When we return to Palestine! – By Dr Salim Nazzal

While as a nation moving towards commemorating the Nakba day each Palestinian has a story about that day. Among the Palestinians in Lebanon in the sixties the tradition was to raise black flags to commemorate the 15th of May and people stay at home to tell new generations what happened to them in 1948.

On the 14th of May teachers used to devote the last two hours to tell pupils about the events of that period and how they lived it. We the pupils of that period would hear many stories of how Zionist terror organizations attacked their villages and pushed them to move on foot until they reach the Lebanese borders. Teachers told us stories about the resistance which the villagers with their limited resources showed to the invading Zionist terror organizations, and also about the tragedy which occurred in various places in Palestine.

There was a particular teacher whose account was particularly vivid. He was perhaps the only teacher who did not only tell of the brutality of the Zionist organizations but was critical of our ways of resisting the Zionist project. He went further and analyzed cultural and social patterns in the Palestinian culture in his efforts to understand what was wrong with us that we lost our homeland. Even though it was not always easy to understand what he said, he was the first teacher who told us not to be satisfied with the current culture which blames the Arab regimes alone for the failure of keeping Palestine. However from him I heard the first time the words that even if we are out of Palestine, Palestine is not out of us – words which I have repeated many times in my life.

Only once was the commemoration of that day totally different from others. One morning our headmaster along with a Lebanese army officer told us that they would take us to see Palestine. The school was electrified at the news. The younger pupils went to the older pupils to hear from them further details about the exiting trip. Our excitement increased when we saw the Lebanese army carriers had arrived to take us to the border area.

As we approached the border we experienced a feeling we had never experienced before as all of us were born outside Palestine. When we reached the furthest point of the border they informed us that we could go few meters inside Palestine. It was the first time I walked on the soil of Palestine, in the Galilee area which I had been told about innumerable times. Just a few kilometers from there lay the village of Bassa and further still the villages and cities of the Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberius, and Safad.
Most of the children began to cry, and one of the teachers who tried to calm down us was also crying. Then the pupils began to collect Palestinian soil to bring back to their families.

Several years later I heard for the first time the idea of marching peacefully towards Palestine. The idea was proposed by one of my acquaintances. Many did not take his idea seriously and down played it. Yet I still remember his enthusiasm when he said we would march to our home – men, woman and kids – and if the Israelis shoot and kill we must continue marching towards our villages. Today the idea is being proposed by some Palestinian politicians. The Israeli media used the term “invasion” in order to associate this with violence. Yet the fact is when Palestinians march towards their villages they are not invading for the simple reason that nobody can invade his home country.

Moreover, the peaceful march towards Palestine is carrying the title of peace and coexistence between Palestinians and Israel, and must open Israeli eyes towards new horizons for peace and coexistence in Palestine. I think the idea is great and deserves to be studied deeply not only as part of commemorating the Nakba day but also as part of the Palestinian strategy to restore the Palestinian rights. It would permit Palestinians to implement UN resolution 149 peacefully; it would help in redefining the conflict in its historical dimension, as a conflict between the native Palestinians and the east European settlers. In recent days when I heard that 100,000 Palestinians in Lebanon will march on the 15th of May towards the border area with Palestine, I remember the time when we returned back and went a few meters into Palestine, yet it was a great moment because it gave us hope that the bell of return will ring one day in Palestine.

Ref: Maan, by Dr. Salim Nazzal

*** Dr. Salim Nazzal is a Palestinian-Norwegian historian on the Middle East, who has written extensively on social and political issues in the region. He can be contacted at: snazzal5@gmail.com

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