68 years later, Palestinians bitterly remember

Sunday 15/05/2016
Palestinian women walk past a poster depicting a key symbolising the keys to houses left by Palestinians in 1948, on May 11th, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, a few days ahead of the 68th anniversary of the Nakba.

Ramallah - Mohammed Mansour, 93, fled his home in the village of Sal­bit when the Jewish Haganah paramili­tary annexed British-mandate Pal­estine and proclaimed an inde­pendent Israeli state in its place on May 14th, 1948.
Mansour’s memory is failing him as he tried to recognise faces and recall names but he is never wrong on details of the 50 hectares his family owned near what is now Ben Gurion International Airport. He was married and saw his grand­children get married but never al­lowed time to erase Salbit from his memory.
Mohammed’s eldest son Abdul­qader, 58, said his father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dis­ease, “forgot the names of most of my brothers and sisters due to ill­ness and age but he certainly did not forget Salbit”.
One day recently, Mohammed surprised the family when he col­lected his personal effects he said he wanted to “take home to Salbit”.
Sixty-eight years ago, about 750,000 Palestinians fled for their lives or were forced out of their homes in cities, villages and towns in areas now known as Israel.
To Palestinians, May 14th — the declaration of Israel’s independ­ence — is known as Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe”. It is one of the most jarring events in Palestin­ian history, which led to Israel cap­turing more Palestinian lands in the West Bank, including traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, sending millions more Palestinians into exile.
When Zionism advocated the creation of a Jewish state, Jews, facing growing discrimination and oppression in Europe, dreamed of having their own state. They even­tually inflicted the oppression on the Palestinians.
In 1917, Britain conquered Pales­tine from the Ottomans and British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour pledged British support for the cre­ation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Under British control, the num­ber of Jews migrating to Palestine increased significantly. In 25 years, the number of Jews in Palestine went from 11% to 31% of the popu­lation.
In the 1940s, the British decided to end their mandate of Palestine and exit the country, leaving the fate of the territory to be decided by the United Nations. It devised the UN Partition Plan for Palestine and advocated the creation of two states in what has historically been known as Palestine: one for Jews, known as Israel; and one for Pales­tinians, Palestine.
Palestinians rejected the plan be­cause it seized land that had been owned by their families for genera­tions. As tension grew, the British declared an end to their mandate and the Zionist movement, assisted by the Haganah, which became the core of the Israeli Defence Forces, declared the establishment of the state of Israel.
Driven by fear over purported Israeli massacres in Palestinian areas, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to neighbouring countries, including Egypt, leaving their belongings, homes, planta­tions and livestock behind, think­ing they would soon return home.
Today, one-in-three refugees worldwide is Palestinian. UN re­cords indicate there are about 6.5 million Palestinian refugees world­wide, with the biggest concentra­tions in the West Bank, Gaza, Jor­dan, Syria and Lebanon. More than 3.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations.
Nakba is commemorated on May 15th in Palestinian areas with dem­onstrations, vigils and statements of condemnation in the face of Arab and international silence.
The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is a lin­gering point in stalled Palestinian- Israeli negotiations.
“Any peace deal that excludes a solution for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is incomplete and unjust,” said Alaa Hamamra, a 25-year-old university graduate from the West Bank town of Jenin.
As years go by, many Palestinians say that the longer the conflict re­mains unsolved, the harder it will be to realise a Palestinian state and celebrate the return of those who were forced out decades ago. Des­peration and hopelessness seem to be the prevalent reaction.
Sari Hammouri, a 29-year-old from Jerusalem, said: “Sadly speak­ing, our families won’t be able to come back, because Israel has no respect for any law.”
Ramallah housewife Lubna Dar­wish said she feels hopeless. “The refugees who fled don’t seem to have a place to be allowed back to,” she said.
Young Palestinians share similar frustration and disappointment.
“The number 68 frightens me a lot,” said 26-year-old Ahmad Sabah from Nablus. “As the years pass, I feel more scared and desperate. When will the count end?”
In Gaza, Palestinians say they do not have the luxury to lament the past or think about those who dream about returning to Palestine. For many of Gaza’s youth, getting through the day is their priority.
Abeer A., 28, said she no longer commemorates Nakba because she is too busy worrying about elec­tricity schedules, closed border crossings and making a living. She argued that if crossings open on Nakba, Gaza will be preoccupied with the borders instead of mark­ing the anniversary of the event.
For Abdulqader, Mohammed’s son, hope for returning home re­mains alive.
“I may not live to see Palestinians return to their lands and homes but other generations will definitely see it,” he said.