The Lasting Memory of Palestinian Refugees

Category: World Affairs Topics: Gaza, Palestine, Refugee Camp Views: 1018

It's been awhile since I've been to my camp in the Gaza Strip. I long for a glimpse of the "Red Square", the beach where the children of the camp find salvation in the cold water during the blazing summer, the alleyways where I used to run with my peers seeking shelter from bullets, my mother's grave where I often sought refuge and implored her to come back, and where my ailing father still lives, alone and tired.

When that green taxi carried me away to the airport, it was still dark, the mosque was calling for the dawn prayer, a few Palestinian laborers were waiting for the rusting buses to arrive at the Red Square, a place where the blood of many school children spilled. The mist was gathering on the window of the car, forming drops of water and dancing near my face as I tilted my head and said my last goodbye.

That day was not my proudest moment. "You are a refugee," I thought, "you have no right to abandon your fight and leave these poor souls behind".

65 thousand people remained in that refugee camp, Nuseirat, the largest refugee camp in size in the entire Gaza Strip. There, revolution was often born. In the 1970's, it was Nuseirat that led the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation. It was a defining moment in the history of Palestinian resistance. Fighters from Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were the first to join the armed resistance. They hid in orchards during the day, and came out during the night to confront Israeli troops, who were then, as they remain today, very cruel.

Beside my home was the ever-expanding graveyard filled with martyrs. It was a place where fighters gathered during the night to plan their next move. My mother, whose grave now is surrounded by the graves of these fighters often sobbed as new bodies were carried to be hidden under the sand, covered with flags and photos of loved ones. One day, as the body of a young man was brought for burial after being shot in one of the camp's battles against Israeli soldiers, Israeli armored vehicles stormed the area. They often came to steal dead bodies for their organs. Young men rushed the body to the closest house, ours. A young man's mutilated body, soaked with blood and covered with flowers and olive branches sat there until the soldiers left. My mother spoke about that day with untold reverence: "here a young man like my son, to whom I often served tea as he passed by our home, is blown to pieces, and is resting one last time in my house, waiting to be buried".

It was on the outskirts of the camp when my old friend Ala was shot. He too was left behind, with brain damage and a bullet that remained in his head and was closing in on his death. He was only 14 when he was shot, minutes after we both fled school when Jewish settlers came in one of their routine raids. Those settlers used to find it entertaining to harass the nearby girls' school, provoking the young boys to go and "defend their honor", and then open fire.

It was at this camp where fighters were executed in cold blood. Once captured, a fighter is brought back to the camp, surrounded by tanks and soldiers. They would often order the prisoner to act out the role, "show us how you ran when we tried to capture you," they would then shoot him to report that he attempted to escape. They killed them one by one, until the last man. It was then when now Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gained the name "the Bulldozer". He used collective punishment to destroy rows and rows of houses in these camps to teach the refugees a lesson. In spite of his desire to drive that lesson into their heads, they never learned, for these refugee camps were the ones, which sparked the Intifada of 1987.

Those who were not born during the resistance of the early 70's days became the fighters with slingshots in the late 80's. And just as Israel gloated over the end of the Intifada in the early 90's, thanks to the promises of Oslo that were never delivered, here are Palestinians fighting for the same rights that their fathers and mothers fought for decades ago.

But I left Nuseirat, the camp where resistance thrived, a place where Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani sat on the beach and wrote his prose, a place where prominent activists taught, a place where not one family was spared the brutal hand of the occupation, where hope thrived, but where justice was never served.

I left a few days after the Palestinian Authority arrived, and despite fears, many hoped that their lives would somehow change for the better. But since I left, nothing has changed. The refugees in the camp are growing in number and the hardship grows along with them. A new generation is coming of age, and every day their young men are carried to the graveyard in sacks soaked with blood. The fighters are back hiding in the orchards, this time fighting F16 and Apache helicopters, the children are keeping a watchful eye for the settlers, and the graveyard is growing where even more martyrs now surround my mother.

A strange looking letter landed in my mail a while ago, stamped by the Israeli prison administration. It was from a friend of mine who was arrested for his political activism. He wrote to me to tell me that he was okay, and to remind me of a verse from an Arabic poetry collection I once wrote: "Oh our last hope, please don't fall, never kneel down, we're lost without you." I too often feel lost without Nuseirat, maybe that's why I write from morning to dusk, hoping that my camp will never forget me. I can never forget her.

The author is the Editor-in-Chief of

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Gaza, Palestine, Refugee Camp
Views: 1018

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