“How many wars have I survived; how many times have I held my baby and made a run for it; how many times have I been forced into exile; how many times have I begun life again? How I have dreamt of my return, dreamt of the day I could reclaim my innocence and live again, live a normal life without fear of revealing my identity which could result in death. Crazy is this war, crazy are the guns that are not aimed at the occupier.”
Palestine and Israel are locked in a fresh, bloody cycle of violence. This latest escalation of the over seven-decade-old conflict, the deadliest since the 11-day war in 2021, has resulted in the death of thousands and counting, and in the displacement of many more who are fleeing the furious gun battles in southern Israel and Gaza.
The average Palestinian has lived with displacement, trauma and a sense of statelessness for more than 75 years now. The 1948 war uprooted 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, creating a refugee crisis that remains unresolved till date. Palestinians call this mass eviction the Nakba—Arabic for “catastrophe”—and its legacy is one of the most intractable issues in the on again-off again peace efforts.
“Behind every Palestinian there is a great general fact,” observed the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, that he (or his ancestors) “once – and not so long ago – lived in a land of his own called Palestine, which is now no longer his homeland.”
The Refugee Crisis
There are over 7 million Palestinian “refugees” within Palestine (including those who live in UNRWA’s camps in the country), defined as people displaced in 1948 and their descendants. Within the West Bank and Gaza, refugees and non-refugees alike, live with extensive restrictions and under Israeli control. Apart from those living in occupied Palestine, there are millions more who live outside their homeland, in 58 UNRWA’s camps across Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, and in countries across the world.
“As I carried my own boqja (bundle) that day, sighing in pain and anger, I thought: is this going to be our fate—to carry a boqja at every stage of our life? Is the boqja a part of us and our exile? I hate my grandmother’s boqja. I hate my mother’s boqja. And I hate my boqja, as much as I now hate the boqja of every Syrian or Iraqi refugee. I know what the boqja means—it means humiliation and indignity.”
The Need for Justice — and Peace
A core Palestinian demand in the peace efforts is justice for these refugees, most commonly in the form of the “right of return” to the homes their families abandoned in 1948. That is also one of the core issues of the peace talks: to find a way to get justice for the refugees that the both the Palestinian people and the Israeli can accept.
“Is return just a dream, or is it really possible? If we lose hope, the struggle will become meaningless. We have limited choices and the balance of power is merciless. Is my homeland the same as I had known a quarter of a century ago? Difficult moments. Moments when you meet those who dispossessed you of your homeland. I think of the 1948 refugees and admire their ability to endure an exile that has been so much longer than mine. Will they ever be allowed to return before they face new massacres?”
The reality is that seventy-five years on, and despite innumerable accounts by Palestinians describing the traumas of the 1948 war, the Israeli occupation, the enduring refugee crisis, and the intergenerational statelessness, the impasse continues ...
“Over 70 years, generations of children have seen their fathers and uncles disappear for years, or indefinitely, and sometimes their mothers, too. Today, hundreds of Palestinian children also experience the terror of life in Israeli interrogation rooms and cells.”
The struggle to be heard, to share their lived reality continues for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, whether at home or in exile. Here’s a selection of books that presents heartfelt accounts from this most volatile region of the world, offering insight into what “being Palestinian” really means.
Life under occupation is preventing “million(s) of Palestinians from living a normal life”. As author and architect Saud Amiry puts it, “We want the right to live.”
A PARTY FOR THAERA: PALESTINIAN WOMEN WRITE LIFE IN PRISON
“Today I cancelled my plan to visit Ramallah. After hearing about the incidents at the checkpoints, I was apprehensive that I might be the one to fall next. That I might be the one the soldier will aim his rifle at, the soldier in the high tower who usually doesn’t pay any attention to the faces of the people crossing over. Death here is natural, like sunrise and sunset...”
In a first, nine politically-diverse women, former Palestinian political prisoners, sat around a table in the occupied West Bank to share stories of incarceration, an “exceptional” insight into life and love behind bars and beyond.
Studying in Cairo in 1967, I lived the defeat of the Arab armies in June that year and the occupation of the West Bank by Israel. In the aftermath, Israel denied me, as it did hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians, the right to go back not only to the territory that became Israel in 1948, it barred us in a similar fashion from the West Bank and my camp, Al-Nuwayma. I became, as a consequence, a “displaced person”, a refugee from a refugee camp.
Independent researcher Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and writer, have brought together this edited volume of poignant, humorous, intimate, reflective and intensely political narratives—reflections, experiences and memories that reveals how Palestinians live, imagine and reflect on home and exile.
15 innovative and outstanding Palestinian writers share their lives with remarkable candour and grace. What is it like, in the words of Lila Abu-Lughod, to be “drafted into being Palestinian?” What happens when you take your American children, as Sharif Elmusa does, to the refugee camp where you were raised? And how can you convince, as Suad Amiry attempts to do, a weary airport official to continue searching for a code for a country that isn’t recognised?
“Most children living in a strip of land overrun by trigger-happy soldiers, Merkava tanks, and sewage might be afraid of loud noises and machine gun ricochets. Not Yousuf. Those he tackles fearlessly, having become accustomed to F-16s swooping overhead and the pounding of shells (even while in the womb). His latest phobia: vacuum cleaners. Tanks, bad... vacuum cleaner, good, I tried to explain. Perhaps it was an incident of friendly fire. But how will I explain this to his therapist years from now?”
With a straightforward and compelling narrative retelling the powerful stories of Palestinians who have lost everything for Israel’s creation, the book demonstrates how the media continues to miss an important structural aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Namely, that the foundations of this conflict are based on colonialism, oppression, occupation and conquest.
GOLDA SLEPT HERE
“What really triggered the idea was a demonstration organised by my friend Huda to go to West Jerusalem to see the homes that we left behind when the Israelis occupied them. The book is really about home. Everybody knows how terrible it is to lose one’s home. I find home is the foundation of stability in one’s life. Few people realise the gravity of the situation in Palestine.”
Politics enters the lives of every family in Palestine. In this literary-historical tour de force, Suad Amiry traces the lives of individual members of some Palestinian families and, through them, the histories of both Palestine and the émigré Palestinian community in other countries of the Middle East.
Amiry mixes nostalgia with anger while mocking Israeli doublespeak that seeks to wipe out any trace of a Palestinian past in West Jerusalem. She juxtaposes serial bombardments and personal tragedies; evokes the sights and smells of Palestinian architecture and food; and weaves for us the tapestry that is the Palestinian reality, caught between official histories and private memories.
MENOPAUSAL PALESTINE: WOMEN AT THE EDGE
Only in Palestine would a sexy woman like Yara insist that she was menopausal. Her hormonal level was so high, even I could sense it. Perhaps forty years of traumatic, stressful and nerve-wracking Israeli occupation caused an early menopausal Palestine; it turned a whole nation depressed, unpredictable, often out of control, hysterical and sometimes even suicidal.
For 40 years, from the 1967 war till Hamas’ victory in 2006, the women in this book shared a past and unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. With that victory, however, they now mourn the loss of a diverse Arab culture, of secularism and pluralism, and their replacement by what Suad Amiry calls “local nationalism” and “global religious fundamentalism”.
Amiry recalls the social and political history of Palestine “through the lives of my PLO women’s generation”, in what can only be called a personal-political tour de force.