For more than 66 years, Palestinian refugees have been languishing in squalid conditions across camps in the Middle East. But do all of them agree that a return to Palestine is necessarily the best solution? Through her extensive research, Paula Schmitt finds that while different refugees may have different desires, hopelessness remains everyone’s worst enemy.
By Paula Schmitt
There’s something almost cruel about asking a Palestinian refugee whether he would accept living peacefully with Israel were he ever allowed to return. It feels like a sadistic exercise: treat a man like a lesser human, deny him a country, a house, a profession, keep him confined for years and once he is released expect him to stand up, dust the humiliation off his clothes and shake hands with his captor.
The Palestinian refugees I spoke to are not willing to shake hands with their captors – at least not if another Palestinian is watching. Pride is the last thing they still own, the tenacity typical of those who have nothing to lose on one hand, and no hope of gaining anything on the other. But what I learned once the conversations became private is that many of those refugees would just like to live in peace with dignity, and for that they are willing to give a pardon that has never been asked of them. In fact, pressured with a thousand hypotheses of restitution, acknowledgement of guilt and requests for forgiveness, almost every Palestinian I spoke to is ready to shake that proverbial hand and finally start a life that has been kept suspended ever since they were born.
Poster-children of their tragedy
“If there’s peace, I’m the first person ready to go back,” says 75-year-old Adnan Abu-Dhubah, his determination looking unsteady on the wooden stick he uses for a cane. There is no handle on the stick, and with the weight of his body his palm is branded with a square wound. Mr. Abu-Dhubah has known little else than life in a camp. He is one of 30,000 refugees in the Gaza camp in Jerash, Jordan, living in squalid conditions,...Read More