The text of the statement read out at our Nakba Day rally on 15 May 2015 by one of our Palestinian comrades:
With great sadness, today is the 67th anniversary of what we Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, our catastrophe, and our disaster, although a single ward can’t begin to explain it, and a single day can’t begin to commemorate it.
The Nakba well described by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future”.
In 1948, more than 800,000 Palestinian, or 68 percent of the population, fled or were expelled by force from their homes and prevented from returning.
Figures released by Central Bureau of Statistics this week put the number of registered Palestinian refugees at 5.8 million. They live in 58 United Nations-run camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sixty-seven years ago, Um Zohair — Nada Mousa — was one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, Palestine.
Um Zohair, who seems to suffer from numerous health problems, held her cane in one hand and a plastic bag full of medicine in the other. When asked about Palestine she jerked her head high and her eyes sparked as she recall. “I am from Safed, Palestine; my village and place of birth is called al-Qatiyya. It is right next to Naameh. I was 13, a young girl, when we were attacked; our house burned and later forced to leave by the Haganah [a Zionist militia].
“That day is always in my memory. I remember, before the assault, elders in the village kept warning us about the Haganah gang who were coming to attack us. My father said those were rumours and we should not leave our land and house. Rumours kept increasing about the arrival of European Zionists to attack our village and take our homes; this prompted some people to leave, but we stayed.”
“That morning they broke into houses and forced everyone out to the streets. The Zionist Haganah soldiers started shouting for us to go out and gather in the village’s square. I remember our neighbours, they were Jews, those were our friends and we coexisted for as long as I remembered.
“It was not they, our neighbours, who attacked us; it was the Zionist militia, the Europeans. They pointed their guns at men who were in the village and led them to the village’s outskirts. My father was taken with two of my uncles and we never saw them again afterwards. Our Jewish neighbours came to our defence at first and I remember clearly how they shouted in Hebrew at the Jewish militants.
“However, our neighbours could not stop the Israeli militants as they started to burn down one house after another in the village. I don’t remember what happened after that but I remember my mother, my two sisters and I, together with other families, stayed put in the village’s square for two days until the European militants came again and forced us to leave. They started shouting, asking why we were still in the village, and ordered us to join the others who fled their villages from the Safed region. We fled and started the long walk towards Lebanon.”
“We walked and walked and walked for days until we finally settled on the beach of Damour,” said 80-year-old Um Zohair. “On the beach we fetched green banana leaves together and with bamboo sticks we made a hut that sheltered us for three months on the sand.”
Um Zohair can still remember her home where she was born and raised in al-Qatiyya. She recalled the calmness and simple life she took for granted at the age of 13 in her family’s stone house and her father’s wheat field.
She wished for her grandchildren to return to al-Qatiyya and have a chance to live with dignity.
Um Zohair’s story is a tale of a lifelong struggle. She is one of millions of Palestinians stuck in exile, banned from returning to their roots, their villages and orange trees.
Um Zohair, like many Palestinians, is more accustomed to displacement than any human being should be. Two year ago she and her family fled war-ravaged Syria. Their last home was in a Palestinian refugee camp near the Damascus international airport. And now in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, were she now lives with her three grandchildren in three meter by four meter storage room comes with a tap and a bucket hanging from it, functioning as a kitchen sink. In the corner opposite the kitchen is the toilet: a caved-in drain in the floor enclosed by a curtain made from a vintage bed sheet. The black hole in the room, a drain/toilet, continuously emits unpleasant smells.
The floor, never having seen tiles, is a damp, uneven bumpy surface of olive green cement. The beds are but two sponge mattresses no more than five centimetres thick. When there is food to cook, Um Zohair and her daughter-in-law use a little camping stove donated by a sympathetic neighbour.
In 1917, Arthur James Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, proclaimed that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Almost one hundred years later, Zionist settler continues to degrade the identity, history and wellbeing of the original inhabitants of Palestine.
This failed promise that nothing should be done to prejudice Palestinians’ rights has today developed into what can be safely called apartheid.
The right of return for Palestine refugees to their homes from where they were forcibly transferred is a sacred right that cannot be compromised, a right guaranteed by international law and enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 194.
Today, as we observe this sad event, we say that we are stronger and more determined to stand up to the fascist Israeli policies that continue to dispossess Palestinians.
It is time for the leaders of world to understand that there is no homeland for the Palestinians except Palestine.