Wednesday 28 January 2004

Have They Forgotten Palestine Yet?

Copyright Dr Annie Higgins, Lebanon, January 2004

Before the launch of the Israeli experiment in 1948, one of its founders summarized the solution to the existing population of Palestine thus: The old ones will die, and the young ones will forget.

How is the solution progressing? Many of the old ones have died, it is true, without ever seeing their homes again, or any justice regarding their forced exile and dispossession.What about their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren?

Have they forgotten Palestine yet?

Come with me on a bief tour of exile.Our first stop is Nahr al-Barid (pronounced Nahh-Ral-Ba-Red) Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. This is the first official refugee camp that UNRWA set up for the population fleeing on foot from attacks on their homes in northern Palestine.

We are walking rather briskly through the narrow lanes marked out by the cement-block houses spaced in winding lines three feet apart. Many of the structures reach three storeys high, and a few even higher, severely filtering the sky’s generous daylight. But like the sea that reveals treasures as you dive farther from the sun’s reach, these winding lanes unfold constant scenes of well-wishing and welcome manners. “Peace upon you.” “And upon you peace. How are you today?” “Fine, praise God. God keep you and your children.” There is something about close quarters that brings out either the best or the worst in people. In a constricted passage where one hem brushes another, it is a happy thing that people make these contacts a positive opportunity. The danger of superficiality is overcome by sincerity, even if it is just a tiny portion of humane exchange.

We knock on a metal door divided down the middle. “Please come in!” comes the response. So we push open the right panel of the door with its heart-shaped grille-work, and spill into the breadth of a tiled entrance. Proceeding to the first-floor room that constitutes the house, we shed our shoes at the threshold. One lightbulb hanging from the ceiling provides plenty of light in lieu of the small window letting in a few grey rays. Brightness also comes from the cheery scene of silk flower arrangements sporting assorted colors in various corners. Here is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of three framed pictures placed in aesthetic order on the walls. Here is a red Mother’s Day card with the photo of a mother’s final farewell to her son as he departs to disable the invasion of the homeland. “You see, Tahani? The nation is more precious than the son.”

Have they forgotten Palestine yet?

Walls in homes and offices become exhibition spaces for the Palestinian flag. More than one door is made into a flag, as the proportions are perfect. The holy places of Jerusalem take myriad forms in photographs, watercolors, oils, pastels, children’s drawings, calendars, bead and shell craft creations, and are framed with flowers or adorned with a martyr postcard. If we were to stack up all of these renditions of the Dome of the Rock, they would surely make a line long enough to thread through all the alleys of the camp.

Have they forgotten Palestine yet?

We are taking a short drive to Baddawi Refugee Camp which has far fewer people spread over a larger area. Here the sky is bigger than the buildings. But a mural covering the entire side of a building still attracts notice, and we get a full perspective of it from the wide streets and open areas. A four-storey Palestinian flag flies in a blue sky, with a map of Palestine and the Dome of the Rock in the middle. It is signed by the Committee to Support the Resistance in Palestine. This is a delegation of Iranian artists who import their talents during brief visits, and leave colorful reminders of their support on prominent display. Another shows al-Aqsa Mosque with a flag and an armed member of the Resistance in the foreground.

Have they forgotten Palestine yet? Have their outside supporters forgotten Palestine yet?

We travel a little farther this time, and find a portrait high above a main crossroads in Ayn al-Hilwa Refugee Camp. Larger than life, Yahya Ayyash surveys the daily comings and goings, with his traditional checkered scarf/kafiyya wrapped around his neck. He is known as “the engineer” for his technical expertise in planning explosive operations against an invader who began by attacking Palestinian civilians, and has not yet ceased. Israel annihilated him about a decade ago by using his father’s call to detonate a bomb in the mobile phone he was using. His portrait monitors the streets of the camp.

Have they forgotten Palestine yet?

Rain is beginning to fall rather than drizzle, so we stop at a shop with umbrellas in every size hanging from the front awning. Palestinian flags and scarves/kafiyyas and Arafat tee-shirts fill the emporium’s glass shelves. The owner is happy to display his treasures: souvenirs to take back home. Souvenirs that bring home, Palestine, to this place of exile.

Have they forgotten Palestine yet?

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