Malak Hijazi | 30-03-2020
On my first day of school when I was 6, I asked my big sister, Maysun, to read to me the word written on my school wall. It was لاجئات, which means “female refugees.”
But I only understood the meaning when my teacher asked us to memorize the name of our original hometown. It was a shock for me to learn that Gaza isn't where my family was from. Mama told me that we came from a small village named Dayer Sunayed.
"Why did we leave, Mama?" I asked.
"We are refugees; my grandparents and your great-grandparents on your father’s side were forced to leave by the Israeli occupation," Mama answered.
“Oh! I know this word ‘refugee.’ It is written on my school wall," I answered with a laugh.
This is how I came to understand that my school, which had a huge number of students, small classrooms, and old, dirty desks, was only for a specific "category" of people. This was also how I learned what the word “occupation” meant. I had heard the word thousands of times in the news, but it had no meaning for me previously.
My father, who I call Baba, told me that when he was my age, he lived in Gaza’s Jabalia camp, not a house with a garden. When he wanted to play football in the narrow alleys with his friends, the ball they played with was covered with dirt. When he was hungry, he went to a large cafeteria funded by UNRWA where refugees gathered and waited their turn to eat. They had to eat whatever was offered. My dad sometimes didn't like the food, but it often was the only choice. His mother rarely had money to buy food. My dad's grandfather told him that Dayer Sunayed was filled with orchards and fruit trees. And it was famous for its high-quality honey. They never felt hungry when they lived there.
My dad worked hard all his life. When he was only 7 years old, he sold biscuits on the roads shouting, "Buy biscuits filled with chocolate, please." He worked at such a young age because his father had left Gaza to teach in Egypt, then was stuck there when Israel invaded in 1967. Israel assumed control of who receives a Palestinian ID, and because he was out of Gaza he didn’t receive one—and never has. His wife, my grandma, never saw him again; she died several years later. Baba has seen him only once, when he managed to travel to Egypt.
Although my grandfather sent some money to the family, it wasn’t enough. So, when Baba was old enough, he worked in the factories and orchards in Israel—sadly, and so ironically, in his family’s hometown, Dayer Sunayed.
When I was 16 years old, I learned something about my family’s original village. Someone asked me about the village and when I told him I was from Dayer Sunayed, he responded that my great-grandparents “tied up the train.” It was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. When I told my grandmother this story, she laughed and told me it wasn’t true. “Tied up the train” is a phrase that means the people in their village were stubborn; they didn’t want the train to roar through their town so they tied it up.
It was interesting to know there was a railway line in Dayer Sunayed; I have never been on a train my entire life.
Once, a woman who has a similar family name sent a friend request over Facebook to my uncle. She told him she is a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. She had friended everyone with the same family name, trying to find relatives who had been separated during the chaos of the Nakba. This was interesting because my great-grandmother lost track of her son (my mother’s uncle) when they fled Dayer Sunayed. She could never learn anything about what happened to him. There wasn't any way for the refugees to communicate with each other back then. Who knows? Maybe he travelled to Lebanon! Until now, we don't know.
All these thoughts about my home village rushed back to me recently when, while shopping with my mama, I saw a jar of honey labelled "Honey from Yad Mordechai." Yad Mordechai is a settlement built on the land of the Palestinian villages Dayer Sunayed and Hiribya. I wonder if the Israelis who consume this honey care about my father's grandmother, who left her jewellery in the house because she thought she would come back. Do they care about my dad who had to work away his childhood? Do they care about my mother's grandmother, who grieved because she didn't know where her son was? Do they care about me, who has lived my entire life without even visiting my true homeland? Do they care about that woman on Facebook, whose family was dispersed to the winds by the Nakba?
I haven’t bought Israeli goods since I was 10 years old, after one of my friends was murdered in the war. Now, I have many reasons to boycott Israeli products. What about you, dear reader?
Posted: March 30, 2020
Mentor: Catherine Baker