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.