Palestinian refugees hope Gaza solidarity boosts cause

Palestinian refugees hope Gaza solidarity boosts cause
Millions of Palestinian refugees living in camps around the world say they hope a recent increase in solidarity would boost their cause.
4 min read
27 May, 2021
The latest flare-up in violence gained global attention [Getty]

From marching in rallies to posting live updates on social media, Palestinian refugee Mira Krayem has barely slept since conflict gripped her ancestral homeland earlier this month.

But the 24-year-old university student, who lives in Lebanon, said she felt solidarity messages for the Palestinian cause from across the world have made her and fellow activists feel re-energised after years of crushing defeat.

"It makes us feel like we have a voice," said Krayem, on a rooftop overlooking Shatila, the tightly packed refugee camp in Beirut where she was born, one of some 475,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

In 11 days of violence before a ceasefire was declared last week, Israeli jets and artillery pounded Gaza, the blockaded Palestinian coastal enclave of two million ruled by Islamist group Hamas, who fired thousands of rockets towards Israel.

With graphic images of Israeli bomb blasts and Hamas rocket attacks broadcast live on television networks, supporters of each side took to social media to express their anger.

The United States and other states stressed Israel's right to defend itself against rockets fired by Hamas, but rights groups spoke out against the indiscriminate destruction wreaked on the enclave.

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As the death toll mounted - especially on the Palestinian side, given Israel's air superiority and its Iron Dome missile defence system stopping most Hamas rockets - there were growing expressions of solidarity for the people of Gaza as thousands were made homeless with entire tower blocks blasted into dust.

'Makes you feel alive'

During the bombardments, hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese marched in Beirut, echoing similar rallies of support for Gaza held in countries across the world.

British pop star Dua Lipa and models of Palestinian descent Bella and Gigi Hadid posted messages of support for Palestinian rights.

It has given the impetus to Palestinian refugees to keep pushing their cause.

"It is tiring, but it's tiring in a beautiful way," Krayem said, a Palestinian flag drawn on her black jumper.

"It makes you feel alive and close to Palestine."

Krayem's energy is emblematic of a generation born long after what Palestinians call the Nakba - the "catastrophe" - when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by Israeli forces in 1948, a mass expulsion that led to the establishing of Israel. 

Nearly three-quarters of a century later, the number of Palestinians scattered around the world has grown in the millions.

Most live in the surrounding regional nations of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria - countries all bordering Israel -  where they are often marginalised.

Israel disputes their right to return.

Recent normalisation deals between Israel and Arab states looked like another nail in the Palestinian cause's coffin.

But the tragedy of the recent crisis has brought people together.

"Everyone in the camp is looking for a way to help... and discussions about Palestine haven't stopped," said Krayem, who also works as a volunteer teaching children Palestinian history and culture.

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"All these people, who were so distracted with the economic crisis or the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon, they all started talking about return again," she added.

"You can hear people saying things like 'tomorrow, when we return'".

'Our time is up'

For elderly grandmother Rahma Abdul Qader in the Syrian capital Damascus - one of some 438,000 Palestinian refugees in the country -  she fears it may be too late for her to ever return.

Qader left Jaffa - now a mixed Arab-Jewish quarter of Tel Aviv - in 1948, when she was nine.

"Even after all these years, the image of this place is fresh in my mind," she told AFP, surrounded by her family. "I tell my grandchildren about it all the time." 

However, unlike Krayem, she is not hopeful she will see her homeland again.

"Our time is up," she said. "But maybe my grandchildren will return one day, because justice always prevails in the end."

Her 55-year-old daughter Iman said she was touched by messages of support.

"The Palestinians used to feel isolated in recent years," said.

"But after everything that happened, there is a feeling that we have people on our side."