I Miss the Air

Fatima Ahmad Owdeh – Deheishe camp, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territory

I was around 17-18 years old when we were expelled from our village, Deir Aban. This was 18 October 1948. We had heard that the Zionists had occupied Akka, Jaffa, and many villages and that massacres occurred, such as in Deir Yassin. We heard that the Zionists had put the dead and injured people into a hole and buried them alive in Deir Yassin, the same day that we heard that Abdelqader Husseini was killed. A street was later built on top of them. We were very afraid and when we heard about the story of Deir Yassin, all the civilians in the village went to hide in the mountains.

Only the fighters remained, we had one gun per fifteen persons in the village. We stayed in the mountains for four months, until the Zionists attacked the village. Eighteen fighters were killed during the clashes and we had no choice but to leave in search of a safer place. I remember the names of all the fighters who died as well as the names of the two women who were killed by a bomb while picking fruits, some were members of her family. We all left on foot to al Khadr while the fighters went to Hebron. We lived under the trees in al Khadr, in the rain and cold.

 We eventually found a cave to rent in Beit Sahour and five families moved there. We lived in very harsh conditions, without electricity or money and with limited water - we had only two water tanks for all the families, if we wanted more, we had to pay. We had brought nothing from our houses. We managed to survive by picking herbs and plants from the mountains. Without basic facilities, it was not a life. We did not feel welcomed by people, although they were also Palestinians, people were accusing us of having left our homes, which made us feel bad. We lived in the cave for around 12 years. During that time, I got married.

I wanted to move to Deheisheh camp, to be with other refugees, but my husband refused because we had been told that during the winter, the tents would flood and that people had to move into the UNRWA school and my husband did not like the idea of living all together crowded into one room without any privacy. While my husband kept refusing to go to Deheisheh camp, I decided in 1960 to go myself with our children, in the end he followed. Life in the camp was better, we were all the same, all refugees, nobody was asking questions about who we were and where we were from. We have since then lived in the camp. I had 4 boys and 3 girls.

In Deir Aban, we had our land from which we could live, we had cows, camels and sheep, to make milk and cheese, we also baked bread. We exchanged our products with others. We were self-sufficient. In the camp, we have nothing - no land and no work, we can no longer be farmers. All we have is the house provided by UNRWA. I miss everything, the mint, the tomatoes, the water, the freedom to go to the sea or walk in the mountains. I miss the air.

I went back to Dir Aban several times since 1948. The last time I went was in 1999, but we can no longer go with the Wall and the closures. When I went, I could not eat from the trees because I felt bad that we had left such a beautiful place. At the same time, we had no choice but to leave. Our exile is still something that tears me apart until today.

In the camp, while life was better than in the cave, I became worried for my children, because Israeli soldiers would regularly attack us. When the army came in the 1970s and 80s, I used to fight the soldiers and they would run away. I was strong at the time. Since the beginning of the second Intifada, however, I can no longer challenge and fight the soldiers because I know they have killed many people, including some of my relatives. I used to fight back and beat them with my shoes, but now, I am afraid, because they shoot immediately, no discussion! The soldiers often came to arrest my sons, and when they would not find them, they beat me. Two of my sons went to jail, we know that the soldiers can come anytime to arrest anyone or destroy a house. I cry all the time about those who were killed, injured and arrested because of the conflict. I visit all the families in the camp who have lost people or whose children have been arrested.

We are refugees, we have lost everything. Our life is in our village, although we are among Palestinians, we do not belong here, we belong to our land.

For me, the Nakba is to be forced out from our land, it is the loss of our country. I feel that the Nakba continues, because we are still in this situation, without our land. I never forget, I always think before I go to bed about my land, my village, the people I used to know…the past comes back to me. I always explain to my grandchildren and my great grandchildren about our land in Deir Aban and about how to go back. The Israelis thought that we would no longer want to return home once the first generation died–they were wrong, we have transmitted the cause and love of our country to our children.

I feel nobody supports us, no Arab, European or other country. I would like to beat Condoleeza Rice and Abbas with my shoes! I think that the Ramallah government follows the Israeli-American agenda; they are only looking for power and money and do not have the Palestinian cause at heart. I don’t think the Palestinians should work with the Americans or normalize with the Israelis. We should not let the Israelis steal our land, we shouldn’t sell our cause, we must continue to resist. I hope that the Palestinian leadership will change and be strong again, because currently, my only hope is the future generations, the children of our children. I know that in the end, we will win. We will resist and one day have the support we need to win. For me, peace will only come once we return to our land. It is also hard for me to imagine living with people who have persecuted us, I don’t think I would feel safe.