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The Palestinian Refugees
a personal insight

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The Palestinian Refugees - A Personal Insight

Saida Nusseibeh

Why do Palestinians see themselves as refugees after fifty years? The Palestinians have been denied the right to call themselves Palestinians. Golda Meir once said that she was the Palestinian, there was no such thing as a Palestinians.

So the collective memory of the Palestinians is the trauma of being denied to call themselves by the name of the land where generations of their fathers came from, and being denied by the world that they existed, their attachment to a certain part i.e. being specific as mentioning the name of the town , helps them to affirm that they do come from that part- to prove it, they mention that city. Their need is belonging- And their need is that the world admit to their existence. Of course, they feel that now the world admits their are Palestinians, the next step would be the world admits that they have a right to return.

You can find the parallel in the Jewish history. The Jewish nation was denied the right to be called Jewish- being afraid - some even changed their names to be accepted -so they might have the smallest thing -the right to work to feed their families-when they where denied the use of their language.- Now there is a revival in religion, in language and so on. The world has now admitted its guilt, that they stood by and watched while the Jewish Nation was being massacred in the Pogroms and in the Holocaust. However, for a very long time, the world pretended that the Jewish Nation did not exist.

Knowing full well they cannot go back to Haifa, Jaffa and so on, the refugees still insist they want to go back to a place that has been already occupied by families for the last fifty years. i.e. generations of Israelis who are living there. My experience at work - working with refugees in the Lebanon, suggests the reason for this. I do not know about the refugees in Syria, Jordan or even the ones that are back home, and live in camps-

The refugees in the Lebanon are the forgotten people. They live in ghettos, with sewage surrounding them, with electrical wires practically on the ground. Children play very close to them and mothers get electrocuted because of the many wires connecting too many things. There are no paved roads. In some area they are not allowed out of the ghettos. They cannot go to the Lebanese school/universities. They cannot work in many professions although they have studied them. They can work in the camps only. Among the profession they are not allowed to practice outside the camps are, doctors or nurses. They are paid by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society which is also poor.  They pay a doctor only $200 a month, so the doctor or nurse has to find other jobs to be able to live.

I cannot blame the Lebanese government. They had experienced a civil ware that has lasted 18 years. They do not want the Palestinians and they want the land the Palestinians refugees are on. There are around 2 million refugees in the Lebanon, some from 1948 and some from 1967. The problem also is that Lebanon has a religious quota- so many Sunni Muslim- so many Shia Muslim so many Maronites, Protestants and each of the other groups. The quota must be kept as each sect is the same as the other-. Now the Palestinians who are in the camps are Sunni Muslims- and the quota for Sunni is full.

Of the people that I speak with in my work as medical aid, as one of our offices is in Lebanon, the young generation who where born in Lebanon, feel they are Lebanese. They feel this is home, although that feeling is said when the old generation is not around- the young generations who are doctors and so on are born in the camps in Lebanon- Speaking of Haifa or Akko is a dream that their parents spoke about. It is a picture on the wall of a dream. What is left of the older generation who are still alive, they sit out on the porch hold the key to the home they left behind. They hold to a dream.

So the young generation who never saw Palestine,  and mostly do not want to go to that country, would like to be given a Lebanese nationality, and be given the rights to live as human beings, as  citizens of Lebanon. The doctors that I met that live in the Diaspora that came from the refugees camps- want to go back and live in Lebanon if they can be allowed to go work and live in the country where they where born. As for visiting the Palestine, they are not in a hurry: Not one said yes I want to go and even visit.

There is so much hurt that the land of Palestine has forgotten them, that the people in the land never worry about them, discuss their problem and so on. The attachment is more to the land that they where born in. Their dream is of a Palestine that was their father's home, that they heard about, and maybe one day they'll go and visit the land that he spoke about, all the years they were growing up. All this is not admitted openly in front of strangers, because if it they do so, they would be branded as traitors, so they speak about going back- although they say it without conviction.

Saida Nusseibeh is a member of a prominent Palestinian family. She lives in Amman. Formerly, she lived in London, where she was active in refugee aid work and in dialog. She has helped to found dialog groups including MidEastWeb for Coexistence and has served on the board of directors of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

See also

Must Palestinian Nationalism And Zionism Change For A Lasting Middle East Peace?
The Growth of Palestinian identity
The Palestinian Refugee Problem

Palestinian Refugee Problem and Right of Return.
Population of Palestine prior to 1948

Palestinian culture and identity and the role of the Palestinian women
Jewish refugees of the Arab-Israel conflict


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