"The old will die and the young will forget." This was the prediction of the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. 63 years later, I still wonder what made him think so. Would the Jewish masses - or indeed any of the other groups of people - that suffered the Holocaust ever forget?
As far as I know, having lived in a refugee camp for most of my life, there has always been much space in the tiny alleys of the camp for the collective memory of Israeli massacres, systematic displacement and ethnic cleansing. These images have been printed in the minds of Palestinian refugees both young and old.
I never forget that 2003 Spring when my grandmother and I “went back” to our destroyed village Beit Jibrin. We managed to get there despite the checkpoints and high level of security. It isn’t easy although the actual distance that separates my refugee camp from the village is less than an hour’s drive. I’d been there a few times before but never with her. This was the first time. I walked behind her climbing up a hill in the village. She seemed much stronger and able to walk faster than I remembered. She knew where exactly we were going as if she was there yesterday.
Under a fig tree we sat and my grandmother smiled and remembered when she used to play with her friends, decades ago. She said, “It's the same tree, a little bit different now; it's been more than 50 years after all. Nonetheless, it is the same tree.”
My head was saturated with thoughts; she must have whispered some of her childhood secrets to the old tree. She didn't say much but the sadness in her eyes said it all. We smiled and kept seated, listening to birds singing and breathing as much of the village’s fresh air as possible as if we had never drawn breath before. This is, after all, the village I have been raised to understand is mine.
Her memories dated back to 1948. She was nearly 10 years old. Despite her young age, she remembered. She remembered her school, the lovely summer evenings she spent with her family in the village. She remembered the harvest time and travelling to Haifa and Yafa with her dad to sell their produce. She also remembered the nights when the peaceful village was first attacked. “We never saw a fighter jet before”, she said. Maybe they had, I thought, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same sight as the one that was now spreading death and fear into people’s hearts in 1948. This was the same year that witnessed over 750,000 of the native Palestinian population expelled from their homes and villages. So far, to this day, they have never been able to return.
63 years since, and in spite of the number of UN resolutions and world condemnations, Israel’s impunity still prevails. No justice has been achieved as Palestinian refugees are yet to see the implementation of the United Nation’s Resolution 242 that clearly affirms “a just settlement of the refugee problem” as well as Resolution 149 which states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.
As much as these resolutions have been alive in my grandmother’s memory, they are also imprinted in refugees’ consciousness whether they are acquainted with international law or not. Every Palestinian refugee resolutely believes in the right to live in the town or village from where they originate, and indeed where they and their families have been uprooted from by force.
My grandmother passed away last March 2010 in the refugee camp. However, her dream of returning to Beit Jibrin is still alive and I deeply believe that she is in a place where borders do not exist. Her soul is finally free of the shackles of ethnic division, and she is able to hover over Palestine and our beloved village, our home, Beit Jibrin. She might be whispering secrets to the fig and olive trees there right now. Her dreams of return are still alive. As I will never forget her nor will I forget her passion when talking abut the village, I will always make sure I pass her dreams and aspirations to the coming generations. This, I believe is a promise that each refugee has taken unintentionally until the return and the full realisation of rights.
We will never forget my village and all the ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages as the memory remains in the heart and soul of all Palestinians. For us, the old may well die, but the young will never forget.