Yesterday was the 61st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. Many writers have written about the Nakba, about losing the homeland, losing national dignity, and security. But none of them have written about the frequent disappointments that the Palestinian refugees have had and held onto since then, the disappointments that, along with dreams and hopes, are passed on from one generation to another.
With each memory of the Nakba, we Palestine refugees all over the world bring back the old memories that we kept and inherited from our parents and grandparents, narrate the old stories of fleeing the land, leaving everything behind, fleeing for our lives and expecting to return a few days later. These stories provide an intimate connection with the past and with the homeland, but as the years pass and the old stories are retold alongside new stories of suffering and disappointment our sense of time and place becomes blurred.
With every year we hope that there will be a chance for peace, for justice or even for a small light to give hope if not for us, for our children, to live a decent life away from wars and violence, away from pain and bitterness. However, our dreams and humble expectations are met with disappointment, leaving us to mourn not only the recurring feelings of grief but also to mourn the loss of humanity inside each of us.
With each memory we realize that as Palestinian refugees, we are sentenced to live the Nakba over and over again, accompanied each year with different kinds of pain and greater disappointments. The stories we narrate, the stories of our grandparents, the keys of the houses we were forced to abandon, the smell of the orange trees, the smell of za’atar, are all ghosts from the past, and are fading slowly with the death of elderly Palestinians who were forced out of their homeland.
Unlike my generation, and the generation before, who were captured by the beauty and magic of the stories narrated by our grandparents and our parents about the homeland, the coming generation will lose this connection with their roots and their past. They will be overwhelmed with frequent disappointments and the old stories, the old keys, cloth, and even land papers will mean nothing to them, except as rituals.
When we hear these stories from those who really experienced the fleeing journey, we feel the pain; we even taste the bitterness for not seeing the land again, all the feelings attached to this story are passed to us, we become affected and we hold onto this connection with the past and in some ways it gives us hope. But as the years pass, these feeling of being connected to the homeland are replaced with frustration and disappointments.
The Palestinian refugees, particularly those who are living in Gaza, are crushed under great frustration and great disappointments, especially after January’s military operation. The size of destruction, the number of deaths, and the amount of stress that everyone in Gaza had to experience during the war left us so fragile, so easily overwhelmed, to the extent that there is no room left for peace in the mind or soul. We are so tormented with the horrors of the war, and with the possibility of experiencing another war.
The amount of frustration, and disappointment was clear when both of my sons announced that they will not get married in the future, because they don’t want to have children, and they both don’t want to experience pain of losing their children, or even seeing them suffer unable to help them…. They were right but I was shocked.
Gaza, 16 May 2009
Najwa Sheikh Ahmed is a Palestine refugee, who lives in Nuseirat camp with her husband and three children. These are her personal stories.