Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
As pope departs, Palestinian refugees reflect on Nakba
Pope Benedict visited Palestinian refugees this week in the West Bank, voicing sympathy for their frustration over six decades since they lost their homes in what is now Israel. He urged them and Israelis to break the cycle of violence that has seen Israel in recent years seal Palestinians behind walls and fences. When he left today, he repeated the message.
As it happened, today is also the 61st anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, that accompanied the end of the British Mandate in Palestine at midnight on May 14, 1948, and the simultaneous creation of the state of Israel. While Israelis celebrated their Independence Day a couple of weeks ago (according to the Jewish calendar), Palestinians staged traditional mourning marches yesterday and today. It is a mark of the factional divide that has crippled peace negotiations lately, that the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas complained of being denied the right to hold events in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas Islamists seized control two years ago. Reconciliation talks are due to resume in Cairo next week, though hopes are not running high that the two sides can mend their differences. Given all that, it’s perhaps not surprising that not a few Palestinians are depressed.
Looking for some thoughts on the Nakba from someone who was actually there, when half the Arab population of Palestine was driven from homes or fled Jewish forces, I met Amna Harb, now 91, at the Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank.
She told me she just wished she had died 61 years ago when Jewish forces opened fire at her village. It would have spared her, she said, a life of hardship and dislocation.
Harb’s family narrowly escaped death in 1948, she said. But she wishes she hadn’t.
She, her husband and four children hid in a basement in Sarris village near Jerusalem when Jewish forces opened fire on houses including Harb’s.
The family, like 700,000 other Palestinians, moved four times, before they finally settled in Qalandia, between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
“Had I died then, I would have been spared all this suffering. It would have been easier,” said Harb as she sat on a mattress in her small, poorly ventilated house, holding the rusty metal key of the house that once stood in Sarris.
“I spent the past 61 years in agony, misery and poverty,” she said, lamenting the passing of an easier life and the loss of her olive grove in Sarris.
Among the Arabs who remain inside Israel, now some 20 percent of its population, most boycotted Israeli festivities last month and many also marked the event on May 15 with rallies and visits to destroyed villages.
But it could be the last time they can do that if a proposal by the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the Nakba anniversary becomes a law. For full article, click on this link. It seems unlikely to be passed into law and the practicalities of banning people from expressing discontent are unclear. But some are concerned that the move reflects a deepening of the divides between Jews and Arabs that the pope so deplored before returning to Rome.