I was born in a village called Deir Tarif. My father owned camels he used to carry goods from place to place.

I was one or two months old when the Nakba happened. The villages in our area were getting attacked, one after the other, and the whole area was besieged and left with scarce food supplies. My parents went to get food from the nearest town and left me in the care of my brother and sister. My brother, at 15, was the oldest at the time. But our parents couldn’t come back because the road to our village was blocked and the Zionists were getting closer to our village.

The village mayor then gathered all the children in a big truck and drove us to a village called Shuqba. We stayed there for a while. Adults were taking care of children without parents. I was breastfed by different women with infants. We lost many on the way. My uncle and his newly engaged daughter were shot for no reason. There were corpses lying in the streets, and it was difficult to give them all a proper burial. Only the women and girls were being buried. My cousin’s corpse had to be retrieved at great risk at night.

Our parents found us after searching for days. We moved to different villages seeking food and shelter. We went to Qibya then to Kafr Thulth, then we moved to Deir Ammar.

My family went to Jordan afterwards and stayed near Wadi al-Seer in tents. Then we moved to the Wihdat camp around 1955. There were seven of us and we had to all sleep in one room. We couldn’t afford a metal roof so we covered our dwelling with a big cloth.

All my memories are from the camp. I consider it home but I will never give up my right of return. People at the camp live a hard life and suffer a lot but that also creates deep solidarity in our society. I try to be as active as I can in political and cultural activities in the camp. I joined the Arab nationalist movement in 1962 and later the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. I used to host secret political meetings at my house.

I miss those days, people were more dedicated and loyal to their cause.

My son Ali went to study in Beirut. When the Israeli invasion happened, I called him and I told him he had no choice but to fight and defend Beirut. I was always worried about him but I was also equally worried about all the fighters who were defending Beirut.

Return will happen one day. The poor and the rich, the homeless and people in mansions and all different people will be able to go back. The right of return is sacred. And if I don’t live to return, you will return, my son. And if you don’t return, your children will eventually return.

Kathryn ShihadahComment