almost all Palestinian refugees of my age share this story. Seven decades later, it’s a wonder how, generation after generation, Palestinians remained attached to their lands, spiritually and culturally connected to hometowns they have never visited.

Seven decades later, it’s a wonder how, generation after generation, Palestinians remained attached to their lands, spiritually and culturally connected to hometowns they have never visited

I believe the secret lies in the constant narrative of the land, in the vivid tales conveyed from one generation to another, keeping the collective memory bright, and the bond alive. Our stories, songs, folklore, cuisine, costumes and old traditions still defy Israel, and will outlast its temporary existence.

I may have never visited Palestine, but I will never forget my grandfather’s tears whenever shots from the Nakba or photos of Palestinians fleeing their towns and villages played on television.

The Palestine we had and still seek is alive. I found it in the deeds to the old house that my great uncle kept with him until he died at the age of 70, never relinquishing his right to the house he called home.

It lives in Jenin, Bisan and Banyas, the all too common girls’ names that are also the names of ancient Palestinian cities; in the Khalil al-Wazir School, Saad Sayel sports hall, Ahmed Yassin street, Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital and Abdulaziz al-Rantisi mosque, all named after Palestinian figures and heroes who died fighting the Israeli occupation; in the National Education curriculum which printing Israel prohibited because it identified al-Majdal, Haifa and Lod as occupied cities.

Palestine lives in Haifa, Ramla, Lod, Acre, Ashdod, Nazareth and dozens of other occupied cities and towns that still bear their original Arabic names as evidence of the true identity of this land; it also lives in Hummus, Shakshoka and the Gazan salad with extra chili, all of them foods appropriated from the indigenous cuisine and labelled Israeli How disparate for legitimacy those settlers must be!

It lives in the Family Registration Card issued by UNRWA, standing as a daily reminder to seven million Palestinian refugees that in the 21st century, they are still refugees, without a state, without self-determination, without rights.

Palestine lives in Haifa, Ramla, Lod, Acre, Ashdod, Nazareth and dozens of other occupied cities and towns that still bear their original Arabic names as evidence of the true identity of this land

I see Palestine in my family that is spread across ten countries in four continents, the separation being a matter of compulsion rather than choice.

It lives in the three photo albums on my computer, each named after one of the wars Israel launched on Gaza over the last eight years. In the friends and neighbours that died in each of Israel’s wars, their deaths deemed “collateral damages.”

It is alive in the daily blackouts. In the suffering of patients waiting for permits to seek treatment. In the travel document called the Palestinian passport; of what little use is a passport without a state!

It is in the Palestinian division that reminds us daily of how our enemy has succeeded in driving a wedge between brothers, and of how we failed utterly in foiling its game.

To Ayelet, Gideon, Moshe or whoever resides on my land: If this is your land, where are your stories?


Belal Dabour is a Palestinian doctor in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter: @Belalmd12

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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