The Darker it is, the Closer We are to the Break of Dawn

Rafat Abu Ghali - Al-Shabora refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestinian Territory

My family’s name is Abu Ghali and my family comes from Bir Saba. We used to own 48,000sq meters of cultivatable land. People used to cultivate their land in winter and move to another area called Sidna Ali, near Jaffa. There, they used to rent land lots and cultivate them. During the harvest season they would go back to Bir Saba. In 1933, the British came and expelled the Arabs from Sidna Ali in order to settle Jewish immigrants on their lands. They offered compensation to the land owners. The compensation was one camel, twelve cans of oils, and 20,000sq meters of land with a house built on it in Moqibla area near Jenin. Most people accepted the offer, among them was Khalil Abu Ghali, my grandfather. Those who rejected the offer were expelled by force. A Jewish settlement called Kabus was built there.

The Zionist schemes started in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Arab owners understood the real intention of these schemes; they were offered two-storey houses built on Palestinian lands. According to the plan, the ground floor was to be occupied by Palestinian land owners while the first floor was for Jewish immigrants. When violence erupted, the Jewish residents started firing from the first floor on their Palestinian neighbors. The British did not allow Arabs to own guns, but they provided weapons for the Jews.

The Zionist forces secretly brought four trucks loaded with weapons for military training and armament, but were seen by a Palestinian man living in the area. The man was from Shawabka clan and his clan received death threats from the Zionists, who told them not to tell anyone about the weapons they saw or they would all be killed. The British were informed and confiscated the weapons without punishing the Zionists. One day later, Zionist forces attacked the homes of the Shawabka clan, killing five people. While Khalil Abu Ghali was going to sell his orange harvest in Ramat Gan, he saw dead people lying on the ground and injured people. Their relatives, from Shawabka clan, were crying in anger. He went back home because he was afraid to be killed by the Zionists. This is also the reason why he left to Gaza with his family and relatives. Some of his relatives went to Gaza while others went to Jenin in the West Bank. Zionist forces hunted down the Palestinians to kill them while they were escaping to Gaza. There was a noteable incident which involved the poisoning of a water well. People saw Zionists put poison in the well and removed the poison bottle immediately. They tried hard to purify the water but were unsuccessful. My grandfather, Khalil Abu Ghali, came to fill twelve jars of water from the well but people told him not to do so because the well had been poisoned. Unfortunately, he thought people did not want him to fill his jars to keep the water for themselves and their livestock. He filled his jars and paid no attention to their warnings. He took the water to his family who used the water for drinking in the evening. The following morning, everyone from his family fell ill and started vomiting; especially Khalil’s 12 year-old daughter, Tamam. She went into a coma and died instantly. However, Tamam was not the only victim. Other people died and some suffered from hair loss because of the poisoned water. Those who drank camel milk recovered soon while people who refused to drink it stayed in hospital for two months for treatment. They left the area and moved to another area called Hirb Thiab.

The planes started bombing Gaza and people were forced to move towards Al-Bureij camp in Gaza. The Zionists kept hunting them down. People had to run to Rafah and stayed there ever since. All of my family members are registered refugees with UNRWA. They benefited from the food rations that UNRWA used to give to Palestinian refugees in the early years after 1948.

The Nakba affected us very badly. We lost everything. It was a dramatic change for our family. We moved from the very top to the very bottom overnight. We were living on our own lands, growing our crops and breeding livestock. We used to depend on organic crops and livestock. We became homeless refugees, waiting for other nations to give us something to eat. We still tell our children about our land. They know their original land very well. It is inscribed in our hearts and minds.

Being a refugee means a lot to me. Being a refugee, I cannot forget that I have rights to fight for. It means that my family and I are looking forward to regaining our stolen land from the oppressors.

Socially, one of the main impacts of the Nakba is that the differences between people from different villages and towns melted away. In many places, marriage used to take place only within the same clan or village. Nowadays people marry their daughters to people from distant places and clans. The Nakba also changed our professions. We were land owners and farmers. We were less educated then. Now we work as teachers, doctors, engineers, mechanics, nurses, social workers, and builders. We changed our professions because we were forced to, in order to adapt to the new living conditions associated with our situation as refugees in Gaza.

I studied English in India. I chose this profession because of the job market. There has been a need for English teachers in Gaza. I worked for the armed forces for a while as a translator but I did not like it. I felt that teaching at university is better and more rewarding in terms of academic status and professional development. Currently I am working at Al-Aqsa University as a full time lecturer. I live in Shabora refugee camp in Rafah. I live there because it is the place my parents came as refugees 60 years ago.

There has been a misconception about solving the refugee problem. The international community has always been ambivalent when it comes to Palestinians. The solution is simple: return the refugees to their original land and compensate them for their losses. One state solution is fine, but we do not want to be second class citizens living under a colonial power. Jews, Christians and Muslims can live side by side, but the last word should be for Palestinians, the indigenous people of Palestine. Criminals who committed heinous crimes against us should face justice as well.

A just solution means the return of rights, all rights and the punishment of all criminals. The responses of the UN and other international organizations were nice to look at and read, but they were never applied. They cannot be applied when they concern the rights of Palestinians such as the right of return. Why don’t we have a UNHCR in Palestine? I think that the UN and other international bodies are accomplices by being silent. Why does the UN use force in other places of the world and not here? We need more than words and humanitarian aid from the UN and the international community.

As for the peace process, it not effective enough for us. The Israelis have left Gaza but they are still bombing us from the sky. We live in the prison where we were born; no movement, no travel, no leisure, no security, nothing at all! We miss a lot of the basic things which are available to all free nations.

I do not know what will happen to me or to my children. Our best weapon is education, which is, unfortunately, deteriorating. We have to stick hard to our books and pencils because education is the only effective weapon to fight the occupation. My slogan is Education! Education – in order to face occupation.

Sometimes I think that our kids have a bleak future. There is not enough space in the Gaza strip. People are suffering now and life is worse than ever. We are living under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I think, however, that the darker it is, the closer we are to the break of dawn. The situation cannot remain as bad as it is now.