On the 65th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, Mohammed Al Azraq writes from Aida Refugee Camp of his experiences growing up as a refugee in his own land.
Sixty five years passed on the river of blood from the people of Deir Yassin. The Palestinian refugees are still suffering and bleeding from the crimes and massacres of the Nakba, that made us all refugees. We are living an ongoing Nakba that brings Deir Yassin back to our memories every single day and moment. After sixty five years every Palestinian refugee child has Deir Yassin inside them.
Contemplating the memories of my childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp, I was born within multitudes of refugee children, our dreams reflected our situation. I did not feel then, or even now in my life, that there was a great disparity between myself, friends and other children in the camp; we shared the same childhood, we carried the selfsame suffering and fear, which no child should bear. The circumstances we were born into smothered our growth and we experienced fear, it was a childhood far from enjoyment. We did not understand the meaning of the conditions of our lives; everything was unclear but there was one certainty, we inhabited a circle of danger, and we were sure we would bear the suffering and injustice one day. We did not dare to dream of growing older, we wanted to hold onto that time, a time when we did not understand the full meaning of life. The words we heard from our families were tinged with the fear for our adulthood, words we did not fully comprehend. Our mothers would look at us as if we would leave them forever, yet all we dreamed of was playing in the narrow allies of the camp. Playing in the alleys, however, was not an expression of freedom for us; we were always called home, called back from the streets, to go straight home after school. School was only seconds from our homes, our refugee camp is so small, it takes only a few minutes to walk the entire area in which we live. Those days playing in the streets and walking to school, we would hear soldiers, bullets, tear gas, detention and curfew, but as children we did not grasp the gravity of it all.
In that time, we asked so many questions: why this and that, why can we not leave the house; our parents would repeat that all the answers we will find when we grow up and we will understand. From then, we longed for adulthood, we wished to understand, to know the reasons as to why the Israeli army came to our homes in the camp every day, why we suffered from curfews, why we were restricted from moving freely in the camp, why our school was shut for days on end, why we are not allowed to live. In time we grew up from a generation that was always asking questions, to a generation that had to find the answers. Now, with the violence of clarity, we understand the meaning of occupation, and what it means to be Palestinian. As we began to move around our country and surrounding areas, we begin to understand that now it is our turn. We got involved in actions, and the reality came clear: that we have no freedom and our childhood was fake. The only meaning we could extract now was our age and simple dreams of playing and eating sweets. Now, we not only understand the image but we have become the image, we are the targets of the occupation, just as we use to witness the arresting of the young shabab (youth). We felt the responsibility of growing up, jail, martyrs, beatings, injustice and torture. We understand now the fear we used to see in our mother’s eyes. Now we spoke to them, we began to discuss and to think. The thinking grew in our minds and became fear and hope. There is a power inside of us, I do not know where it came from but it kept hope. Yes, the only crime we have is that we were born Palestinian and the Israeli occupation will never allow our future, but, we will extract our own future from their guns and their soldiers.
It became clear that we are not from here; we are from towns and villages and cities around historic Palestine, refugee camps are not our homes. Yes, we know that we cannot move freely or leave, we have to live in areas the occupation force us to reside within, but with all this, it does not kill the enduring dream we had as children: to learn and work, to make a life and future. We lost martyrs, parts of our bodies, we spent years and years in occupation jails; the bullets may destroy some dreams we hold, but until now the occupation has no gun that can kill the hope inside of us. We have the right as human beings to live, the same right all people around the world should hold, we have the right to be free in our homeland, we have the right to be proud of our identity, and we have the right, as the world has, to command attention and for our case and our people to be understood, our right is to ask you not to be silent. Palestinian people have the right to live, Palestinian prisoners have the right to freedom, Palestinian refugees have the right to return, Palestinian children have the right to dream, and Palestine the right to freedom.
I chose the title of the article from the last thing Amer Nassar, a 17 year old boy from Tul Karm, wrote on his facebook account before he was killed along with his friend Naji Al Balbisi (18yrs old and pictured above with Amer) by the Israeli occupation soldiers on the 3rd of April:
“Fire your bullets wherever you want in my body, I die today but tomorrow my homeland will live”
To him and all the martyrs, from Deir Yassin, from before and after until this day until the freedom and return, we will keep the fight.