As an organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Al-Haq commemorates the 65th anniversary of the Nakba. Six decades have passed since the 1948 conflict, which saw the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, the forcible transfer of some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of over 530 Palestinian villages all at the hands of the Israeli military.
Currently, seven million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars are scattered around the world. The right of return to their land and villages has been consistently disregarded by Israel and misrepresented as a political claim, rather than one grounded in international law, which unequivocally awards those displaced by a conflict the right of return. Furthermore, the United Nations Security Council explicitly recognised Palestinian refugees’ right of return in its Resolutions 194 of 1948 and 237 of 1967.
Shadi Ahmad Al-Assi, Tahseen Mohammad Elayyan and Husam Sa’id Madhoun are second generation Palestinian refugees whose lives have been deeply influenced by the events of 1948. Tahseen and Sa’id are from the refugee camps of Jalazoun and Dheisheh respectively, while Husam was born and raised in Vienna. Despite their different stories, they firmly claim that Palestinian refugees’ right of return must be acknowledged.
Sa’id, Tahseen and Husam consider the Nakba not as a distinct event in the history of Palestine, but rather as the starting point of the Israeli strategy to expel Palestinians from their homes and appropriate their land. During the 1948 conflict itself this was achieved through the means of force but nowadays Israel, the Occupying Power in the OPT, employs alternative methods to forcibly transfer the Palestinian population. As monitored on a weekly basis by Al-Haq, house demolitions, the destruction of infrastructure, including water installations, and the confiscation of private property by the Israeli authorities are amongst Israel’s illegal practices that are, slowly but relentlessly, rendering the lives of Palestinians unbearable and preventing them from exercising their right to self-determination.
Husam Sa’id Madhoun – Vienna – Austria
Before 1948, Husam’s family used to live in Yaffa and run a business trading in citrus fruit in Lebanon and Syria. During the 1948 war, Husam’s parents, Hind Mohammad al-Madhoun, who was one year old at the time, and Sa’id Khalil al-Madhoun, who was nine years old at that time, were taken to Beirut, Lebanon. In 1975, their families had to flee a second time due to the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war and subsequently resettled in Vienna, Austria.
Husam, 31, stresses that although he was born and raised in Vienna he identifies himself as a Palestinian refugee and asserts that Palestinian culture was present in his daily life and in the stories of his family while he was growing up. Between 2004 and 2007, Husam lived in Ramallah where he worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Throughout his stay in Palestine, Husam realised the difference between the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict abroad and the actual living conditions and struggle of the Palestinian people in the OPT. Husam asserts that the Nakba should not be considered as a single event, but as the “beginning of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people,” which continue to be perpetrated to the present day.
Shadi Ahmad Al-Assi – Dheisheh Refugee Camp – Bethlehem
The Al-Assi family was named after Shadi’s grandfather, ‘Abd-Allah Faratta, who refused to leave the village of ‘Ajjur – in the historic Hebron district – when the Israeli soldiers ordered the residents to evacuate in 1948. Shadi’s grandfather was the only resident who remained in ‘Ajjour when the Israeli soldiers entered the village and was subsequently killed in his home. It was in light of this tragic episode that he was named ‘Al-Assi’, which means ‘the one who does the opposite.’
After the death of ’Abd-Allah Al-Assi, Shadi’s parents, along with their daughter and two sons, left their home and their 500 dunums of land (approximately 500 square kilometres) to seek refuge in al-Khader village, Bethlehem governorate. Six months later, the Al-Assi family moved to the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. Shadi Ahmad Al-Assi, 31, was born and raised in the refugee camp and views the Nakba as an event that deprived Palestinians not only of their land but also of their cultural heritage. Dispossessed of their livelihood, properties and expelled from their villages, Palestinians who relocated to refugee camps lost touch with traditions related to rural life. For this reason, Shadi started an initiative allowing refugees the space and opportunity to talk about their lives prior to 1948 and to convey their personal experience of the Nakba. His intention was to provide the individuals involved with the opportunity to maintain a link to their roots and to voice their current struggle as refugees.
To this end, Shadi began organising tours in Dheisheh refugee camp for groups of foreign tourists. In the past ten years there has been increasing interest in these tours, which has consequently encouraged Sa’id and some of his Palestinian friends to launch the ‘Bethlehem Gate Project for Alternative Tourism’ in 2010. The project currently organises a number of guided tours in Dheisheh refugee camp as well as in the towns of Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus.
Tahseen Mohammad Elayyan – Jifna village – Ramallah Governorate
In May 1948, as a result of the Israeli military campaign carried out in the villages around Lyyd – today known as the Israeli town of Lod – Tahseen’s parents were forced to leave their village, Bir Nabala, six months after their wedding. After first fleeing to Jericho, the couple relocated to the UNWRA Jalazoun refugee camp, a few kilometres north of Ramallah. Tahseen and his four siblings were born in the refugee camp.
Tahseen recalls the difficult living conditions endured in the camp during the ‘70s and ’80s. At that time, the Jalazoun camp lacked basic services, such as access to water and electricity. In addition, the camp was the theatre of frequent Israeli military raids; on several occasions, the Israeli army also cut the electricity as a form of punishment. The Jalazoun camp currently hosts more than 11,000 registered UNRWA refugees in an area of 0.25 square kilometres, making it extremely overcrowded. Additionally, it still lacks a sewage system. Tahseen stresses how the difficult living conditions in the refugee camp and the tragedy of the Nakba deeply shaped the consciousness and identity of Palestinian refugees. In particular, education played a fundamental role in this process. In Tahseen’s view, education was a vital instrument for providing Palestinian refugees with the knowledge to demand the rights they are entitled to.
With respect to David Ben Gurion’s statement in 1968, “We must do everything to insure they never do return. The old will die and the young will forget,” Tahseen asserted that the new generation will not allow the Nakba to slip into oblivion, “I am a refugee of the second generation, but I will not forget.” In addition, he emphasized “we (Palestinian refugees) will not give up our right of return.”
The ongoing Nakba will continue until the Palestinian refugees’ right of return is acknowledged and the Palestinian people are allowed to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
 David Ben-Gurion, in reference to Palestinians displaced by Israel, quoted in Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben Gurion, The Armed Prophet (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1968), p.157.