Refugees at home: Palestinians in Gaza refuse to forget Nakba on World Refugee Day
It’s no secret that Gaza is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. With a land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel for over a decade, Palestinians living in the besieged enclave have little to no access to food, water and medicine. Instead of going to school, children are being robbed of their childhood, being forced to find means of survival on a day-to-day basis.
Early this year, the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (PGFTU) warned poverty in the besieged enclave has exceeded 80 percent, with 54.9 percent of Palestinians in Gaza being unemployed.
Gaza is one of the most overpopulated areas in the world. The tiny enclave has a population of 1.8 million people and a population density of 13,064 people per square mile. Not only are Gazans facing a sever and crippling blockade, but they are forced into conditions likened to an overcrowded cage.
While the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, it almost seems as though the catastrophe has been further induced since Israel enforced the crippling siege.
Out of Gaza’s 1.8 million population, 1.4 million are refugees - meaning refugees make up 70 percent of Gaza’s population.
During the 1948 war that triggered Israel's creation, referred to as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ by Palestinians, at least 700,000 Palestinians that were expelled from their villages took refuge in nearby countries, or other Palestinian provinces.
However, it is estimated that around 100,000 Palestinians from the villages directly targeted by Israeli militias fled to other parts of Palestine, such as Gaza, Beersheba, Haifa, Nazareth, Nablus, Jaffa and Bethlehem.
Despite still remaining within the borders of Palestine, the refugees refused to forget their roots – evident in today’s Gazan social dynamics which defines people based on whether they are muhajir, Arabic for migrant, or mowatin, Arabic for native to the land.
In Gaza, just 700,000 people are considered native.
We won’t forget
Despite more than 71 years of exile, and the fact that these Palestinians remain in Palestine, these refugees refuse to forget their real home.
"You see, I am living in this home and thank God, I am able to take care of myself, away from my own children who live separately”, Sadeeqa Abdallah Khaleel, 78, told The New Arab.
The elderly woman is originally from the Palestinian village of Breer but has been forcibly displaced and now lives in the Alburaij refugee camp in Gaza.
“Since Israel expelled us and made us refugees, we have had no choice but to build up our own lives. But, of course it has been such a bitter experience staying away from our homeland", she said.
Though traumatic, the displacement brought further tragedy to Khaleel’s life, who lost her mother during her escape from Israeli militias.
“I remember very well how village dwellers had been set ablaze by by cannons, fired by the invading troops. Because of their firing, we ran towards the nearby Semsem village and then to the Gaza Strip, through the coastline.”
The refugee status for displaced Palestinians has been handed down through generations, but so has hope to return.
Last year, a mass protest, dubbed “Great Return March” began in Gaza, in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians together marched towards the Israeli border fence in what became a weekly move to highlight the plight of Palestinians seeking to return home.
However, the protests were met severe violence by Israel, which triggered global outrage for killing at least 240 Palestinian protesters to date.
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