A Palestinian woman reflects to a U student

Resettlement of a refugee in Israel would not be repatriation, but alienation from Arab society; a true repatriation of an Arab refugee would be a process which brought him into union with people who share his Ö language and heritage Ö national loyalty and cultural identity.”

Abba Eban, the chief Israeli representative to the United Nations, uttered these fateful words almost 45 years ago. He was trying to convince U.N. General Assembly members that the Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war did not need to be repatriated into Israel because as “Arabs” they had already been repatriated with their Arab brethren in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring Arab countries.

On the contrary, many Palestinians have suffered a great deal, physically and emotionally, in their host countries – especially Lebanon. Even today, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not allowed to work in about 60 professions, including medicine, clerical work, transportation, arts and agriculture, leading to massive unemployment among the refugees. They also face severe housing, educational, medical and traveling restrictions, resulting in most of them living miserable lives.

Although Palestinians in Syria have fared better, they cannot participate in the country’s politics and face some housing restrictions. Jordan, on the other hand, hosts more Palestinian refugees than any other country, and allows Palestinian refugees political, civic and economic rights like any other Jordanian.

Although several peace processes between the Palestinians and Israelis have emerged, none have fully addressed the controversial issue of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees. While I studied abroad in Jordan last semester, I decided to find out what a Palestinian refugee feels about current Palestinian issues, and ended up talking to a woman who lived in Safad (now in Israel) in 1948.

She was married with three young children when hostilities between the Zionist forces and Arabs began. Her father owned some land in Jordan, so a bus was arranged to pick them up at the border. She had no time to pack anything, but for some reason, she decided to tie all her gold in a cloth to her waist below her dress. Carrying her youngest child on her back, she left her home with her children and other family members.

With a faraway look in her eyes as she spoke to me, she recalled how difficult the journey was because the trails were packed with fleeing people from all over Palestine. Some women and children died on the way, and she never stopped for fear she would lose her children or that they would get trampled in the crowd. Later in the day it started raining, adding misery to the arduous trip.

By the time she and her family reached the border, their bus driver had left with other refugees. She waited at the border, living in a chicken shack, drinking dirty water and buying food at the borders. Three days later, she was reunited with her husband. Their only option was to take a bus to Syria, which was packed with exhausted children and women who were crying because they had been separated from their families.

Once they reached Syria, many of the refugees got placed in refugee camps, and were provided with food and other basic necessities. She managed to sell all her gold, which enabled her family to rent an apartment instead. Her husband had a hard time accepting his fate, and would repeatedly talk about their home in Palestine. Even though she was very upset about the turn of events, she kept silent to balance the emotional state in the house.

During the last few decades, she has lived in Syria and Jordan, but still does not consider those countries her home. When I asked her how she would feel if the Israelis decided to compensate the Palestinians monetarily, she said they might be able to buy her land, but not her emotions. She said the compensation would make their occupation legal.

Every night, before she goes to sleep, the Palestinian woman imagines she is in Palestine, and dreams of going back to her house in Safad, and that it remains undestroyed today.

Fatema Abdul Rasul is a political science senior. She welcomes comments at [email protected]