Palestinian dreams of going home become long nightmare
YARMUK REFUGEE CAMP, Syria, Dec 7 (AFP) - Every night for more than 50 years, Lutfia Abdi has dreamt of waking up "at home in Palestine" and finding that her life in a Syrian refugee camp had been just one long nightmare.
But this has been no nightmare; it was very real.
Lutfia looks back to that day. It was April 17, 1948. She was only 20 years old, and her hometown of Haifa had just fallen into the hands of Israeli soldiers fighting to save their newly declared state.
Lutfia and her husband fled with their two children, never to return.
But Lutfia left behind two sisters, whom she never saw again, until this week, when Suad and Zahra Abdi traveled to Syria to see their sister.
"The years have flown by since (I left)," says 72-year-old Lutfia, "but I remember it like it was yesterday."
And it has only been through her sisters, recounting their lives in Israel, that the reality of a Jewish state has taken on meaning for Lutfia.
For her, Israel has been nothing more than a name without substance.
"That name sums up my suffering," she says. "I will detest it for the rest of my life."
Suad, 58, and Zahra, 60, are part of a group of around 50 Israeli Arabs who traveled Tuesday to visit long-missed family at the Yarmuk refugee camp in southern Damascus.
The most painful part of their story was to tell Lutfia how the town of their childhood, the vision engraved in her memory, was no more.
"Only the sea, right next to it, is the same," Suad says.
Lutfia dries her tears in silence.
"Inshallah (God willing), we will return to Haifa" one day, she says, expressing the feelings of most people about their homeland in this permanent camp crisscrossed with narrow streets.
The oldest and largest refugee camp in Syria, Yarmuk was built in 1954. It holds 250,000 of the 387,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, most of whom arrived in 1948.
Some residents say they would never accept returning home unless it was as "Palestinians in Palestine" instead of "Arab Israelis in Israel." They want the Jews to leave.
That is the way Lutfia's neighbor, 69-year-old Nayef Ahmad feels.
Nayef, who makes his living repairing coal stoves, is a native of Tiberias.
"I have a house and a workshop in Yarmuk, but I would leave all that right now to go home to Tiberias," he says. "But it would be better if Palestine were liberated; it is difficult to live alongside the Jews."
Others, like Matar Abdel Rahim, would be open to going home as Arab Israelis in order to "resist from within.
"It would be better to go back and fight than to sit back and watch," says 70-year-old Matar, who has a furniture shop in the camp.
Hanging on the wall behind his desk is a recently taken photo of his old home in Akko. Pointing to a door on the back of the white stone house he says, "It was through that door that we left," 52 years ago.
The question of refugees, numbering more than three million, is one of the sticking points in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians which have foundered amid the violence sweeping the Palestinian territories.
The Jewish state says it will not accept their return.
Topics: Occupation, Refugee Camp, Syria