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Taking Flight: Memories of Diaspora
Taking Flight: Memories of Diaspora
[The following is an excerpt from Ramzy Baroud’s forthcoming book: My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. The events are situated in Baroud’s historic home of Beit Daras, one of the nearly 500 Palestinian villages that were completely destroyed by Zionist militias in 1948. Baroud’s father, a very young boy at the time, and his family are fleeing on foot to their new destiny in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where they remain to this day.
Thursday, November 5,2009 16:44
by Ramzy Baroud palestinechronicle.com

[The following is an excerpt from Ramzy Baroud’s forthcoming book: My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. The events are situated in Baroud’s historic home of Beit Daras, one of the nearly 500 Palestinian villages that were completely destroyed by Zionist militias in 1948. Baroud’s father, a very young boy at the time, and his family are fleeing on foot to their new destiny in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where they remain to this day. Gaza was and remains a center stage of the struggle against Israeli occupation, and the ordinary people of the strip are major players that shaped past events and continue to do so to the present day, despite protracted sieges, sanctions, and every other attempt at crushing their resistance and forcing them into submission.]

Spring was one of the most beautiful times of the year in the countryside of Palestine. With everything in full bloom, apricots, almonds, oranges and lemons, the perfume carried itself on the wind for miles. As the villagers embarked on this rite of passage, many captured a long moment to breathe in the fragrance of the fields and orchards, to snatch a large handful of the earth of Beit Daras, wrap it in a small piece of cloth and tuck it away for safe keeping. Deeds and keys were stored safely.

Grandpa Mohammed mounted his faithful donkey with a few of the family’s belongings and young daughter Mariam. Ibrahim was in his mother’s arms. Ahmed walked alongside his father, and my father, Mohammed, barefoot and confused, trotted behind. It was another trail of tears of sorts.

Neither parent had answers to the children’s incessant questions: “where are we going?”

They headed south. That was all they knew. First to Isdud, then to Hamameh, then to Gaza. Everywhere they settled, they were chased with mortars and airplanes and bombs. As the bombardments progressed and more villages were razed, the roads became more and more populated, some people carrying on with a great sense of urgency, others wandering aimlessly and in a daze.

Grandpa Mohammed was a man of faith. He insisted that if the Arabs were to abandon the Palestinians, God would not. Muddied, with bloody feet and empty bellies, the children could hardly argue with their father’s wisdom, even as they passed an occasional body in the middle of the road, or a frantic mother running the opposite direction weeping for her lost children.

“God will take care of us,” Grandpa Mohammed encouraged. Yet, there was no one in sight but fleeing refugees, blown up bodies, starved children, and crying women. “What kept Beit Daras standing for a thousand years can always bring it back,” he insisted. But the many trucks and numerous donkeys walking the dirt road, loaded with whatever families managed to salvage told of another story.

The number of refugees was growing by the hour. In Beit Daras everyone knew everyone. But not anymore. The number of familiar faces was dwindling. Many died. Many fled elsewhere, and those heading to Gaza were now joined by so many new faces, equally pale and teary, from numerous villages that extended beyond the world of Beit Daras.

Mohammed the son was hungry and he was tired. The sun was oppressive and beat down on the back of his neck, trotting behind his mother he stopped under the shade of a tree for just a few moments. It didn’t take long for the boy to regain his strength and he ran ahead to catch up with his family. Meanwhile, Zeinab, couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him, discovered that Mohammed was no longer behind her. She became hysterical, calling his name and running directionless; a deep seeded pain in her belly warned her of losing her boy forever. She asked everyone that passed, “Peace be upon you, have you seen my boy, Mohammed?”, or “For God’s sake, have you seen my son? He is ten years old and he went missing this morning…” But she was one of so many that had become separated from their children. Mothers and fathers would express their commiseration, others would say nothing, but for a short moment they would share a knowing gaze, and then sadly move on. After an eternity had passed that afternoon, Zeinab spotted her son, gently tugging on the sleeve of another mother, repeating the same supplications as Zeinab, “Peace be upon you, have you seen my mother?” In a mix of rage and relief, Zeinab swept Mohammed up into her arms, chastising him while smothering him with kisses. For the rest of the journey, Zeinab would never let anyone fall behind.

Grandpa Mohammed, though he managed to carve a safe route for his family’s future, lost every sense of direction, every element of sanity and control. In a matter of days, he was left with nothing but a donkey and a few old blankets. The family decided to leave the new blankets at home in Beit Daras, for they would be returning soon and didn’t want the new blankets to be dirtied and damaged while they were away. Did Grandpa Mohammed know that Beit Daras was no longer the beloved village he left behind? The houses were blown up, the fields burned. The great mosque was razed with dynamite. The diwans where the mukhtars met to drink coffee with the elders of the village were gone. The elementary school. Al-Massriyyen neighborhood. The small mud-brick home with the dove tower. The citrus orchard that perfumed the village every spring. It was all gone.

Still standing, however, were two giant pillars demarcating where the old mosque once stood. Grandpa Mohammed spent much of his youth, resting against the mosques’ white-washed walls, seeking God’s mercy and blessing. “Allah always comes to the side of the oppressed,” he told his family. Mohammed the son was worried about his school and his one textbook, the shattered hopes of an exciting summer, the friends whom he would never see again.

- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of  PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London), and his forthcoming book is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London), now available for pre-orders on Amazon.com.

tags: Zionists / Palestinian Refugees / Palestine / Israeli Occupation / Israeli Crimes / Diaspora / Human Rights
Posted in Human Rights , Palestine  
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