My Father’s Treasure

Mohamad and Rawan Al-Bash - Damascus, Syria

My name is Rawan Al Bash and I would like to tell the story of my father since he was displaced in 1948.

My father, Mohamad Al Bash, is from the village of Tiret Haifa in Haifa, on the north shore of Palestine. My father’s family consisted of his father Ibrahim and his mother Ghazaleh and two children when they were exiled from Palestine in 1948; my father, who was only four years old at the time, was the oldest son.

They had a small fruit grove that they depended on for consumption and provision and owned sheep, which supplied the neighborhood with milk and cheese, and which they

used to exchange for other goods like beans and wheat. My father used to play with his bare feet on the grass of their garden; this is also where he hid his treasure under the smallest tree. His treasure was a collection of all the old things he had found on the ground.

Their exile began when his father came and asked his mother to gather all their things and leave their home. This was after they had heard of the massacres the Jewish and British armies had committed against the Palestinian people. My father was worried about his treasure so he ran to the garden to fetch it. He was not wearing his shoes and while he was under his lovely tree he heard the sounds of bombs and shootings, his mother quickly came, grabbed his small hand and took him, barefoot, away from the bombs and bullets.

They walked for one day and night in search of a safe place where the sounds of bombs and weapons could not be heard. My father’s feet were too small to resist the sharp and tough stones on the road, his feet were harmed and blood covered them. But my father was not thinking about his feet, the only thing he was worried about was his treasure, he did not want anyone to touch it.

After long and hard days of walking, my father’s family became very tired and hungry. My father started to feel the pain in his feet, he asked his mother to carry him but his mother was pregnant. She gave birth on the way.

They arrived to a place that was full of people who had come from different villages in Palestine, some people slept in tents, others under the sky; my father’s family made a tent of their clothes and spent a few nights under it. By the end of the month, they were taken by train to the Syrian borders and then to Aleppo, in the north of Syria. There they built their new home: four walls with an aluminum ceiling that did little to protect them from the wind and rain in the winter.

After 10 years of exile, my grandfather died and left the responsibility of the family to his elder son “my father” who was only 14 years old. My father had to work while he was attending school, he collected plants and herbs from the lands of other people in return for a meager pay. His mother had to serve rich people in Aleppo to support her children. This situation was intolerable to my father, and in 1958 he decided to move the family from Aleppo to Damascus in search of a better life.

In Damascus, they rented a house until in 1961 they were able to buy land with the help of the General Authority for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR) and build a house in Yarmouk Camp. My father left school and decided to devote his life to taking care of his brothers, sisters and mother. Five years later, he started to build a big house which kept the family together during that time. All his brothers and sisters were able to attend school and some of them got diplomas. My father has two sisters and one of them, Lotfiah, married a Palestinian who took her back to live in Nablus, just a few months before the 1967 War, and where she has been living until now. Except on two occasions, my father has been unable to see his sister ever since. I am now in touch with her children, my cousins, via the internet.

My father eventually got married and in order to avoid the crowdedness of the camp, he moved to the city center. He bought a house there and now owns a store that sells birds.

My father’s story affected me and my family’s life tremendously. I, my brothers and sisters know that our real wealth is our perseverance in life; this is what pushes us to work hard to prove ourselves as Palestinians in the society. I learned from my father how to fight for life – how to remain steadfast in time of difficulties and persist to achieve my goals. From his life of exile, I also realized how badly injustice can affect honest people. My father never forgot his tree and keeps mentioning it whenever he talks about his childhood. I also remember the stories that my grand-mother told us about our land and fruit trees and I feel I want to fly and come back to my home land and kiss the land that belongs to us.

Although I did not grow up in a camp, being a refugee has always been a bitter fact in my life; I always envied my friends and classmates when they were talking about their lands and villages. In my dreams I always see myself playing on the green grass under a fruit tree, but in the morning, after I open my eyes, I realize that it is just a dream, and that makes me desperate. I always say to myself that “great achievements start with a dream” then I go back to dream in hope that this will be the first step to my return.

When I see the world ignoring our suffering and believing Israel’s mendacity, I feel hopeless; when the world agrees with Israel that Palestinian people should pay for the Holocaust - which was not perpetrated by Palestinians - I feel desperate; when Israel ignores international law and UN resolutions like 194, I become desperate, but all these feelings have not weakened me; to the contrary, they have pushed me to fight for our rights as refugees and for our right to return to our homes and lands. I am now working with Aidoun Group, which defends the rights of Palestinian refugees and their fundamental right of return in the hope that a rights-based solution will solve our exile.

Although it is hard to live again with people who affected our life as refugees very badly, I do not mind to go back to Palestine and live with Jewish people, all together on the same land. The most important thing for me is to go back to the land I always dreamed of.