A year and a half ago I visited a Palestinian refugee camp that has been in Beirut since 1948. I spent some time with a retired medical doctor named Muhammad who has lived there since 1950 when he arrived as a six-month-old. He told me this story:
My earliest memory is from when I was four years old. I had three Lebanese friends and we played together every day. One day near dinnertime, one friend stood up and announced “I am going to my land.,” and left. Then, my second friend also announced “I am going to my land” and left. After a while, my third friend stood and said “I am going to my land.” He left also. I was sad.
I went to my mother, and she asked “Why are you so sad.” I replied, “Because I have no land.” My mother began to cry. “You do have a land. It is in a place called Palestine. You have land to farm and even a beautiful house there.” I became happy and began pulling on her hand,, crying “Let us go there. Let us go to our land in Palestine.” My mother stopped me. “You cannot go there.” I didn’t understand. “Why cannot I go to my land?” I asked.
“If you go home to Palestine, they will kill you,” my mother warned.
I continued to beg my mother to take me to Palestine, to my house and my land. She became afraid that I would run off on my own, so she spoke with my father. My father sat me down. “If you go to Palestine now, they will kill you,” he said. “But, if you study and work very hard, one day you will be able to return to your land.”
My friend Mohammad went on to study and spent many years as a medical doctor. He takes pride in his “museum,” a small storage unit filled with items brought by families from Palestine in 1948, which he uses to remind the rare visitor of how Palestinians lived before being relocted to the camps. He is now in his late 60’s, though he looks much older.
Mohammad has never seen his land.