some Palestinian refugees’ stories of exile and longing

One day M, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, told me his story, one of discrimination, humiliation, pride, patience and dignity… and of samoud (steadfastness). M is a very charismatic and intelligent 20-something Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon’s northern city, Tripoli (Trablus). During my brief 2-day stay with his family I was greeted with that hospitality so prevalent in Palestine, Lebanon, and surely other Shams countries I’ve not had the fortune to visit…down to the last kaik, (tasty, doughnut-shaped sesame bread baked in Lebanon, Palestine, …) M wouldn’t allow me to pay for anything. I also glimpsed M’s dedication to justice and humanity, and his love of life: he has travelled in many countries via the choir he has sung with for years; he organized a group that meets every other Sunday to walk and photograph, or clean up litter, or show their pride for their city and their country; he campaigns for all walks of life and against injustices, having travelled to Bahrain to expose the media-silenced atrocities occurring at the hands of the government.

One of his life-stories:

I got the highest marks in my class in high school, so I was awarded a trip to France, a one-month stay with a family in a small town.

When I arrived, I watched as other international students met their host families. Everyone was so happy, I was so happy. Finally, as the numbers dwindled and only my host family remained, I saw their faces change from shining to stony when they realized their guest was an Arab.

There was no talking. On the way to their home virtually no words were exchanged. At their home I was shown to my room but nothing else was said. The next morning they still weren’t saying anything to me.

I asked, “Is it a problem that I’m Lebanese?”

They told me, “We don’t like Arabs, but now we have to host you.”

I was stunned but told them that they didn’t have to host me, I’d find another place if they didn’t want me around. But they replied there was no alternative, “we have to host you because we’ve signed an agreement.”

So I asked them, “Are we just going to not speak for the entire month?” They must have realized what a ridiculous prospect that was, as they begrudgingly agreed to communicate the bare minimum necessary.

I’m an optimistic person, not easily discouraged—not even in the face of racism. So I kept engaging them, kept making small talk and pleasantries, trying to break the ice.

Little by little they started opening up and having discussions with me, to the point that I was eventually able to talk about life in Lebanon and Palestine, formerly and currently occupied by Israel.

By the end of the month, the father was actively searching out Youtube clips on Palestine. When I left, I told my host family that I’m not only Arab but am a Palestinian refugee, living in Lebanon. They cried the day I left, we had gotten so close.

The next year, I was able to arrange for a Palestinian girl and her mother to stay with my host family. They bonded immediately and their departure was tearful.

In Montreal, I go to the PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity) demonstration outside the Israeli Naot shoes company—a company with a factory outlet store located in the illegal Gush Etzion colony (i.e. “settlement”) block located on occupied Palestinian territory between Jerusalem and Hebron in the West Bank. The Gush Etzion block is a group of 22 colonies with about 70,000 Jewish Israeli colonists.

The Naot Shoes factory outlet store plays a role in strengthening and legitimizing the Gush Etzion colony. The Naot Shoes Outlet provides employment for the colony’s residents, and attracts both international tourists and Israeli customers to the Gush Etzion complex. The Naot Shoes Outlet thereby not only serves to legitimatize the colony and sustain its economic growth, but also enables the colony to absorb new colonists.

I meet Shadi, whose grandparents are from Haifa, Palestine.

“They were driven out in 1948,” Shadi affirms.

Later, in the ’70s, there was a brief window of open borders.. his family returned to their homeland, their home-town. “My uncle and other family members went to the house, but my grandfather wouldn’t get out of the car to see his home…” Shadi says. “There were Iraqi Jews living in our house. They told us that they’d been told this house was empty.”

In the car outside his forcibly-evicted home, Shadi’s grandfather had a stroke, a result of the emotional stress of being so close to the home he’d been violently ostracized from… “That’s why he didn’t get out of the car to see his house, when he was so close, after so many years…”

Born in exile, as a Palestinian refugee in Jordan, Shadi repeats the words of Palestinian refugees worldwide. “I’ve never seen Palestine.”

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