Note: 'One family's life in exile' tells the story of every dispossessed
Traumatic memories of the 'disaster' fuel dreams of a return from
By Robert Fisk in Mar Elias camp, Beirut
16 May 2001
Internal link: Arafat defiant
as wave of bloodshed stains disaster day
There was an awful irony about Ruqiya Haj Hassan's 53rd birthday
yesterday. Her people's nakba had already begun on 15 May 1948 and she
was to spend only two months of her life in the land she still calls
Palestine. Her parents were to tell her, years later, of just how
terribly the Palestinian "disaster" struck them down.
Walking day and night out of their land, Ruqiya's family lost their
way in the hills of Galilee. Demented and ravenous with hunger, they
left her behind in a cave, only finding her again - three days later -
almost dead of thirst. Two of her small sisters, Arabia and Zakia,
died on the road. "Even my brother died later, killed in an Israeli
air raid here in Lebanon in 1982," Ruqiya says. "My father went back
to the West Bank and visited our village of Shaab again when another
sister of mine - who had stayed behind - was married.
"At the marriage he had a heart attack and died and so, in the end, he
was buried in his home village in Palestine."
The old are dying out, of course, and the memories with them. It took
all of 15 minutes in the little refugee camp of Mar Elias in the
centre of Beirut to find a man who remembered the nakba. Hussein Abdul
Razek was 11 when his family fled Palestine. His story is that of
every dispossessed people.
"Our village was called Amca but the Israelis came and we fled to
Tarshiha in Acre," he remembers. "Then we set off by foot northwards
with many other Palestinians, to Farsouta, the last place I remember
in Palestine. I recall how thirsty I was all the time. All I wanted
was water. We crossed into Lebanon, travelled through Jouaya and got
to Tyre, just walking, walking."
Exhausted after their exodus, the Razek family -- Hussein had three
brothers and three sisters - found their only shelter in a railway
"While we were sleeping in it someone attached a steam locomotive to
the train and it headed north with us inside, all the way to Tripoli.
When we got there, we walked to the nearest Palestinian camp at Nahr
el-Bared. Years later, we moved down to Beirut and lived in the
"We had all our land ownership papers then; British documents that
proved the land in Amca was ours, even the key to our house in the
village. In the camps war in 1987 (between Palestinians and the
Lebanese Shia Muslim Amal militia), they were all lost when our house
Hussein's memories of "Palestine" remain vivid. "I remember a school
trip to Acre and seeing the great mosque and the gate of the city," he
says. "And I remember our land at the end of the village of Amca, our
fig trees and the cactus in our field."
Hussein's wife, Fatmi, was only two years old in 1948 but, after
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, she was able to return - for just a
month - to visit cousins who had stayed behind after the birth of
Israel. "My uncle met me on the border and he called my name at once
even though he hadn't seen me for 35 years. "I loved that village of
ours. I wanted to be a bird and fly back there afterwards."