Right of return still central to young, Palestinian diaspora
I am a first-generation Palestinian American, the daughter of a Palestinian refugee who was displaced in 1948, along with 750,000 of his fellow Palestinians when the modern state of Israel was carved out of Palestine by the same western nations that divided the “Middle East” up between them after World War I. My father and I often talk about returning to Palestine.
Our forefathers helped build the village of Bisan, where my father was born. He lived in a house that he watched his mother build, a home for which we still hold the land deeds and house keys. During the Nakba, my father and his parents and siblings were forced to leave their home and find refuge in the city of Jenin, near the northern border of the West Bank. Sixty-seven years and three generations later, now oceans away from a homeland still occupied, my right of return to Bisan is still a dream.
The right of return often gets lost in discussions on Palestine and Israel, and in the potential solutions to the problems created by the displacement that occurred in 1948. Within Palestinian circles, the right of return has become a mere campaign slogan. The reality of the situation is so grim that any actionable political moves that might, eventually, lead to a return are brushed off as futile. Despite this, the right of return remains central to the Palestinian narrative and to millions of Palestinians, whether they are living in camps within the West Bank or in campus dorm rooms in the United States.
To “go back” to Palestine is very different than to “return” to Palestine. We may go back to a small part of Palestine, but it is not until we return to our ancestral lands and homes that we will ultimately find our liberation. Often, I am asked what significance Bisan has to me—why I would concern myself with a land that I’ve never been allowed to see or set foot on? Bisan is the heart of Palestine for me because it is there that I trace my lineage. It is a land that was ethnically cleansed, stolen from my father and forever scarred by the catastrophe of 1948.
Now a 73-year-old man, my father tells me that he remembers, vividly, the day they were forced out of Bisan. He can see it clearly, as if he were standing there now. It is a memory that haunts him. Yet every day he embraces it, just so that he can once again see the place of his birth and upbringing, even if just for a moment. “Of course, 1948 shaped everything about my life and about my parents’ and siblings’ lives as well. We live 1948 everyday,” he once told me.
Palestinian refugees have the internationally guaranteed human right to return home. For a young Palestinian like myself, this is not a baseless or empty guarantee. It is a demand that I will never relinquish. It is a demand I will pass to my future children and that I will teach my nieces and nephews. The right of return is what fuels my energy to continue fighting for Palestine, even if I must fight from the far side of the world.
Our right to this land is not solely found in land deeds, gripped tightly to this day; nor is it found solely in the United Nations resolution that grants us a right of return. As indigenous inhabitants of historic Palestine, our right to the place that was stolen from us comes from our direct and undeniable connection to this land. It is a connection that military occupation, colonialism and time will only ever fail to change.