Refugee or Citizen, What Difference Does it Make?
I’m a genuine flesh- and- blood Palestinian, with some Egyptian components intermingled deep inside where I took my first breath of life aside the Nile in Cairo. In an attempt to closely examine my identity, I’ve witnessed vast changes, especially with the eruption of the late Arab Awakening season which ignited with the turn of the new year, 2011. The three decades which mark my existence on the planet, I had never seen or heard of an Arab country whose people exercise freedom of any kind, the freewill to adopt beliefs and practices or any form of democracy whatsoever. I grew up hearing and reading about stories of torture in the dungeons of our Arab intelligence services. Whenever someone travelled, especially from Gaza, they had to be interrogated and could either be deported, imprisoned or even be disappeared into anonymity to a place we refer to in Arabic as being ” behind the sun”.
My personality began to mold itself as I became more aware of my national identity first, and then later my Muslim Arabic identity which extends to any Muslim or Arab country with whom I share so much regardless of the different languages, dialects and the lengthy distances which physically separate us. When I was in first grade, my home-class teacher asked one of the pupils a question he didn’t know the answer to and was thus rebuked for his ignorance. I thanked God she didn’t turn to me for an answer because I would not have known what to say either. ” Are you a citizen or a refugee?”, was my teacher’s unfair densely complicated question asked to a six year old. I left Gaza at the age of ten and returned at the age of fifteen when I was about to enter 10th grade. To my discontent, my classmates pointed the same question at me, which baffled my curiosity. Of course I had learned the answer by then, which made no difference to me and I began to feel offended by being asked that question which I believed was purely prejudiced. At university, a wide circle of my best friends were ” refugees” and as my knowledge of the refugee case began to broaden, I felt my sympathy grow with those who were displaced from their original villages and town in 1948. Stories of hair-raising horror and obnoxious crimes against humanity further added a broader range to my identity and sense of unanimity with both ” refugees and citizens” alike . As I witnessed the last two years of the first Palestinian Intifada, it was clear enough that the Israeli Occupation did not distinguish between the two categories of people. This attitude continued with in the second Intifada and during all major events which took place in Palestine.
What is the significance of all this?
So a great many will argue that what I am saying are plain facts, right? Yes, these are facts which have transformed my identity into a more universal one, if I may call it. I am not a refugee is a fact, but that has not made me senseless towards the suffering of my people who once lived in honor and dignity in their own homes and were suddenly uprooted and robbed from all their possessions by the Zionist clandestine military groups; the Irgun and Hagana. Mobs whose aim was to exterminate the indigenous population and replace it with actual imported Jewish refugees. I can picture the horror which gripped mothers who ran barefoot with their terrorized children screaming and running in their trail trying to hold on to them. Hiding in bushes and seeking the cover of darkness to make their way to any safe place. Suffering sunstrokes, hunger, thirst and death along their wretched journey which was never planned or yet envisaged in the mind of any sound human being . To sleep in their own beds the night before and days later under the trees of orchards in Gaza Strip, and to be later settled in tents provided by what became known as the UNRWA. Today and over the past sixty years, we still see the Nakbah survivors holding on to their house keys and official documents which prove possession of their original lands in historical Palestine. They have fed the minds of their children and grandchildren with the story of their suffering and their uncompromising right to return to their homes. They realize it is a desolate path to which they have taken, but their staunch faith and resilience has dictated that they can never give up on that right or turn it down for all the gold that money can buy.
So whether refugee or citizen, the Palestine People are united in their stance on the Right to Return to our land. I may not be from Haifa, Acre, Jerusalem, Beir Al-Sabah, Jaffa, Safad; but being a Palestine means I belong to Palestine, all of Palestine. I am denied to visit my Palestinian cities and towns just as the refugees are denied the right to return. I have to tolerate watching Zionists pray at Alburaq Wall (The Western Wall) when I am denied to rightfully pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Another fact, I am not the only person whose heart embraces this feeling , for every Muslim in any part of the world, remote or near shares me this nostalgia to pray in Al-Aqsa and kiss the ground on which it is deeply rooted.
We Shall All Return One Day Inshallah.