Amena El-Ashkar (L) and Khawla Hammad (Umm Mousa) (R)
Khawla Hammad (Umm Mousa) has been a stateless refugee in Lebanon for 69 years. At the age of sixteen, she was expelled from her village of Kabri, in Palestine. Now she is 85 years old, and and still a refugee in Lebanon, with no citizenship in any country at all. Israel expelled most of the population in 1948, and has prevented them from returning to their homes. Kabri and hundreds of other towns and villages were leveled to the ground, a crime that Palestinians call al-Nakba (the Catastrophe).
But Israel did not stop there. It repeatedly attacked Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, killing three of Khawla’s children among many others. Before the Nakba, Khawla’s father also lost his life as a Palestinian freedom fighter. Khawla has a message that she wants to bring to North America.
Amena El-Ashkar, 23, is a Palestinian journalist and translator. the granddaughter and great granddaughter of Nakba survivors and has known no home other than a refugee camp.
Umm Mousa and Amena have a different message from other Palestinians. They are among six million Palestinians not living in Palestine – more than those who are. They are citizens of no government at all, not even the Palestinian Authority. They are not living under Israeli occupation. Israel does not allow them to visit their homes, much less live there. As exiles, they have a different perspective from Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the part of Palestine that became Israel.
Last year, during the 2016 North America Nakba Tour, Amena was joined by Mariam Fathallah, 86, another Palestinian survivor of the Nakba, who covered 12,000 miles in two months to speak at 26 venues.
Mariam, known respectfully as Umm Akram, was 18 years old when she was expelled from the village of al-Zeeb. On May 14, 1948, as Zionist leader David Ben Gurion was proclaiming a Jewish state in Palestine, his heavily armed troops seized the ancient Palestinian Arab town of al-Zeeb and drove out most of the inhabitants, including Umm Akram. She and her young husband Mohammed Atayah and their families were forced to flee to Lebanon, along with most of the town. By the end of the year, the 4,000 year old community had been leveled to the ground. Mariam, now 86 years old, has spent the last 68 years in crowded, makeshift refugee camps in Lebanon. She has raised three generations in the same camps, all waiting to return to their home in Palestine. She has lived through five Israeli invasions of Lebanon, as well as the 1976 Tel al-Zaatar camp massacre that killed more than 2000 of the refugees there.