Nakba Tour Lets Palestinian Refugees Tell Their Story

By Sarah Jackson

October 4, 2017

Khawla Hammad, left, and Amena El-Ashkar, right, speak about their experiences as Palestinian refugees in the 2017 North America Nakba Tour. Photo: Sarah Jackson

Last month at New York University’s Furman Hall, Palestinian refugees Khawla Hammad and Amena El-Ashkar spoke about their experiences being driven from their homes to refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon. The discussion was the fourth in their two-month “In Our Own Words: Voices from the Nakba” national tour, which includes 14 stops along the East Coast and in parts of Canada.

Hammad has lacked citizenship in any country since Zionist para-military groups forcibly removed her from her village, el-Kabri, at just 16. El-Ashkar is a journalist and translator, although her status as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon prohibits her from legally working there as a translator.

Besides the legal authorization to hold certain jobs in Lebanon, Palestinian refugees also lack many of the rights that Lebanon’s citizens are granted. El-Ashkar did not hesitate to address this discrepancy.

“I was born as a refugee; I don’t want to give birth to a refugee,” she said.

Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” refers to the displacement and ethnic cleansing that took place in Palestine when Jews began to immigrate there on the heels of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the United Kingdom’s designation of Palestine as a national home for Jews, in response to mounting anti-Semitism in Europe.

Throughout the hour-long discussion, Hammad spoke of her life before the Nakba and of her family’s struggle to survive in the outskirts and refugee camps of Lebanon after Zionist forces took control of el-Kabri.

“We stayed in the wilderness between the trees; we had no houses, no tents,” Hammad said. “We were forced to sneak back to Palestine [to] get some food and come back to where we were.”

But it was Hammad’s recollection of her daughter’s murder that brought tears to many of the 30 audience members.

“When my daughter opened the door, they shot 30 bullets into her chest,” Hammad said. “The soldiers came into the house and started shooting randomly — everybody.”

An audience member who asked to remain anonymous because of his Lebanese nationality appreciated Hammad’s strength in recounting such painful memories.

“I’m in awe of this woman who has traveled from the other side of the world to here to attempt to tell stories of what happened in 1947 and ’48 and [is] continuing until today, including attempts by the state of Israel to not just dispose of Palestinians in the land, but also to wipe them out completely as refugees in other lands,” he said. “Wave after wave of denial is what they have to fight to get their voice heard.”

When asked about the significance of the event, audience member Thomas Cox — whose tote bag read ‘I run the #Gaza5K to support Palestine refugees’ — was eager to respond.

“These are stories that we just don’t hear a lot about,” Cox said. “This is a very important story because this really gets to the heart of the problem with the lack of implementation of the right of return.”

El-Ashkar later spoke to the mission of the tour.

“Some of the Zionist leaders used to say, ‘The elderly will die, and the children will forget.’ We are here to refute that,” she said.

Although more than six decades separate the 84-year-old Hammad and the 23-year-old El-Ashkar, both women seek the same reparations.

“After 70 years, we want nothing but the right of return,” El-Ashkar said.

Sarah Jackson is a journalism major at New York University.

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