• Reem Bazzari
  • 17
  • Mar
  • 08
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series A Memory They Call Home

They tell me that I have a home country, a place where others have my accent. They say the city of Haifa is one of the most beautiful in the world. They tell me I come from a land filled with olive trees. I heard that the weather there is just like California. Growing up, listening to older family members referring to the homeland, I fantasized that my parents were cast out of heaven, and I was stuck living in the desert for no sin of mine. One day, they said, we will return to our olives and figs. When my family and I visited my uncles in California in the 80’s, my father would take us hiking and show us little plants and say “we have those in Palestine.” He would embarrass my sisters and me by picking fruits from trees in public places. Moving to California as an adult made me feel closer to home, in an odd way.

My maternal grandmother told me that she was a teenager when she and her family had to flee Haifa and leave everything behind. She lived through what Palestinians call the Nakba: this is how we commemorate the dispositions of hundreds of thousands of our people. But the story does not end there.

To my fortune, my family ended up with Jordanian citizenships where Palestinian refugees were considered full Jordanian citizens. While it is widely believed that almost 80% of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin, the Jordanian government admits to it being just below 50%.

Others weren’t so “lucky,” Lebanon barred Palestinians from 73 job categories including medicine, law and engineering. Palestinians are not allowed to own property in Lebanon and are denied access to the Lebanese healthcare system. The number of restrictions has been mounting since 1990. In June 2005, however, the government of Lebanon removed some work restrictions from a few Lebanese-born Palestinians, enabling them to apply for work permits and work in the private sector.

In a 2007 study, Amnesty International denounced the “appalling social and economic condition” of Palestinians in Lebanon. There are still about 350,000 non-citizen Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

This treatment is not simple intolerance, Lebanon suffered through its own 15-year-long civil war and has a population that includes a wide variety of sects and religious backgrounds: Maronite Catholic and Orthodox Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Alawis, Druz and others. Additionally, Lebanon strongly supports the Palestinians’ right of return. Palestinian refugees claim a right of return, based on Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declares that “Everyone has the right to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country.” They also cite United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which “Resolves that the [Palestinian] refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return [...].”

This coming May marks 60 years since the birth of the Palestinian refugees’ situation. A situation born before me and my mother, but not before hers. My grandmother is coming to visit from Jordan next week, and for the first time, I intend to ask her about her journey. My grandmother does not know about UN resolutions or Amnesty International. But she does know her own story, and that is what I hope to pass on to you very soon.

  • Reem Bazzari
  • 19
  • May
  • 08
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series A Memory They Call Home

San Francisco. May 10 2008.
Al Nakba-60 Peace and Palestine Solidarity Festival

In an effort to continue the A Memory They Call Home series, I took the chance to meet one of the elders who were willing to share their story during that event. This is a translation of the video below.

Talking to this man was like revisiting an old dream. The kind of recurring dream one encounters as a child and carries into adulthood. Familiar places came to my mind, places that I had never been to before.

Reem Bazzari: Where are you from?
Nabil Wahbeh: I am from Jerusalem.

Bazzari: Tell us about what happened the year you left Jerusalem? Did you hear about things happening in other villages?
Wahbeh: the first thing I remember happening was towards the end of ’47. We were playing out on the street and we heard a large explosion that shook the whole town. And we found out that a building had been bombed in Jerusalem. The “King David” building. That building was the center for the nationalists. This is where I remember fighting starting between the Palestinians and the Jews.

Bazzari: Were there Jews living in Jerusalem before that? For example living with the Christians and Muslims?
Wahbeh: Yeah, yeah, everyone was living in Jerusalem in their own neighborhoods. Everyone was ok, but when the Zionists started emigrating from Europe to Palestine. They started buying land and farms.

Bazzari: So the Palestinians, the Arabs would sell?
Wahbeh: Some people did sell, some people sold. But some people would not sell. But it’s because the Jews would pay a lot of money. The Arabs, the Arabs would sell. Some of the people who sold land did not live on that land. Some people would own the land but workers would work on it

Bazzari: Did you leave in ’48 or after?
Wahbeh: No, no we stayed. Once we went to spend Christmas with my grandfather. Took a few clothes, after Christmas here was some fighting and we couldn’t get home. We were living in an area called “AL ba’a el foa’a” they changed its name now.

Bazzari: I heard that one of the things that Israel did was renaming the villages in Hebrew…
Wahbeh: yes, they renamed them with new names from the Torah.

Wahbeh: So, we couldn’t go back. We stayed in Jerusalem at my grandparents’. Then Israel announced its independence in May. Then there was a lot of fighting. The Jordanian army came to Jerusalem. The Jordanians were fighting the Jews. There was a strong war because the Jews wanted to take over Jerusalem. But the Jordanian army they were very strong and they were protecting Jerusalem. But the Jewish army occupied west Jerusalem and we couldn’t go back there. When the war was on, we could see the bombs at night. Then massacres would occur. They would enter a village; take everyone to the town center, then separate the men from the women. Then they would shoot all the men, or they would shoot 10 or 20 of the men and tell people: if you stay here you will also be shot. They would flee of course.

The most famous one that scared everyone was Deir Yassin. This happened in April 1948. They entered town. Deir Yassin, they were peaceful people. They didn’t make any trouble. They went there, they killed them, they butchered them and threw them in the well. Old people, women, children, they butchered them all. Word travelled and people started escaping their villages. They would pick themselves up and flee. They wanted to protect themselves. They left. Little by little everyone would take off out of fear. The Jews, they had what a trained army of 60,000; European trained and strong. The Palestinians they hadn’t any experience or weapons.

Bazzari: So the Palestinians, when they left to Lebanon or Jordan, they thought they’d be back soon?
Wahbeh: oh yeah of course, of course.

Bazzari: I heard things like, for example my grandfather says he and others still have the keys to their homes. That they left their papers behind and left everything…
Wahbeh: yeah, because people thought they’d be gone a week or two then return again. Like what happened in the year of 67. same thing. I was in Jerusalem, and I wanted to say goodbye to my dad. I used to work in Jordan at the time. I wanted to say goodbye and god knows when I’ll see you again. So my father he said: What’s wrong with you man? The United Nations, do you think it’s possible they’d let them take our country? And he refused to see me off (say goodbye) to me, because supposedly in two or three weeks we’d be back. Everyone, even some Palestinians would come back a few weeks after the war and he Jews would meet them and shoot them. Some people would hide their gold (jewelry), they would come back. Right away the Jews would capture them and kill them. Or if there are two or three they would kill one and leave the others. There’s this poor guy, one guy who’s related to us. They shot his brother in front of him. The poor guy he couldn’t have kids anymore. Another guy they killed his father and brother in front of him

Bazzari: so tell me in Jordan I believe, what happened in 1973? Tell me about Black September. Where were you then?
Wahbeh: I was here, I was in the States.

Bazzari: When did you come to the States?
Wahbeh: in 1970. So people say a lot of things about what happened between the Palestinians and the Arab countries. But we don’t know what really happened. We don’t know what the truth really is.