A refugee’s open letter to Mahmoud Abbas

A Palestinian refugee in Gaza holds the key to her family’s house from which they were forced, May 2008. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

Dear Mr. President:

My name is Abdelfattah Abdelkarim Hasan Ibrahim Mohamad Ahmed Mostafa Ibrahim Srour Abusrour. I was born in the Aida Refugee camp, on rented land from Palestinian owners from Bethlehem. My two eldest brothers as well as my father and his father and all those who were born before them, originate form Beit Nateef village destroyed on 21 October 1948. My mother was born in Zakareya village, also destroyed in 1948 by the Zionist bandits.

I grew up in the Aida refugee camp. When I was four years old, I remember most of the people in the camp hiding in a cave behind our house. I remember the old people talking about the war. I remember the sky full of planes, and all of the young children covered by black blankets, and cherished by their mothers.

I remember the first curfew after the Israeli occupation in Aida camp in 1968. I remember the first Israeli soldier, who was an old Iraqi Jew of about 60 years old. I remember the day my second brother was invited for an interview by the military occupation administration in 1972, and never returning back to the house. I remember that he was exiled six months later, without any confession, without any judgment or court sentence.

I remember that we were fed the love of this occupied country, because it is ours. I remember the rusty keys of our houses in Beit Nateef, keys for doors that exist no more, but keys that have their doors in our hearts and our imaginations, keys for doors that were real and are now gone, for real houses that were built and are now gone, in which real people lived in and brought up children. These rusty keys are still with me. I remember that we were brought up with the eternal belief that the right of return is the right, and nothing can justify abandoning it. I remember that our right of return to our original villages and homes is eternal, and nothing can change it, neither realities on the ground nor political agreements, because it is not only a collective right, but an individual right. It is my right, Mr. President, and the right of my children and grandchildren, and all those who come after, wherever they are born.

Dear Mr. President:

I remember the death of my mother, on 9 September 2003. She was 75 years old. I remember the death of my father on 26 December 2006. He was 96 years old. My mother and my father were hoping to be buried in their village, where they got married, where they brought up their children, where they irrigated their land with their sweat, blood and tears, where they filled their land with joy, happiness, laughs and whispers.

My parents are buried in the cemetery of Aida camp. My mother’s tomb is next to a military tower, and surrounded by Israeli barbed wire. My mother’s tomb is not accessible, I can’t visit it on a day of feast to recite on her tomb al-Fatiha or a surah from the Holy Quran.

Dear Mr. President:

I was full of hope that after 60 years of occupation, after 60 years of armed and non-armed resistance we could achieve something other than shallow promises. I was full of hope that we will never give up our rights, these rights that are recognized by the whole world, even if the whole world remains complicit with injustice. I was full of hope that nothing can justify giving up such rights, with all the realities on the ground that say otherwise, what heritage are we leaving to our children and the generations to come? Should we say to them: Go to where the wind takes you, never stand up and resist oppression? That it is more important to stay alive even if it is a life of humiliation and non-recognition of belonging to a human race?

Where are you taking us, Mr. President? To what desert are you leading us? To what catastrophe? How dare you decide how many refugees can or cannot return? Who gave you permission to speak in my name, and in my children’s name? Who asked you to barter our rights? What is the price for the sale of an entire people’s rights and their sacrifices for 60 years?

Where UN resolutions talk about the right of return and compensation for the suffering in exile as refugees, for all this exploitation of lands and properties, for all this humiliation and torture that worsens every day, you dare to say that not everybody wants to return? Even if this is the case, they have their right to their homes and lands, whether they want to return or not. They can sell it to others if they want, but it is not up to you to decide. It is not your right or anyone’s to say “those who don’t want to return should be compensated.” Every single refugee must be compensated for these 60 years of Nakba [catastrophe]: those who left or were forced to leave, those who are owners of lands, those who had their fields and oranges and fruit trees. Yes, the oranges of Jaffa were before Israel and they will remain after Israel, if they are not destroyed like the thousand-year-old olive trees were.

You were not elected to give away our rights, to give away the hopes and dreams and rights of a people who are still in refugee camps, living on rented lands and have waited and struggled to return to their original homes and lands for the past 60 years.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, we are living on lies and broken promises of change. Well change comes, but for the worse and not the better. Nothing improves with all these negotiations, Mr. President. Should we undress ourselves and show our nudity so that Ehud Olmert, and the Israeli occupation forces are satisfied that we have nothing to hide?

Yesterday, Israel distributed papers in East Jerusalem using the Holy Quran and the Bible to say that they are fulfilling the promise of God to populate Israel and chase away every non-Jewish person. And we should understand that and help them, by leaving the country because we have so many other countries for us to go to? And then we can live in peace and our children will be happy with their children and things will be great? Is this the next step, Mr. President? Is it because colonies on the ground are expanding, and we can’t force our presence on Israel, that we should be nice so that the whole world will be sympathetic to us, that we must do whatever Israel wants us to do? And then we talk about painful compromises and difficult solutions, we should be the nice ones who make the compromise, who forgive, who forget, who give up, who leave or die because that would solve it all?

Mr. President:

I am not ready to leave. I will never leave, even if it is the only way to earn a living. I will never give up my right to return to my village, even if I have a castle in the UK, and a chateau in France, and chalet at the Red Sea, and property in the Bahamas. My right is mine, and neither you nor anybody else has the right to erase it and exchange it or play with it.

I do hope that you will leave your tower of ignorance to the needs of your people and descend for a moment on the ground and look in the eyes of those who still have a passion for this country, despite the disasters that we have sank into with such futile and fruitless negotiations, while Palestinian blood is shed daily by those with whom you negotiate. Have we no shame to stop such a circus?

I would have loved, Mr. President, that such energy in negotiations be invested among Palestinians who are still in dispute, and because of such stubbornness from you political advisers, it is not you who suffer, but your people. Are we so worthless that we do not deserve your time and energy to stop this circus and unite your people? Is it not enough that we are only considered a humanitarian problem that is worth no more than a sack of flour or a bottle of oil or expired medication? Is it not enough that a whole population has been transformed into beggars, living in poverty and dependent on charity rather than helping them to be productive and maintain their dignity? Isn’t the humiliation of the occupation enough? Must we only wait for greater humiliations to come?

I am full believer in peace and nonviolence. I am a full believer in hope and right and justice. I am a full believer in the values that make humanity what it is. I never learned to hate. I never hated anyone. My parents were full of love and peace. They never taught me or my brothers anything other than respect for others and endless love to give and help others. They taught us that when you practice violence you lose part of your humanity. But at the same time, they taught us to defend what is right and to stand against what is unjust and wrong. Therefore, Mr. President, I dare to say that you have no right, even as President to give up our rights, the rights of two-thirds of your people to return in dignity to their destroyed lands and properties and to be compensated for their suffering and exile, and the seizure of their lands and fields and the stealing of their funds in British banks or other banks by the Zionists.

Mr. President:

I don’t know if you will read these words or not, or if I will be alive if you do. But I do hope that these words, which come from the heart, reach your heart, Mr. President, and that you can find the hope and strength that our people — your people — still have. We do not give up our rights. We will never give up our rights. Peace can be built with justice. Real peace can be built with real justice, anything else is just a joke in the face of history.

My name is Abdelfattah Abdelkarim Hasan Ibrahim Mohamad Ahmed Mostafa Ibrahim Srour Abusrour. I am still a refugee in my own country with two rusty keys to his house.

Abdelfattah Abusrour, PhD is the Director of the Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center, an independent center for artistic, cultural, and theatre training for Palestinian children in the Aida Refugee Camp. The Center provides a “safe” and healthy environment to help Palestinian children creatively discharge stress in the war-time conditions in which they live.