On December 9 2011, Palestinian refugees took part at the march in Tel Aviv celebrating 63 years to the human rights declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly. Many organizations participated at the event and for the first time Zochrot raised in it the right of return of the Palestinian. Activists carried human size photos taken by Thierry Bresillon of Palestinian refugees born in Ras al-Ahmar and living since expelled at the Nakba in Ein El Hillweh, Lebanon. By skype online Palestinian refugees took part at the march in Beirut, Idaho, Bethlehem, and Paris. Here is what they wrote after watching the event.
My name is Rula Awwad-Rafferty, I am a Professor at the University of Idaho where I focus on human rights and cultural and spatial agency in my teaching and scholarship in integrated design, cultural landscape, planning and culture studies. I am a Palestinian (Yes, I do exist!) American, I grew up living the Palestinian narrative in its beauty, richness, complexity, and anguish. I was born in Palestine, as were my parents, and their parents, and long line of ancestors before them. My mother, born in Qula, was expelled like the many Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homes and lands in 1948, she was 1 year old. My father, born in Tulkarem, as I and my eldest brother were, experienced the same fate of exile in 1967. Since then we lived in dispossession and forced exile from home; from the occupied paradise. Exiled, dispossessed, refugee, displaced, immigrant, … or even invented…. chose any of these words, they describe a state of being from the outside, but not the whole picture. In a time of enlightenment about human rights, the global paradox exists when it comes to Palestinians and Palestine. December 9th, 2011 presented an amazing possibility, one that in its simplicity and honesty called out and stood up to the discrepancy and dissonance of who is deemed worthy of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. This is the story of that experience.
Waiting…. Waiting again… Once more I am reminded of how brutal waiting can be… This is not an idle wait though, on the contrary, it is everything but idle. It is charged with energy, inwardly churning memories and anxieties, outwardly manifested in setting up the perfect venue. Of course you could say we, as people, have had some experience with this since we have been waiting for 63 years… Waiting is brutal… But waiting is also centering and grounding, it forces you to see beyond those thick moments, hours, days, years; to creatively imagine, and to sublimely overcome barriers and fears. It is something we, Palestinians, have come to know intimately, dearly, patiently, and with great resolve.
In Tel Aviv, across many miles and seas, the morning of December 9, 2011 signaled the start of a day with so much anticipated activity and energy. Here, in Idaho, it had barely turned into half past midnight. A seemingly routine day concluded with anticipation and anxious waiting for a special rendezvous. I knew the hour would be arriving soon, I wanted to clear my mind, be ready to partake and witness together shadows of those long exiled returning home; being there on the day of Universal Human Rights Declaration 63rd commemoration (and surprisingly, it is the 24th anniversary of the first Palestinian Intifada too). I thought I may be in a state of tranquility, but that was not to be. Instead, there was this massive burst of energy, anticipation, preparation, wanting so bad to reach across time and space and be physically there, in some ways, I was able to do just that.
I was to meet some of the Ras al-Ahmar refugees along with Zochrot friends, and we were to all participate in the march for human rights in downtown Tel Aviv, me from my living room, they, well, some were there in flesh and blood, others were there in memory and life size posters, but together they were there, tangible presence on the ground. I found myself setting up the dining table in the living room, with my Macbook, a large Palestinian flag, a few cacti-like green plants, a Palestinian shawl that my brother gave me, a piece from Qula that friends entrusted with me, many old pictures, some were photographed in Palestine, others across our exile journey; there you could see one in Tulkarm with my late maternal grandfather whose demolished home in Qula we found in 2008, mother (now living in Jordan), uncles (in Saudi and Jordan), late grandmothers, father’s cousins, and me as a child. There were photographs of siblings and cousins, father’s family and home in Palestine, grandfather and uncle in Jordan, current pictures of nephews and nieces cross the world, other children…. Family… family from there who have passed away with broken hearts, family now living in hope and dreams… On the table I added a stone I picked from there… a piece of my home, a piece of the place where I belong… and together we sat, waiting… You see, I wanted them all to witness too, to be part, and join.
Measured in minutes, perhaps I waited an hour, but it seemed to extend beyond the limits of time. I added a glass of water, those moments made me feel parched, like the land under their feet when they fled for life, carrying unleavened bread, the scents of their homes, and their memories. My breath is shallow, my gaze is both wanting and scared. I added a camera, a Mahmoud Darwish poem, a Zochrot book from Ras al-Ahmar tour speaking of “bridging memory”.
It is 12:51 a.m. my time. I fidget with google earth, check settings on my skype account, hope to be able to glimpse the action taking place, and the call comes. I waste no time, I want to be certain and see all, I want to fully be, and hold all in my heart, I am with dear friends and family; I am with relatives. After a few moments the media and distance disappear, and I, and all those memories beside me, are there. After greetings, I was oriented to the other marchers, the KKK feature, which seriously disconcerted me. I understand why it is there but the image is something I did not want to see or acknowledge. The policies in Israel toward Palestinians deserve this label, but it is difficult to admit that one is victimized; also, the KKK robe is a symbol that I refuse to associate with, anywhere, and for whatever reason. For me I wanted the homecoming, and beyond that brief encounter, it certainly was.
Glancing around through my computer screen, I see faces that I recognized, dear friends, and faces I just looked at in that book about Zochrot’s tour in Ras al-Ahmar. I do see the life size posters of Palestinian refugees coming home, they are present, they are there, first I see the pictures held close and probed up, but then the whole place changes … it moves, and I catch my breath as I see THEM really there… The images come alive. There is joy that fills my heart, there is sadness too. In a fleeting moment, a haunting stops me, stays with me, in that fleeting moment when my eyes moved over the posters/faces/people, from one, to the next, thinking I may see my grandfather, or a perhaps his father or mother, a particular face looks into my heart, into my soul, and I can’t turn away. I hold that gaze, now it has returned, and it reminds me of the many who yearn to return too. This gives me a renewed vigor and joy; I know we will wait however long it takes.
I teach about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I give examples, I show and encourage; but there has always been a hole where these rights have not been extended to Palestinians. Today, this December 9, 2011, this hole started to fill. It will take much more, but now I know, there is a reality that is possible. There is determination, courage, vision, and compassion that gave birth to this idea, to Zochrot’s initiating one project, one after another, and another; to keep framing, nudging, revealing, and making possible.
I was not expecting to participate in a demonstration in Tal Aviv with other Palestinian Refugees from Lebanon . Its almost dream for me to participate with other Israeli and Palestinian people together to demand for the implementation of our human rights, especially right to return. Although it was symbolic participation but it gave and brought to me more hope that one day we will be there due our common struggle for justice and the rights of refugees. I would like to thank you for providing me and other Palestinian refugees from Lebanon with this opportunity to participate in this activity. I do believe that the final solution for this conflict to reach to one democratic state is pre-conditioned by working together Palestinians and Israeli progressive movements
My father was born in a place that does not exist anymore, a destroyed village that you can not find on any map. But there is a place where his village, and all the others, still exists. These places, their homes, their stones, are still alive in our collective memory. If I close my eyes, I can see every single small stone of my father’s village. I can see the kids playing outside; I can hear every voice and see every looks of its inhabitants.
Contrary of my father, I was born in a city that still does exist, and the walls of my childhood’s house were not destroyed. I was born in a country which offers me the right to travel all around the world, and even if I’m not the most welcomed, in Israel.
Thanks Eitan to bring us in Tel Aviv today, it’s very moving to be, even virtually, a part of this march. We deeply hope that one day we’ll be able to be there, for real, and think about a future, together.
As a refugee from Dayr Aban, a depopulated village in west Jerusalem, I belong there. Political sovereignty means nothing to me, the color of the flags means nothing to me, I only care about the place where I belong to, and where I have the right to RETURN to. I am with the one state solution for all, Arabs and Jews, live together with equal rights and obligations.
As a refugee from Ajjur in west Jerusalem district, I am happy to see different people from different religions and thoughts supporting the Palestinian rights, and I hope all together we can make our rights implemented.
We are looking forward to see the refugees that you are carrying their photos, returning to their original places in realty, which they were forced to leave and become refugees or internally displaced people, because of the ongoing ethnic cleansing by the Zionist colonial project in Palestine.
I write to you as a refugee from Jerusalem whose father fled in 1948 and was never able to return. I send my solidarity with your demonstration which keeps in the public eye, which is in all Palestinian refugee hearts, and the hearts of all those who believe in real peace based on justice. The exclusivist, racist policies of the Israeli government will not be able to stand the test of time, as long as we continue to work patiently and diligently towards our common cause. Generation after generation have been raised with the memory of a forgotten homeland with the sense of injustice only increasing over the years as Israel attempts to impose its racist colonialist conceptual vision for Palestine. We reject their logic, and see it as an affront to basic human values of equality and self determination, and also as terrible crime perpetrated against the Palestinian people, and done in the name of the Jewish people. We know that this is a fabrication, and it is demonstrations like this that assert that it is not nationality that is the issue here, but human dignity and justice. We salute our Jewish comrades in this struggle who stand arm in arm for a world without discrimination and for justice. Israel must know that we will not forget our right to return, but we will forget Zionism once we have defeated it and thrown it in the garbage can of history. We hope that the Arab revolutions and the rising movements in the West against the exploitation of capitalism will usher in new waves of fighters for our common cause. For too long Palestinians have suffered; for too long the lies and propaganda and injustice has been perpetuated. The new generation will rise up equipped with the skills, intelligence and organization to finally put to rest this terrible scourge. Onwards to return! Onwards towards Justice! Onwards towards equality, dignity and freedom! Without these principles, there is little reason to live. And we want to live, and will live, and defeat all reactionary forces that stand in our way!
I am not a refugee yet, but I will be one soon due to construction of the Apartheid Israeli Wall which confiscated most of my land and destroy all means of living. Palestinian NAKBA did not happen only 1948 or in 1967, it ongoing.