Palestinian refugees in Gaza never give up right of return

by Osama Radi, Emad Drimly | People’s Daily Online | May 16, 2011

Bassam Diab, a Palestinian in his late 40s living in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip, said he will one day return to the village where his parents grew up, together with other Palestinians who fled the Arab-Israeli war in 1948.

He said he doesn’t know exactly or doesn’t expect that he would be able to return soon to his parents’ village “al-Masmeya”, about 45 kilometers away from the Gaza Strip, but he still dreams of getting back there sooner or later. His family fled the village 63 years ago in a historic event that the Palestinians called Nakba, or Catastrophe.

Returning to the village now or in the future is completely illusive after the village had been ruined and erased from the map, and was changed to an Israeli village.

Diab’s family lived in al-Masmeya until 1948 when they left their village together with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the Arab-Israeli war. Diab’s family moved to the Gaza Strip and has been living in the Jabalia refugee camp since then.

Diab left the Jabalia refugee camp and lived in Jordan with his wife and children. He returned back to Jabalia in 1994 after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed Oslo peace accords and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established.

“I have lived as a refugee all my life and I know how the Palestinian refugees lived different stages of suffering in various refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank and other neighboring Arab countries. Despite decades of years, the refugees had never dropped from their minds their right of return,” Diab said.

Diab, a former security officer in the PNA security apparatuses, said that the Palestinians believed that six years after signing Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO, “the Palestinians will be able to gain their freedom, independence and right of return, but so far, this goal hasn’t been achieved yet.”

“The refugees who live in Jabalia or any other refugee camps believe that one day they will be able to gain their right of return and get back to the towns and villages of their parents and ancestors,” Diab said. “Return is our fate.”

The Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip is the biggest one of the eight camps in the region, and is considered as one of the most densely populated refugee camp in the Middle East.

Following the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, around 35,000 refugees arrived in the Gaza Strip after they fled their home in Israel, according to United Nations figures.

Now, about 108,000 Palestinians live in the Jabalia refugee camp which is 1.4 square kilometer. Overpopulation is one of the crucial issues that the future of the Gaza Strip suffers from.

The Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip represent two thirds of the enclave’s population which is 1.8 million. Life in all the refugee camps and in the Jabalia camp in particular get worse due to the Israeli blockade.

As’ad Abu Sharkh, a specialist in the refugee affairs, told Xinhua that the refugees in the Gaza Strip will never give up their right of return to their homes that their grandfathers and parents lived before 1948.

“The Palestinians refuse the idea of resettling them anywhere inside or aboard,” Abu Sharkh said, adding that the culture of return is in the mind of every Palestinian refugee. “What the Israelis had earlier said that the eldest die and the youngest forget is totally unrealistic.”

According to the international figures, the number of Palestinian refugees has reached 4.3 million, and they live in 52 refugee camps run by the United Nations in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) is in charge of offering services of education, health and sanitation to the refugees, according to Adnan Abu Hasna, UINRWA spokesman in Gaza. He told Xinhua that UNRWA is doing its best “to keep its commitments to the Palestinian refugees.”

Husam Ahmed, an activist in the popular committee of the refugees in Gaza, said that although UNRWA is doing its best to offer the refugees the best services, “but still it is unable to compensate them their Nakba, or catastrophe and help them return to their homes.”

Diab, like most of the Palestinian refugees, still keeps the documents that show their ownership of their homes and lands in the towns and villages they fled in 1948. Many old women even keep the keys of their houses, hoping that they will return one day.

Source: Xinhua

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