BURJ AL-BARAJNEH, Lebanon (Reuters) – While Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, Palestinian refugees mourn the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) when they lost their homeland. Often ignored in Middle East peace talks, they cling to a “right of return”.
Alia Shabati was 12 when she fled Jewish attacks on her village of Kabri, captured a few days after Israel’s creation.
Now a matron of 72, wearing a flowery blue dress and white headscarf, her memories of Kabri in today’s northern Israel are vividly intact, unlike the village, which was wiped off the map.
“We had houses and land,” Shabati said in the living room of her modest dwelling in the alleys of Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp. “We had olives, grapes, prickly pears and dates. We had orchards and fields. Now what do we have? Nothing.”
Her life story encapsulates the bitterness of dispossession and exile familiar to about 4.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in squalid camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the occupied West Bank and Gaza, or in a wider diaspora.
For Shabati, who has lost three of her 11 children, her tale is unique. “What I tasted, no one has tasted,” she said.
Her father was killed by British forces during a Palestinian revolt in 1936, shortly after she was born.
Twelve years later, she fled Kabri with her mother, brother and grandmother, along with other women and children, after an attack by Jewish Haganah forces. Her uncle and several other relatives who stayed behind were among those killed.