In Search of a Long-Lost Home: Palestinians in India

As a result of the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine, million of Palestinian refugees are now living in exile. (Photo: MEMO) (Photo: File)

By Sania Ashraf & Eisha Hussain

“Wandering between two worlds, one dead

The other powerless to be Born

With nowhere yet to rest my head  

Like these on earth I wait forlorn”

 (Matthew Arnold, Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse)

No matter how one wishes to define home, one has to concede that the conceptual understanding of home is underpinned by relying immensely on memory. Can you think of a place to call home without delving into memory? Can home be a place where our presence is preceded by no prior recollections?

The people of conflict, born amidst the world’s most long-standing land dispute between Palestine-Israel, have a definition that is widely different from this traditional and seemingly normalized understanding of home. They live the majority of their life living on a single piece of land feeling displaced, as if they are in exile, away from the place of their true origins, away from their destiny.

Ali, a 28-year-old Palestinian Ph.D. scholar, studying at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia, calls a small village Al-Khisas, that lies in the district Ashkelon in modern-day Israel his home. He has not once stepped foot on that land. If anything, that place is no less than a fable he has grown up listening to from his parents and grandparents. His grandparents migrated to Gaza in 1956, but having spent more than a quarter of his life in Gaza, he still yearns to go back to his “home” that now lies under Israeli occupation.

“I am a refugee here in Gaza, and like all the other Palestinian refugees here, my wish is to one day return back to the land that Israel has unfairly occupied from us. I wish that one day I will be able to take my mother home there one day,” says Ali. However, the prospects of him going back to Gaza are slim in the near future. “My going back home depends on whether or not the Egyptian border will be open. There could be a situation where I can be left stranded on the border unable to cross over,” says Ali.

Saif (name changed) is another Palestinian Ph.D. scholar, who originally belongs to Hebron, lying in the West Bank, but migrated to Gaza in 1998 in the face of the Israeli occupation. When asked if he too, like Ali, thinks of Gaza as temporary refuge, he says, “I am Palestinian and so whether it Gaza, West Bank or Jerusalem, all are equally my home. I don’t differentiate between Palestinian land.”

But when asked if one day he’d be able to see free Palestinian land, he says, after a little pause, “I think the conflict is too complicated to be resolved in my lifetime, but yes, I cannot stop myself from hoping to see a free Palestine.

29-year old Mufaaz, a Palestinian married to an Indian residing in Delhi’s Batla House.

“I have left my home far behind, and though I like my life here in India, the attachment I have with my ancestral land will never cease to be.”

She says the moment she leaves her hometown is when she realizes what all it is worth.

Many elderly Palestinians, who had to migrate from their home amidst turmoil owing to Israeli occupation usually express a wish to be buried in the land they once called “home” after their death. “If not that then at least buried under the sand brought from what they consider their homeland,” informs Mufaaz. It’s the land of my people even though I might never be able to go there,” she says.

Her 3 year-old-son, Arafat, an Indian by birth who has grown up speaking fluent Hindi while only understanding a bit of Arabic, has developed some sense of his home far away from home. He is yet to embark on his maiden trip to Palestine, will he like his great grandparents also grow up to call their ancestral land his home?

“How should we grow in other ground?

How can we flower in foreign air?

-Pass, banners, pass, and bugles, cease;

And leave our desert to its peace!”

(Matthew Arnold, Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse)

Sania Ashraf is a freelance multimedia journalist also pursuing Master’s in Convergent Journalism at AJK MCRC.

– Eisha Hussain is a backpack journalist pursuing Master’s in Convergent Journalism at AJK MCRC. They contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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