In this post, our Palestianian author, Ghada Ageel, describes the emotional impact of never being able to return to your home. Her family has lived in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza for three generations now. Ghada Ageel is the editor of Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences.
In the 1980s, my grandmother visited Beit Daras. In great shock at the level of destruction and unable to locate her home, Khadija asked her son Abdlehakeem to leave her alone for some time. She started to walk around the beautiful village that had completely vanished.
She first found the old quarry, overrun with sand and overgrown with grasses. Then she recognized a small part of the mosque’s foundation. Finally, she located her home. A part of the wall from her house remained. She hugged the wall and rubble and sobbed over her sweet home with all its memories, which had become a pile of small stones.
She also wept where the sycamore tree no longer grew—a place where she used to rest every day. After returning to Khan Younis from Beit Daras, she was sick for a month, and she then understood the reason why her father did not visit his village after the expulsion.
When my grandmother speaks about her home and village, there is always a magic flash in her eyes—something that I didn’t understand for years. In 2004, I began to comprehend the connection. That year, the home of my closest friend, Sahar, was demolished.
To stand in the rubble of this home—a place that had witnessed the best days of my childhood—was devastating. In her home, which was just a few streets from my own, I had learned the meaning of love, care, and true friendship. It vanished in an instant under a Caterpillar bulldozer. As her family moved out of the camp in search of a new home, we were separated from each other. All that remains are memories—some good, some bad. Among the latter, is my memory of Sahar’s home vanishing in an instant. How many Palestinians have died in defence of their homes?
In summer 2014, similar to 2012 and 2008 aggressions on Gaza, Israel repeatedly systematically targeted the Palestinian infrastructure. The goal was to make the loss and the punishment a collective one. The Israeli forces shelled clinics, schools, homes, offices, factories, mosques, hospitals, shelters, bridges, orphanages, power stations, water wells, and stadiums. In this aggression, I wept for the ninety-six thousand homes that were bombed—for the homes that I knew and for other homes that I did not know.
I wept for bridges. Yes, I wept especially for the bridge that used to connect Gaza City and the Nusairat camp. I travelled over that bridge hundreds of times. My tears were seemingly endless. I wondered whether my weeping would ever cease. My grandmother said her tears were the same when Beit Daras was destroyed in 1948.
In the 1970s, a few years after Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, refugees were allowed to visit their villages. When my great-grandfather was asked why he had not done so, he told my grandmother that he would prefer to die rather than walk on the ruins of his home and village. My house, he said in a choked voice, “is my flesh, my sweat, my blood and my bone. It’s me, the broken human being you see now. How do you expect to walk on your body?” He then turned his back on my grandmother to hide the tears that she could still feel. Nothing in this life is harder than walking on the rubble of one’s own home. It is one of the harshest and most painful things that can happen in life. Home is a sense of belonging, safety, and comfort, and a place of life’s memories, whether sweet or bitter. When the Israeli occupiers began to carry out their policy of house demolition, they knew this operation was going to be one of the most painful punishments for the Palestinians. They knew it would hit them in the heart.
When I saw my grandmother following the Israeli attacks on Gaza in August 2014, she was unusually happy. She looked at me and my children—Tarek, who was fourteen, and Aziz, six—and, to my surprise, she said that she was no longer worried about Beit Daras. Neither was she worried about the water well, the land, the farms, and the sycamore trees, nor about the passage of time and the future that she’s wanted for so long.
Then she said, “For many years, I felt as if I were walking alone. And as you know walking alone is not a pleasant way to make a journey. Now, because of my age, I cannot walk, but I’m not alone anymore. I can now rest in peace even if I am not yet in Beit Daras. I now know that Beit Daras is in your heart, and I also know that you are not alone in your journey. Don’t be discouraged. We are getting there.