By Deepak Tripathi
My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. Ramzy Baroud. Pluto Press, London: 2010.
In the foreword to Ramzy Baroud’s book, Palestinian scholar Salman Abu Sitta refers to a bold assertion by David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, in June 1948 – soon after the declaration of the state of Israel and in the midst of large-scale cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland. “Not one refugee will return,” proclaimed Ben Gurion, “The old will die. The young will forget.”
To some living at the time, it would have sounded like a hasty prediction. Not only has the Palestinian tragedy lasted six decades and more, its consequences today go beyond Palestine, the Arab world, even the Middle East. It lies at the heart of a much wider and far more serious crisis facing the world. How wrong Ben Gurion was. There cannot be another conclusion.
The seeds of the Palestinian tragedy had been sown while the Ottoman Empire was collapsing under British and French pressure almost a century ago. In a covert pact stitched in 1916, known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Britain and France, with the assent of Imperial Russia, determined the fate of Palestine as a largely internationalized territory.
A year on, British Secretary of State Arthur James Balfour promised a ‘national home’ for the Jews in a secret letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leading Zionist, wealthy and powerful, who wielded much influence on Britain’s foreign policy. Increasingly, the Palestinians began to be described as the ‘non-Jewish’ residents of Palestine. Against these developments came the League of Nations mandate of Palestine, formalizing British rule in 1922, and promises that communities in the region would be recognized as ‘independent nations’; a sham that perpetuates the Palestinian tragedy to date.
When Israel was created in 1948, between seven hundred thousand and a million Palestinians became refugees. Before the massacres and forced ejections by the Zionist militia, these refugees had their homes and looked after their orchards. They were doctors, teachers and scholars. They learned to weave baskets and traded. They were a multi-faith community of Muslims and Christians of various denominations. They worked hard, enjoyed and looked after their families. The events of 1947-49 brought all that to a cruel end. As Palestinian villages were depopulated, Jewish people from 110 countries replaced the expelled.
Twenty years on, there was the six-day war of 1967. Israel occupied more territory: Gaza and the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Sinai. Nearly three-hundred thousand more Palestinians fled their villages. Their homes were demolished and the Israeli army did not even spare refugee camps. Aqabat Jabr and Ein Sultan were emptied. Most of the Palestinian inhabitants, registered with the United Nations as refugees, fled across the Jordan river to relative safety. Thus began their journey to the unknown.
Today, the Aqabat Jabr camp is under Palestinian Authority control. Its refugee population is down from thirty thousand to just six thousand. Others have moved in and have built illegal buildings. Many now work on Jewish settlements on occupied land, or in Israel. The Palestinian population has grown to nearly five million. They live in Gaza and the West Bank under conditions of Israeli occupation; and in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and places far away in other continents.
Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced to leave their homes between 1947 and 1949 was the family of Ramzy Baroud from a village called Beit Daras some twenty miles northeast of Gaza. Beit Daras, with a population of three thousand, was occupied in an Israeli military assault in 1948. It was depopulated, its mosques and schools demolished and a Jewish settlement built in its place two years later.
Ramzy Baroud’s family became refugees whose story is the book “My Father Was A Freedom Fighter”. It is many things in one: a deeply moving family biography, a political history of Palestine, of a dispossessed people, their struggle for justice over the past six decades and the coldhearted lack of any real commitment on the part of Britain and the United States above all. It is a story that everybody of conscience has to read.
The book is a living chronicle of an unfinished Palestinian journey from 1948 to the 2009/10 Israeli war on Gaza; of the trials and tribulations on the way; of the privation and humiliations under occupation; the struggle for Palestinian liberation; of families split across the Middle East and beyond; and the hopes of the entire Palestinian population now totaling ten million.
To return to Ben Gurion’s assertion mentioned at the beginning of this review, the old have indeed died, but the young have not forgotten. For Ramzy Baroud’s extraordinary book is before us. It will serve as a reminder of the tragedy of Palestinians for many years to come.
– Deepak Tripathi is the author of Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan (Potomac Books), published this month. His works can be found at http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.