The Refugee Eid

A letter written by a refugee in the Eid.
Dear Friend
Thank you for your Eid greetings. I understand your feelings and think that most Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, living in their homes or are refugees, could not escape the shadows of the trauma of the six last years.
In your fresh green village, atop the dreamy Palestinian hells andamong your beloved relatives and olive and apricot trees, you must have beenused to a magnificent Eid. I can hear the prayers flying from the mosqueminaret with the glorious colors of the dawn, awaking the people and theland to a new Eid morning, kids putting on their new clothes, every onevisiting every other one in the small village, as people there live as onefamily. You miss the wonderful Eid.
But here my friend, we did not miss manythings.
Our refugee camp has been refractory to Eid for 52 years.To be honest with you, I never knew the meaning of Eid. All I remember aboutEid is that my grandfather and father used to go to the mosque at sunrise topray, and when they come back our Eid was over. In the camp we have norelatives, which is the case of most other people. My father used to visitIm Ali, our widow neighbor. “she is a branch that had been cut from a tree”he said every Eid morning. Few men come to visit us, our neighbors. Apartfrom this there was no Eid.
In a refugee camp, nothing belongs to anything. You can feel that people are detached from their homes, homes aredetached from the streets, streets do not belong to the land and if there isa tree, she will be lonely and miserable like a refugee. The camp is notlike your village; one perfect creature like a tree. The camp is an arbitrary collection of unrelated parts making a box that can not smile. The camp lacks the one thing that your village will never lose, a basic thing that is deeper than happiness, an intimate thing that the occupation or the Intifadah can never take away- a feeling of belonging. Belonging.
Our Eid was cold. Outside it was freezing and in our home our tiny stove made the kitchen the only possible place to feel warm. We made Eid cakes, my mom made the dough, my father put grounded almonds and Ajwi in it, and Imade them into their final shapes. Samir was sneaking now and then to eat the almonds and Ajwi. In the bed room I discovered many holes from which cold air sneaked and plugged them with pieces of cloth, but the cold wind continued to leak from mysterious places.
In the morning I helped my mom clean the gateway and turn our bed room into a guest room. My dad and Samir went to the mosque and then to the homes of the martyrs to say Happy Eid to their families. Many people were killed in the last years, so many, some of them children. More injured and many families had their homes destroyed. Most people used all their savings because of the siege and had no money to to buy healthy food, not to mention pleasing the kids with new clothes or gifts. Our neighbors did not come to visit my mother this Eid, may be they were shy because the tradition asks them to give money to her. However, few kids came to our home to say happy Eid and mom gave each of them some coins and sweets. When father came home we had our breakfast and suddenly there was shooting at thechec kpoint, the Eid was over.
What occupies the minds of people here nowadays is not the Eid, but the ongoing “negotiations”. For the first time the right of the Palestinian refugees to return home is being seriously discussed at the local and international level. For people whose whole life rotates around one dream, the political debate about the right of return addresses their most precious wishes and their most feared nightmares; Return. “Al Awda”, what a beautiful word!
When I was a kid I thought this was the name of a prophet or an angel, seriously. All around me, in the homes, on the walls, at my school, in the songs and the speeches, in the books my father read, and the hymns my mother sang was one single character, ghost: AlAwda. I came to feel that AlAwda is a loving motherthat will come one day like the Messiah to heal our pain and take us from the gray camp to a dreamy village like yours. AlAwda even escaped the imagination of the people to live with them like a person in the camp. Guarding them in the frightening days, warming them in the cold nights and telling them stories about a lost wonderful world, green and fresh, original and perfect, but more importantly a world that belongs to them and they belong to. One man said while throwing stones : AlAwda is my mother, another one wrote with his blood after being shot; AlAwda is my dream. One man said to his sons before dying: do not forget AlAwda, and the sons thought she is their sister, lost long ago in the gray days. Some thought AlAwda is an angel, and one odd man thought she was a godess, like Ishtar our old mother, but he never announced that, he prayed for her in private.
AlAwda took differentcolors and shapes, she became an olive tree, a home, a well, a hill, a dawn and a moon. People entered in her and found comfort in her arms. She was a dream they created, and she created a vision for them to live for.We lost our real world 52 years ago, and now our dream world is beingnegotiated. You look at the return as a political dilemma, a historicalproblem, or a moral question. To me it is my life and future vision summarized in a single word.
Do you remember that day, when you and a groupof ambitious students wanted to start a clinic in our camp. You could not understand why the people here refused strongly to building a big building in the center of the camp. They wanted to stay as refugees and were sensitive to any action that may imply resettlement. For two generations we had to live in misery and adhere to the life of arefugee. We adhere to the later part. Being refugees to us is far more important than living a goodstandard of life, if we had to choose. This is because being considered as a refugee sustains that candle of hope. A hope that one day justice will be done.
For you the Nakba was a physical deportation of people from their homes. For those very people the Nakba was a moral, emotional, mental as well a sphysical deportation. It had such a transforming power to halt the life of a nation at a single point. It has such a mysterious power to throw a nation behind the boundaries of reality into an imaginary world of memories. It was more dramatic than the Babylon exile because it was not only one temple that was destroyed. All over the land and in hundreds of villages and towns, countless temples of joy and simple lifes were destroyed and their treasures stolen. For those exiled in Babylon, as the time came to go back home, they found their stolen gold treasures stored in the King’s court. Where are we going to find our stolen treasures today? Where are the stores of the lost smiles?
It’s the Eid night now, and my parents are running between the radio and the TV to follow the news of the negotiations. It’s getting colder outside, and as I’m writing now I can hear my parents bringing the negotiations right to our home. My mother is expecting the right of return to be ignored at the end of the day. She says it is not as symbolic and pressing as the issue of Jerusalem, where our physical temple is located. The rest of the worlds, she says, do not understand what we are going through, and all in all it is power that talks.
My father, from whom I take my idealism, is asking the questions that I can never answer. Is it possible that we be denied going to our homes after these long years of suffering? Is it possible that we lose our homes to some people who claim to having lived here two thousand years ago, and we be denied to go back afteronly 58 years? Is it possible that the person who kicked my father from our home in Lod gets the Noble prize for peace, while my family is forced to live in exile forever? Is it possible…
When they thought about it 50 years ago, our grandfathers quickly shook their heads and said: it can not and never be possible. They kept their home keys, and hoped to come back before the next weekend. Some of them did put extra food for their chicken and sheep to sustain the poor animals while they are away for few days. My father did. Now 52 years passed since that night. But what about now? The chicked are long ago dead, and their shilter is erased.
I write to you because I needed someone to ask these questions. Is it possible my friend that we lose our dream too? It seems to me that at the very day when our grandfathers had the last glimpse at their homes and fields, they were not only leaving their land. indeed they were leaving behind them their every thing, their selves. They left their Eid among all what they left. Since that day we have become likeour neighbor Um Ali, “a branch cut from its tree”.
Happy Eid, and wishes for the better impossible future.