A Palestinian refugee’s journey from the Nakba to present day

Palestinian man holds the key to his usurped home, as a symbol of the right of return
By Jamal Kanj

Much had been argued about the creation of Israel and the ensuing ethnic cleansing of non-Jewish Palestinians in 1948.

Sadly, however, much of this has been desensitised academic debate, a lifeless, abstract portrayal that fails to depict what it really means for one to be a refugee without a country.

On this 68th commemoration of the Nakba (or Catastrophe), I want to show what this meant for one Palestinian refugee.

Celebrations, terror and grief

On 15 May 1948 Zionist Jews danced and firecrackers burst over the streets of New York to celebrate the founding of Israel. About the same time, and on the other side of the world, Zionist terrorists’ mortar shells exploded in the middle of Jabal al-Lawz (Mountains of Almonds), burning homes and forcing civilians to flee their village.

In the middle of the night, Abu Musa carried his physically disabled blind mother on his shoulders. His wife, Umm Musa, picked up their infant baby Musa and joined a throng of refugees escaping for their lives. Abu Musa’s family hid in a ditch on the outskirts of their village. The morning sun exposed the scattered refugees hiding in nearby bushes and under trees.

“Was my mother eaten alive by wild animals? Or had she been murdered by Zionists?” Those questions haunted Abu Musa all his life.

Sorties after sorties, Zionist planes strafed the area pushing the villagers further north towards Lebanon. Under heavy gun fire, panicking civilians ran in all directions. Abu Musa picked up his newborn son and ran for his life. Umm Musa followed in his footsteps. Panting for air an hour later, Abu Musa realised that he had left his blind mother behind.

The Zionist forces continued to bomb from the air and the ground. Abu Musa attempted to go back, but all was in vain. The next day, and during a lull in the Zionist terrorists’ bombardment, Abu Musa went looking for his mother. But she was nowhere to be found. He came across local villagers who returned to check on their properties. They told him they had just buried the remains of what appeared to be an elderly woman, her body ripped apart by animals.

“Was my mother eaten alive by wild animals? Or had she been murdered by Zionists?” Those questions haunted Abu Musa all his life. The loss of his country and mother were just the start of his lugubrious life until his death in the mid-1990s.

Exile and more grief

Abu Musa ended up settling in the same camp as my parents. In addition to baby Musa, he had three more children in the camp, two boys and a girl.

Musa, who had left Palestine as an infant, joined the revolution in the early 1970s and returned to Palestine. He was murdered by the Israeli army and buried in an unmarked grave. Abu Musa, who did not see his mother’s corpse, was unable to see or bury his eldest son either.

A short time after losing Musa, Abu Musa became disabled. I a point of calling on him whenever I visited the camp. It broke my heart during the last visit before his death as I watched him crawling out of the bathroom like a little baby. I knelt down and kissed him; he kissed me back and then asked: “Who are you, my son?”

Calamity was a continuum for this one refugee. In the early 1990s his youngest son, Kamal, was murdered while he was on his way to school in Tripoli, Lebanon. He was butchered in the year he would have graduated from high school.

Steadfastness

For Israel, Abu Musa and the other Palestinian refugees like my parents were dispensable nuisances. In a 1948 Israeli Foreign Ministry study, Israel predicted the refugees “… will waste away. Some will die but most will turn into human debris and social outcasts… in the Arab countries.”

To Israel’s chagrin, the grandchildren of Abu Musa’s surviving son and daughter did not turn to “human debris”. Sixty-eight years later, Abu Musa’s progenies are more determined to find and bury their great-grandmother’s remains, in their original village.


A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Digital News. The version here is published by permission of Jamal Kanj.

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