A bedouin refugee in Gaza yearns for home in Bir al-Saba

Auda al-Urjani

Rami Almeghari

A shack made of aluminum sheets and wood, and a few cows and chickens are all that Suleiman al-Urjani, 45, owns in this world. It is the kind of dwelling that al-Urjani, his father Auda and their families have lived in since 1948 when the family was first displaced by Zionist forces from their original home in what is now Israel.

“This has been my home since my three-room house was destroyed by Israeli forces during the last Israeli war on Gaza in January 2009,” Suleiman told The Electronic Intifada.

“Me, my wife, my son and daughter have been living as refugees, just as my father and grandfather did since they were displaced by Israel from their original town of Bir al-Saba [Beersheba],” Suleiman explained as he served coffee beside the house in al-Shuka, Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, a short distance from the boundary with Israel.

Suleiman al-Urjani’s makeshift shelter.

Rami Almeghari

Suleiman’s father, Auda al-Urjani, lives a few dozen meters away in a similar temporary shelter — an internationally-donated tent — with his wife and a 30-year-old son. But temporary shelter has been the story of Auda’s life.

Born to a Bedouin family, Auda spent his childhood in Bir al-Saba. With the 15 May commemoration of the 1948 Nakba — the expulsion from Palestine — right around the corner, Auda reflected on his own memories.

“At the time of the Nakba, I recall that we marched toward the Sinai peninsula in Egypt. Then, we stayed here in southern Gaza and our house was very modest — made up of mud and palm leaves. Later, we managed to have a better house, until the 1967 War broke out.”

That year, Israel occupied the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“In 1967, we were displaced yet again and we moved here to the al-Shuka area,” Auda said. “Our house was well-built and we stayed in it until it was destroyed in the last war. We are now back to living in a dwelling similar to what we lived in during 1948.”

Auda added that the last Israeli war on Gaza was the fiercest.

“I still have a great hope of returning back to my original town but let me tell you frankly that unless we have the almighty and power, we can never return to Palestine,” Auda said. “Peace can never be achieved without us having enough power in the face of the Israeli enemy; this enemy only wants to see a land that is empty of us. They do not want us, they do not want us,” he repeated angrily.

The elderly Bedouin refugee, who has five other sons in addition to Suleiman, told The Electronic Intifada that he is hoping that his current predicament would come to an end, and that his house at least would be rebuilt.

Suleiman explained that the local Hamas-run authorities put families on a waiting list to have their homes rebuilt. But reconstruction in Gaza has been painfully slow due to the Israeli blockade preventing virtually all building supplies from being imported the territory, although several hundred housing units have been rebuilt or started with the help of Arab humanitarian organizations.

“Frankly speaking, even rebuilding these houses won’t solve the problem radically,” Auda said. “My question is not a question of a home. Rather, I think of my sons and grandsons: for how long this situation will persist? A small and a modest home in Bir al-Saba is the equivalent of a palace in Gaza.”

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.