The repeated and massive scenes of home destructions in Palestinian West Bank refugee camps brings back the memories the what Palestinians call the Nakbah, or catastrophe, of 1948, when around a million Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and ended up living in refugee camps.
Displaced families struggled for dozens of years to go from living in tents to building homes that provided them with a concrete roof, separate living spaces, a semblance of normalcy.
The family of Shakir Abu Aiash went through these years of hardship after they were forced out of their village, ‘Jamasin,’ near Tel Aviv in 1948. They were relocated to the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, leaving behind their home, rich groves, and herds of cows and sheep.
The mother of the Aiash family described the hard years of struggling to keep the family intact and alive after leaving Jamasin. They lived in a tent provided by the UN for years. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Then we managed to build, with the assistance of the UN, little rooms of metal sheets. In the sixties, the UN built us a one room concrete home. My husband worked hard to expand the space for family members, and managed to build another room on top of the one we all lived in.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She added, Ã¢â‚¬Å“my husband passed away after the second floor was built, leaving me with six sons and daughters to feed and raise. I worked as a janitor in the UNRWA school and with the help of my eldest son managed to build a third floor for him to get married and settle down.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Living in Balata, the Abu Aiash family never imagined that a day would come when their homes would be destroyed again, when they would become homeless inside a refugee camp. But in the second Intifada, history began to repeat itself. Failing to curb Palestinian resistance, Israel began a practice of collective punishment in which the families of Palestinian fighters became the target of house demolitions.
After their nineteen year old son, Amer, was killed as he took part in an attack against the nearby Shari Tiqva settlement on May 18, 2003, the army blew up the new home, leaving the entire family homeless again.
Amer’s cousin Nawaf told the story of how the army destroyed the Abu Aiash home. Ã¢â‚¬Å“An Israeli army unit entered Balata refugee camp, surrounded the Jamasin neighborhood, and evacuated the residents of the three story building of Aiash’s family. Soldiers asked the residents of neighboring homes to leave as well. They planted dynamite in the second and third floors of the building. After the explosion, the building collapsed totally, including the first floor. In the crowded neighborhood, many adjacent buildings were damaged in the blast.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The family was allotted seven minutes to remove their things from the house. Most of their belongings were destroyed, buried in the rubble of the collapsed building.
Sitting on the rubble of his brotherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s home, Abdull Latif Abu Aiash told a younger generation the stories of their ancestral village of Jamasin. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jamasin was a fertile place, full of orange groves. We enjoyed working in our own fields and taking care of our own cows and sheep. Life was easy, simple, and full of happiness. We left our village running for our lives as Israeli gangs repeatedly attacked our village. We ended in this refugee camp.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the dreams of old Palestine, before the 1948 Nakbah, were lost in the nightmares of the modern refugee camp, where house demolitions made refugees twice displaced.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After the army destroyed our home I found myself with my kids and their families living with one of our neighbors who offered to host us until we find a place to live,Ã¢â‚¬Â AmerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother said.
She added that they are still waiting for a solution. All the promises to rebuild their home have proven to be mere promises. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Right now,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m renting a room. My first dream was to go back to Jamasin, but now I dream of going back to live in my destroyed home in Balata.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This article is the first part in a two part series that explores the story of Palestinian refugees dispersed in 1948, and again during the second Intifada. The second part, which will be released next week, will provide a broader analysis of what happens to the displaced population after losing homes to housing demolitions, exploring the social responses of and toward displaced families.