2017 North American Nakba Tour
Palestinian Voices Shed Light on “Invisible Refugees”
On October 2nd Khawla Hammad and Amena ElAshkar spoke in Syacuse, NY as part of the North American Nakba Tour. You can watch the Syracuse event here. Khawla has been a stateless refugee in Lebanon for 69 years. At 16 years old, her Palestinian village of Kabri was ethnically cleansed and she fled her home. Now she is 84 years old, and and still a refugee in Lebanon, with no citizenship in any country at all. Khawla was accompanied by 23 year old Amena who is also a Palestinian refugee. Amena is a journalist and translator who was born as a stateless refugees in Lebanon, never living outside of the refuge camp.
In the 1800s, anti-semitism spread around Eastern Europe and Europe as a whole. In 1896 Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State, which addressed the “Jewish Problem” and became the founder of political Zionism. The Jewish State and Zionist philosophy asserted that Jewish people needed their own state, and that state would be where Palestine currently was. At that time, Palestine was occupied by the Ottoman Empire which was Muslim.
In 1905 Britain passed the “Alien Act” which banned Jewish immigration to the United Kingdom. Then in 1917 the Balfour Declaration was passed in which the British government issued support toward Jewish people creating their own state in Palestine. At this time in 1917, only 7.6% of the land in Palestine was owned by Jewish people with the rest belonging to Muslim Palestinians, thus, how was a Jewish state to materialize?
In 1947 Britain pulled out of the issue, and left Palestine’s fate in the hands of the United Nations. At this time the UN was only two years old, and didn’t know the history of the land. The UN decided to split the land in half, with 54% of the land going to the Jewish population, and 46% going to the Palestinian people. After this, Palestinians tried to defend the land that they had lost in this decision, and that’s when the massacres started.
Nakba in Arabic means “catastrophe,” and is used by Palestinians to refer to the massacres that took place in 1948 where Palestinians were killed by Jewish settlers with those who survived fleeing the country to become refugees. There were a total of 750,000 refugees at this time, creating the greatest refugee crisis in the history of the world.
Khawla, who lived through this time, spoke in Arabic while Amena interpreted for the audience. Khawla spoke about how the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians lived peacefully at this time- even celebrating weddings together. In 1948 though, this changed when Jewish people took over her village. It was such a departure from the way things had been she said that she could hardly believe it.
Attacks on Refugee Camps
After Nakba, the UN issued a declaration for the “Right of Return” for Palestinian refugees in the diaspora (in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) to return to their home country. This encouraged Israel to invade Lebanon and repeatedly attack the Palestinian refugee camps in an attempt to further ethnically cleanse the population. During this time three of Khawla’s children were killed along with many others.
Life in refugee camps around the world is much the same regardless of population: refugees are unable to get work legally, they are unable to leave the camp and interact with the general population of the country they are in, and they are unable to get good healthcare, education and food. In the Palestinian refugee camps where Khalwa and Amena live, they have to buy tap water outside the camp because the local water is not good to drink. Also, no building materials are allowed into the camp, so no new properties can be built.
Currently today, there are 12 refugee camps in Lebanon, with 15 unofficial Palestinian gatherings in the country. The biggest camp, Ain ElHelweh, in the country is 1 square mile with 100,000 people living within it. It is known as the “capitol of the Diaspora.” Amena explained that she and her Palestinian community does not want to be resettled in another country, she wants to return to Palestine. The only other citizenships she would take would be American, Canadian or European because they are the only countries that allow travel to Palestine.
The US sends 11 million dollars a day to Israel. So the way that Israel treats Palestinians is an American issue as well, since the US funds a large part of its actions.
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