“I have never lived a settled life”: Church of the Nativity deportees mark 10 years of exile

Inside the Church of the Nativity during the 2002 siege. (Image courtesy of Fahmi Kanan)

Yesterday 39 Palestinians from Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank marked ten years of deportation from their precious homes. That day eleven years ago, they were expelled from Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity after a siege by the Israeli occupation forces that lasted for 39 days; 26 men went to Gaza, 13 to Europe. Since that tragedy, which marked another form of ethnic cleansing, this day has been called “Deported Palestinians’ Day.”

Since the prisoner exchange in October, hundreds of Palestinians have joined this category, as 203 ex-detainees were convicted to indefinite deportation. Moreover, ex-detainee Hana al-Shalabi was recently forcibly transferred from Jenin in the West Bank to Gaza after hunger striking for 45 days to protest her midnight arrest on February 16 by a huge, aggressive force of Israeli soldiers, and subsequent detention without charge or trial under administrative detention.

Israel has intensively forcibly transferred people from the West Bank to either the Gaza Strip or deported them to countries such as Turkey, Syria and Qatar. Israel reportedly offered administrative detainees Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahla and Jafar Ez al-Din Qadan, all on hunger strike for more than two months, transfer to Gaza, but they refused this horrible offer and bravely insisted on continuing their battle of empty stomachs against Israel’s injustices and violations.

On May 10, hundreds of people from all generations marched to the Gaza City sit-in tent which was set up as a place of support for Palestinian political prisoners, in order to share the continued suffering of the deported Palestinians. The experience of exile, with all its pain, repeats itself hundreds of times in Palestine at the hands of Israel, as it openly violates the same Geneva Convention it ratified in 1951. 

“I have never lived a settled life”

One of the people I am very proud to have met through the weekly protest for Palestinian detainees is a deportee from the Church of Nativity, Fahmi Kanan. Fahmi has been a good friend of mine, despite our difference in age; he is 43 years old, while I am only 20. He makes sure to attend every Gaza activity organized in solidarity with the Palestinian detainees and their families.

I remember very well Mr. Fahmi’s touching words when I first met him and asked him about the reason for his dedication to the detainees’ cause.

“I have never lived a settled life,” he said. “First, I was born in a land under occupation. Secondly, I lived the hard life of detention inside Israel’s prisons five times, each under administrative detention. I was only a 17-year-old teenager when I was first detained.

“Thirdly, when I’m not detained, wherever I walk within the Palestinian territories, I’m ‘wanted’ and chased by the Israeli occupation. Fourthly, I was one of the people besieged inside the Church of Nativity in 2002, then deported to Gaza. Our sufferings take different forms, but all of them result from one thing – Israel.”

Afterward, I learned that Mr. Fahmi is the spokesman for the people deported from the Church of Nativity. Having a shared passion for a just cause, Mr. Fahmi and I get along well. He always brings his kids with him to the protest for detainees. I’ve gotten to know him as a person, not merely as a political activist.

I believe that children are reflections of their parents. In Mr. Fahmi’s case, his children are outstanding reflections. I always tell him, “If I ever have a child, I’d like to raise her or him the same way you did.” I see a bright future for Palestine through his kids who are, despite their young ages, very well-educated about Palestinian issues.

“Eid without family is tasteles”

The author with Nasr and his sister Israa during Eid al-Adha last year.

On the second day of Eid al-Adha last year, I saw him with all his kids in the weekly protest for detainees outside the International Committee of the Red Cross.

When I asked him how his family in Bethlehem was doing, he replied, “I was on the phone with Dad this morning, greeting him for Eid. He is getting older. He fears that his death will be soon as he suffers from some health problems. My heart aches when he tells me that he wishes he could see his grandchildren before he dies.”

I asked his 11-year-old son Nasr whether he was enjoying his Eid or not.

He replied with a sad look on his face, “I feel like it is the same as any other day. All our relatives are in Bethlehem, and Eid without family is tasteless.”

His words touched me very deeply.

When I shared with Mr. Fahmi what his son told me, he answered, “My kids were raised without their grandparents or relatives around. The times I was questioned about them are countless, especially during our traditional and religious feasts. But thankfully, they are smart enough to understand that this is one of the prices that Palestinian people pay for being merely Palestinian. And they are proud!”

Yesterday, Mr. Fahmi made a moving speech that showed the humanitarian aspect of a deported Palestinian’s suffering.

“The hardest times in a deported person’s life are the times of need,” he said. “Today, we should remember Abdullah Dahoud, one of the 39 deported from the Church of Nativity. Sadly, he could not be among us today. He died of sorrow over his mother and sister, who passed away without him seeing them for one last time. When he was once asked about his fondest wish, he said, ‘I wish I could read a verse of the Quran next to my mother’s grave.’”

Palestinians consider the United Nations a partner of the Israeli occupation because of its silence. Security Council Resolution 607 “[c]alls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “[s]trongly requests Israel, the occupying power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.”

But in reality, the UN chooses to take no action against Israel’s violations.  We, the Palestinian people, don’t want resolutions, we want action! We want real justice, not just words tossed into the air! 





thank you Shahd Abusalama .I hope to return to Bethlehem and see my Mather and my father only. and I dream to see you in my town Bethlehem and the Israeli occupation got out from our land .

Shahd Abusalama's picture

I felt very proud to write about you dear Fahmi. I hope I visit Bethlehem sometime soon and you can show me around when Palestine is free. Don’t ever lose hope to return or to re-unite with your family. Lots of love for you and your sweet kids. Shahd

Shahd Abusalama

Shahd Abusalama's picture

Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian artist from Gaza and the author of Palestine from My Eyes blog. She is a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University, exploring Palestinian cinema. She can be followed at @shahdabusalama.