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Middle East

Looking back at Al-Nakba

Around five million Palestinians live scattered across the world, mostly children of those displaced.
Last modified: 15 May 2013 19:23

It can be a hard concept to grasp, but soon there will be no originally displaced Palestinians. No one left alive who was around when they were either driven from their homes in 1948, or fled fearing for their lives.

Around five million Palestinians live scattered across the world now - many are the children of the children of the over 750,000 displaced during the 1947 to 1949 fighting which saw Israel declared a state and land annexed. But few are like Husun al-Azza. She is old enough to remember it.

When her family fled the village of Beit Jabreen, they had spent 10 days hiding in nearby Roman Era caves, terrified of the Israeli planes which flew low over their homes.

The infamous Deir Yassin massacre had happened just a few months earlier and her father was scared of a similar attack.

She talks of how leaflets were dropped by the aircraft, saying they should leave or a massacre like Deir Yassin would happen to them. It's an example of how people like Husun are not only an ageing group of refugees, but witnesses to a part of history that is still disputed by both sides down to the minutest of details.

These are details and memories the next few generations lack, although Palestinians are determined to pass along the loud call to return.

Huge replica keys

Nowhere is this more clear than at the Nakba Day commemorations in Ramallah every year on May 15th.

Small children march in school groups, holding huge replica keys - representing the house keys most Palestinian families kept for generations after they fled.

These children have likely never been to the villages, farms and towns their grandparents spoke of regularly, but they know that their returning home has been a global political row for decades.

On stage at Arafat Square in Ramallah, children and teenagers re-enact Nakba scenes and sign songs of the farms they never knew.

Looking around the Square, there are very few people as old as Husun. Most are around the age of her granddaughter, Lian, who carefully studied the pictures I took of her family's old village. She has an image in her head, she tells me, from her grandmother's stories.

A solution to the "right of return" debate seems impossible in the near future. It is a subject which tends to deal a fatal blow to peace talks.

In the end, if a return ever happens, it is likely to be less a literal return of those like Husun who ran 65 years ago, and instead a return by generations who feel they should have been born and raised there.