I might have been shocked a little when I first heard that he was in Belgium as a political refugee. I could not quite understand why he would do that; leave. Yet for him, it was the only way to escape the daily obstacles and for once, be free to think and maybe to get rid of the pain.
When I was asked to interview a Palestinian refugee here in Belgium, Mustapha`s name quickly popped into my head. In fact he was the first and only one I thought of for this interview, and this, although I had already met quite a good number of Palestinians; as one would anywhere in the world. I called him at mid-day “Mustapha dear, do you have free time this weekend? I want to interview you… it’s about you being a Palestinian refugee...” I didn’t continue my sentence nor had I given him more details before he replied “yes, sure… anything for Palestine.”
When he arrived at my place, the first thing he said was “Ah Maysa, tell me what do you have for me?” with the same smile that he always shares. “Well, ok let’s start” I said… “tell me your story...”
I am Mustapha Khaled Awad from Al-Sumayriyya a little village in Akka district where my grandfather lived with his family before they were ethnically cleansed in the 1948 war and went to south Lebanon and then to Sidon, after which they were given tents to live in, establishing the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh. Later on they were able to build something like a “house” and start settling down. But when the 1982 civil war started in Lebanon the whole family had to move again to what they believed was a more secure and safer place… they were moving from one place to another until they eventually decided to go back to Ein el-Hilweh, where they have lived until now.
The Nakba changed us – and this is for all Palestinian refugees- from a person who has his own land, house, job, family - a LIFE - into someone who is excluded from all of this. To be a Palestinian refugee for me means to be a homeless person, displaced from his homeland, expelled and unwanted by any other country, including the Arab world. The Nakba did not change my personal identity; it is the others who started calling me “Palestinian refugee” instead of “Palestinian”. We have preserved our culture and traditions throughout the years and we will keep doing this for ever.
60 years of Nakba simply is my life and add to that new generations of Palestinian refugees. And because of what is happening in Palestine these days, we - the Palestinian refugees - are now more attached to our cause and land than ever. There has never been coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians since they kicked us out, and there never will be … for me, I will remain a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon with the minimum human rights until I go back to my homeland.
I was born in 1982 in Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, just when the Israeli invasion began. I went to an UNRWA school but didn’t continue my higher education for personal reasons; moreover, to complete your education in that period [civil war and Israeli occupation] was difficult because there was no high school in the camp. I worked for a company while also being a member of a “political organization.” After that, and because of the difficulties of living in Lebanon as a Palestinian refugee combined with my own problems with that organization, I decided to leave Lebanon and travel to Belgium. I arrived in Belgium illegally. I thought I might be able to make a new start here, and now I work here.
In Belgium, I try to help Palestinian refugees in general and mainly those in Lebanon. We organize festivals under the theme of the right of return and collect money to help build medical clinics and hospitals. We also organize vigils and demonstrations and a lot of other different activities related to Palestine and the refugees issue.
I believe that the best and only solution is for the Israeli occupation to end and for us to have our own country with Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and for the refugees to return to the lands from which they were expelled and not only to return to a future Palestinian half-state and receive compensation. This is what I call a ‘fair solution’.
The UN recognized that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their own lands - UN Resolution 194- but it was never implemented and it became just another number on another document... I really think that the international community has always had an obvious bias towards Israel, which has guaranteed it unconditional support.
The peace process depends on the Israeli withdrawal from Palestine and that’s it… Palestinian refugees will always stick to their cause and land. No one can ever question it or think that the 60 years or even more can make them integrate into the places where they live now and to forget their homeland... and the right of return will always be the number one issue in their lives, regardless of the years or the difficulties they face. And I believe that the day will come when we will all go back to Palestine and prove to the whole world that we are a civilized nation and not a barbarous one - not unlike Israel - and that we are the nation of peace nation on the land of peace.