Nakba 60: No more generations of Palestinian refugee children
"I heard about the mud houses, the trees, the fresh water, and all the pretty places in our village…stories about how life was beautiful and simple back then", says 16 year old Sh'aban, from Dheisheh refugee camp, but he has never been able to go and see his grandmother's childhood village, now inside Israel's borders. Since the 1980s, Sh'aban's family has been unable to obtain a permit to go and see their ancestral land, even for a few hours.
In a quiet corner of the sprawling Dheisheh camp, Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI/PS) interviewed three individuals representing three generations of the al-Issa family: Sh'aban (16), his grandmother Jamila (70) and his father, Akram (47). Originally from the village of Zakariya in the Hebron district, Sh'aban's grandmother and her family were displaced in 1949. She was 12 years old when she moved into Dheisheh refugee camp and has lived in the camp to this day.
Life for her grandson Sh'aban is not "beautiful and simple": born in the camp, he has always known fear and deprivation, and has been exposed to daily military violence under the Israeli occupation. When he was only 10 years old, his house was shelled by the Israeli army. "I do not know how I was spared but what happened was terrifying and this memory is what I will keep with me from my childhood". As a result, he is determined to avoid engaging in violent resistance activities, and prefers to try to lead as normal a life as possible in his family's new house, just outside of Dheisheh.
But when will the impact of the Nakba truly cease to affect new generations of Palestinian children?
Today, 15th May, marks the 60th commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe; the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their lands, their dispossession and consequent dispersion all over the world; it marks the killing of thousands of Palestinians refusing to leave their villages behind or attempting to return.
Today marks 60 years of the ongoing impact of the Nakba, as Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons represent the largest and longest-standing case of forced displacement in the world, where two out of every five refugee is Palestinian; as the ongoing military occupation of Palestine results in daily humiliation and abuse of the rights of Palestinian children and adults. Today, daily violence and harassment by the Israeli army and settlers, the construction of the Wall in the West Bank and ongoing settlement expansion continue to result in the displacement of entire Palestinian families, while about 11,000 Palestinians – including 327 children – are currently being detained by Israel for security reasons.
Today, as many Israelis celebrate the 60th anniversary of the birth of Israel, a state created to welcome and protect the exiled of the Jewish diaspora, Palestinian children and adults in the occupied territory and abroad, in refugee camps and in adoptive foreign countries, all are recalling and mourning their losses over the last 60 years.
Sh'aban's grandmother and the first Nakba generation have lost their homes and lands, their friends and sources of livelihood, their way of life and serenity; they were forced to abandon their lands and either emigrate in search of a new life, or move to refugee camps across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Three generations of Palestinian children have lived in dismal conditions in refugee camps. Two generations of Palestinian children were actually born and raised in camps, originally meant to be a temporary humanitarian solution for the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948. Today, more than one-third of registered Palestinian refugees are under the age of 15. Refugee camps still lack basic services necessary to the fulfillment of children's rights to health, education, healthy development and adequate housing; and children in camps inside the occupied territory have to live with the constant threat of Israeli military incursions, particularly frequent and violent in refugee camps. DCI/PS documentation reveals that children living in camps are particularly vulnerable to being killed, injured, arrested or used as human shields during Israeli incursions and military attacks.
Whether in Palestine or abroad, the first Nakba generation has kept hope and anger alive by sharing their stories and family history with their children and grandchildren so the younger generations will not forget their families' losses when the older generations die. As the Nakba generation passes on their stories and house keys to the next generations, the commitment to the struggle for the fulfillment of their rights lives on; their right to return, but also their right to self-determination, to freedom, justice and dignity.
UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948) on the question of Palestine affirms 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". Palestinians' right of return is also clearly guaranteed by Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, affirming the duty of the occupying power to transfer population "back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased". However, successive Israeli governments keep opposing the Palestinian people's right of return, including in the ongoing negotiations on a peace agreement. DCI/PS believes that the international community, particularly members of the Quartet, should put pressure on Israel to accept Palestinian refugees' right of return, and recognise all Palestinians' claim to self determination.
Today, Nakba day, DCI/PS would like to address all Palestinian children, in the occupied territory and abroad, children of the diaspora, children in refugee camps and children currently in Israeli detention, all children who are and have been displaced and deprived of their rights as a result of the Nakba and the resulting conflict and occupation. "We hope that one day, all Palestinian children will enjoy their right to freedom and self-determination in their own land, in their own home, and among their families," says DCI/PS Director George Abu Al-Zulof. "We are thirsty for peace and justice for our children. Sixty years is enough!"