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"I Cannot Live as I Like": A '48 Refugee Remembers

By: 
Naji Ali
Date Published: 
April 09, 2008

Sitting in a chair inside his cluttered shop filled with school supplies, chain-smoking Marlboro cigarettes, Abdul Salam Hammad Abdullah peers out onto the streets. Passersby wave to him as he acknowledges them. Palestinian refugeeAbdul Salam Hammad Abdullah I'm here at the Bourj As-Shamali refugee camp to gather testimonies of those who remember Al-Nakba (The Catastrophe) in which more than 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes when the Stern Gang and other armed Zionist terror groups-back by the British army-took over their lands nearly 60 years ago. My name is Abdul Salam Hammad Abdullah. I'm an English teacher in Ibrahim School here in Bourj As-Shamali. I was born in Palestine, but I was very young, a baby. I was born in the village of Lavi in the north of Palestine, beside Tiberius, near the Sea of Galilee. I remember many things. Zionists arrive The Zionists came to Palestine, as you know, emigrating from Europe, the US, and other countries. And they gradually took the lands by many ways-and I'm sorry to say that the Arabs helped them to do that. For example, in our village the Zionists attacked many times but they couldn't take it. And our men in the village attacked the Zionists in their places. One day after a big battle between the villagers and the Zionist army, the Zionist army retreated. So after that the leader of the Arab army near our village said to the people, "Go out of the village-because of women as you know-they may take women and other things. Go away from the village for three days and we will attack the Zionists, and then after three days you return to your homes." After three days people tried to return but there were Zionist troops inside the village. So they-the Arab army-gave the village to the Zionists. This is what my father and my mother and the history, if you read history, this is what happened in the Palestinian villages. This is an example; our village is an example of other villages. Expelled from Palestine There is a document that says that the Palestinians asked the Arab countries to prevent civilians from going outside Palestine. But the Arabs opened the borders so that people could go outside Palestine. When we first arrived in Lebanon we lived in Bint ij-Biel and from there to Ein-Ja in the Bekaa Valley. We lived in very miserable conditions outside Palestine. We lived in tents. And you can imagine how a person in winter, in the cold, heavy rain, and the snow would be. So we lived a very miserable life after the expulsion from Palestine-sometimes under tents, sometimes without tents. I learned in schools made of tents. And I remember when the wind would sometimes blow away the tent. When we first arrived here we had very good relations with the Lebanese. The ordinary population helped Palestinians when we came to the various places we lived in since leaving Palestine. My point of view from where this relationship was to where it is now is not between the Lebanese and the Palestinians. The intelligence services-the world intelligence services and the Arab intelligence services-made problems. In any organization, or any Palestinian organizations, there were intelligence for every country and they made bad things happen for the Lebanese, blaming the Palestinians so as to make problems between us. Hoping to return We always have the hope to return to our lands. We hope that this time, in this age, we can do something that our children or the children of our children may in the future return to our lands. This we hope. Now I am 60 years old and up until now I can't live the way I want to live. Although I am better than others, I am educated, employed, but still I cannot live as I like.
Naji Ali is an independent journalist living in San Francisco. The product of a Black South African resistance fighter and African American mother, he spent the first eight years of his life in South Africa. In 1990 he returned to South Africa and was subsequently detained by the Security police and tortured for 500 days. From 2002-2004, Ali lived and worked in the Old City of Al Khalil (Hebron) in Palestine.