My Body in Shatat, My Heart in Gaza, My Soul in Beit Daras

The invasion of Beit Daras. (Photo: Palestine Remembered)

By Ghada Ageel

On the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (what we Palestinians call the catastrophe of dispossession), Palestinians who were born in historic Palestine and are currently growing old in refugee camps – remain determined to return to the homes and lands from which we were expelled in 1948.  My grandmother, Khadija, is one of them.

A mother of ten, a grandmother of 68, and a great grandmother of 49, Khadija now lives under tragic circumstances in Khan Younis refugee camp, in Gaza.  She previously owned lands and a home in Beit Daras, a village that was part of historic Palestine. (She still have deeds in hand).

Once full of hope and honor, my grandmother is very much like the other seven million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered all over the world, including in Occupied Palestine.  In her late 80s, she feels abandoned.

The village of Beit Daras no longer exists in the current world’s maps and consciousness. In its stead, three Jewish-only colonies were established in 1950.  Dispossessed, Palestinians have since faced segregation and isolation from one another.  Some have never been reunited.

As Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second Prime Minister, noted, with none of the obfuscations that often mark the discourse on Israel’s early history: “We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from people inhabiting it.” For those expelled indigenous inhabitants, like my grandmother, 1948 was a man-made tragedy that altered lives and stole aspirations and physical possessions alike. For future generations, including my dad, myself, and my children, 1948 remains a painful bequest.

Situated 46 kilometers northeast of Gaza, approximately one hour by car from Khan Younis refugee camp, Beit Daras – a village of approximately 3,000 people, one elementary school and two mosques – was completely destroyed.   My grandmother’s family lived comfortably, growing a variety of crops, including wheat, barley, lentils, sesame, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sunflowers. Additionally, there were separate fields of orange and citrus trees as well as grapes, figs, and apples.

The most horrific of Khadija’s memories came on a night in May 1948 when the Hagana (the Zionist militia) attacked the village for the third time in less than two months. The shelling seemingly came from everywhere. Terrified, she carried her infant son, Jawad, to look for safety, all the while surrounded by explosions, gunfire and screaming families trying to find a way out.   She has often remarked that a gate to hell opened that day and never closed.

Khadija describes the years she lived in her home village as the happiest time of her life. She has an almost tactile memory of the place.   And as summer approaches Gaza, where the heat is going to be intolerable and compounded by electricity blackouts resulting from the Israeli bombing of Gaza’s only power plant, my grandmother misses her ’illiyya, a room with big windows on the roof of her house used mainly in summer, and made from wood and palm fronds to enjoy the summer breezes and the beautiful view of her village. Squeezed in her refugee camp, she recalls the hundreds of acres of the land she lost. Everything is gone now, including the ‘illiyya, the spectacular view, the breezes, the space, the land, the home, the fields, the dignity and the hope. Nothing is left for her but fond memories, and present bitterness.

Khadija is tired of being offered the same political menus of no solution or inconsequential solutions, such as the two-state solution, which offer no return to what is rightfully hers. For my grandmother, the recent warning of Secretary of State John Kerry that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing is meaningless. Addressing the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry stated, “I believe the window for a two-state solution is shutting,” and “I think we have some period of time, a year, a year-and-a-half, or two years or it’s over.”

Kerry is a bit optimistic in believing he has another two years to keep the two-state solution alive. Many observers, including my grandmother, think that solution died a while back. A quick survey of the facts on the ground created by Israel over the past 45 years of occupation and colonization of what would have been the future Palestinian state makes it crystal clear that such a solution would no longer work during Obama’s administration – and presumably not in the time of any coming administration. President Obama and Secretary Kerry know very well, or should know, that the two-state game is up.

Washington should face reality, end the charade, and seek new ways forward. The two principal options remaining at this point are Israeli apartheid or granting equal rights for all citizens of Palestine and Israel.

Apartheid would come as no surprise. Many observers already recognize that such a de facto situation has been maintained and supported by a number of U.S. administrations.

The failure of the two-state approach, and movement toward one state with equal rights for all, will undoubtedly mean Palestinian insistence that immigration laws be altered to overcome the current racist prohibition on our right to return to lands from which we were dispossessed.  This right is enshrined in international law and is a demand that hasn’t faded despite the passage of time.

For my grandmother, the fact remains that there is one Palestine and one Palestinian people; there is one injustice and one rights-based solution requiring the overdue implementation of UN resolutions and international law. When international law was drafted, endorsed and signed it was meant to be applicable to all people – including Palestinians. Basic human rights, including the right of return, the right to live, the right to education, the right to health, the right to liberty, surely were not meant to exclude Palestinians.

How many plans, road maps, proposals, initiatives, processes, solutions, and accords do Palestinians need to have? The past 20 years of the so-called peace process have led nowhere. Instead, we have witnessed Israel swallow more Palestinian land, apply more restrictions and checkpoints, expand Jewish-only colonies, and oversee more misery and poverty with the attendant loss of hope.  There is no time left for my grandmother to continue taking the drug of gradualism. Is she not entitled to the same rights as the Jewish immigrants who 65 years ago moved her off her land and out of her home?

The denial of her basic rights, the segregation of her home and land, and the separation from her children and family is intolerable in the early 21st century. She is tired of the efforts of the Israeli government to maintain imposed divisions classifying Palestinians under different categories regarding who needs different permits and passes: West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, Diaspora, Israeli Arabs, red IDs, green IDs, blue IDs, and so on.  South African pass laws imported to the Holy Land are no more tolerable here than they were there.

My grandmother’s principal consolation is the education she insisted upon for her children and grandchildren and the determination to instill in us the memory of homeland and desire for freedom. I’ve never been to Beit Daras. But deep in my heart I have an overwhelming feeling for the place. I dream of going though I don’t know if I ever will during my lifetime.  To this day, I feel that my body is in Shatat (Diaspora), my heart is in Khan Younis camp and Gaza, and that my soul is in Beit Daras. It’s a complicated feeling, but that yearning for homeland, even a damaged homeland, is captured by poet Salem Jubran when he states, “As a mother loves her disabled son, I will love you my homeland.”

The current situation urgently demand a drastic revision of the US strategic diplomacy if its political goal is to genuinely achieve regional and global peace.  Palestinians don’t need new initiatives, processes and plans to be submitted to and praised by the Obama’s administration.

Palestinians seek nothing but their rights. They’re looking for an authentic and genuine solution not oratorical game. They need to see real change in the US stance towards their moral case one that deals with the root causes of their issue once and for ever. A stand that has nothing to do with kicking balls or shutting windows.   But one that promises justice, freedom and equal rights for all the people of Palestine/Israel.

– Ghada Ageel is a visiting professor at the University of Alberta and a member of Faculty for Palestine/Alberta. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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