From Honduras to New Zealand
What does it mean to be a Palestinian today?

Zaina Bseiso

Place of current residence: Dubai, UAE

Born in: Jeddah, KSA, 1991

Originally from: Gaza City

"Originally Palestinian." That is how I often describe myself. I am definitely proud of my heritage, but not in the most common, nationalistic way. Instead, to me, being Palestinian means being born, raised and moved across a number of countries, a process that inevitably touches and shapes who you are.

My own Palestinian identity is affected by the undeniable fact that moving around so often can turn a sense loyalty or adherence to one culture into an abstract and unattainable concept. You become fragmented, unable to piece yourself together into a coherent whole, and unable to satisfy a craving for a strongly rooted, independent identity. And it is difficult to accept that you can have your own unique identity, unassociated with a flag or a specific set of norms.

Q:How many refugees are there?

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A: The total Palestinian population is about 12.4 million people, according to Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics data from 2015. Of that, about half - 6.2 million people - live in historic Palestine (between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea).

But once I accepted all my fragments, the truth became a set of intertwined perspectives. I built a more profound outlook on life and its questions, which then channelled itself into my identity as a filmmaker and a human being, above all else.

Still, when I listen to my father's and uncles' stories about the beach in Gaza, their aunts' houses and their close-knit community, I start to feel an unhappy, tingling sensation in my heart. It's a longing, and a never-ending set of "What ifs?" tugs at me.

Q:How many Palestinians are in the diaspora?

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A: There are 6.2 million Palestinians in the diaspora, according to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics.

What if our family home remained as it was? What if my cousins and I grew up on the same street, as opposed to halfway across the world from one another? Would we be closer? Would we stay close? We always speak of the right of return, but would we really go back?

Perhaps we're clinging to what we cannot have, out of the mere deprivation. Then again, we have been robbed of our basic right to be nostalgic, among other things. When others speak of the beauty of their hometowns, we can only speak of the foreign land that, out of gratitude and circumstance, we still call home.

Mohammed Alhammami

Place of current residence: Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Gaza

Born in: Gaza, occupied Palestinian territories, 1993

Originally from: Yaffa

When I was young, my grandfather used to tell me about his old home in Yaffa; of his garden, of his olives and orange groves. He used to reminisce about Palestine before the Nakba, with such a heartbreaking smile. I always prayed he would get the chance to go back to his home, but he died without fulfilling his dream.

Q:What is the right of return?

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A: The Right of Return refers to Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were displaced in 1948.
Source: American Friends Service Committee

Before his death, he taught me his most valuable lesson: that Yaffa is not only his home, but it is also mine. As I got older, I believed that when I would miss home, I would remember Yaffa and my grandfather's stories of our home there. But that was not the case.

I was 15 when I left Gaza for the first time, going to the United States as an exchange student. Homesickness was a central theme of the experience. Whenever I felt homesick, it wasn't my grandfather's stories I remembered, nor the images he created for me of our home in Yaffa.

Q:What kind of citizenship do Palestinians have?

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A: Palestinians live under various legal regimes depending on where they reside. In the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority (PA) provides Palestinians with passports or travel documents. PA passports are not issued to Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. Many travel on Jordanian passports, which are travel documents since they do not have Jordanian “national numbers”.

What I remembered was my refugee camp, its narrow streets, and its houses piled on top of each other. I remembered my family, and the memories I had with them inside our small home. I remembered my mother's food, the smell and the taste of her cooking. I remembered my very own experiences as a child, rather than my grandfather's.

So what does Palestine mean to me? Is it Yaffa and my grandfather's stories, hopes, and dreams? Or it is the refugee camp with the smiles and the tears it causes? To be a Palestinian means to be hopelessly stuck between those two narratives.

Zarefah Baroud

Current place of residence: Seattle, USA

Born in: Seattle, USA, 1998

Originally from: Gaza Strip

My roots are like a distant memory: so real I can envision them, but I can't recall all their intricate details.

Yet they remain in my soul and at the core of my being; after all, I was born with them. I was born into the Palestinian struggle, like I was born with my almond eyes and olive skin, or born with my surname, Baroud, Arabic for "gunpowder".

Q:Where is Palestine?

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A: Historical Palestine is located on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the place historically known as Palestine has been usurped mostly by modern Israel, which constitutes nearly 78 percent of the total area. The remaining 22 percent are the occupied Palestinian territories: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Source: Palestine Remix

My roots are haunting, like the voice of my father as he talked about my grandmother, Zarefah. I can taste my grandfather Muhammad's cigarettes, and smell the smoke from his gun, and the rosewater that perfumed his tea.

My roots run deep, far deeper than the olive trees of Ramallah, and far stronger than the walls that currently consume my homeland. Don't be mistaken: my blood, though physically disconnected from Palestine by one generation, still runs through the streets of Gaza. My hands are rough and callused from throwing stones, and my wrists are raw from their apartheid shackles.

The historical context of my very identity is the same context that pulls me to the streets in a show of solidarity with my Black, Latinx, and Muslim brothers and sisters. It is the same solidarity that brings tears to my eyes when I hear the verses of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish or hear the words of Malcolm X.

Q:What is Palestine’s religious makeup?

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A: Palestine is home to all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Thinking of home is the aroma of pita bread being prepared right before fajr (dawn prayer), and hearing Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) echoing through the dusty streets of Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, where my father was born and raised, as the sun is just beginning to make her appearance.

My stones are my words, my stones are my voice, my stones are my fists raised in the air against murderous and monstrous police in the United States - who are trained by the murderous and monstrous soldiers of Israel - and against the same wall builders constructing racist, man-made borders in Palestine and Latin America.

I am not diaspora. I am gunpowder. I am stones. I am olive trees whose roots run deep; like them, I cannot be uprooted. I am still Palestine.

Yacoub Alatrash

Place of current residence: Seattle, USA

Born in: Beit Sahour, outskirts of Bethlehem, 1990

Originally from: Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem

Palestinians who live in Palestine may hold the least romantic view of their homeland.

For them, Palestine is a reality that they live on a daily basis, rather than the unattained utopia that many dream about, or hear of from their grandparents. Having grown up in the occupied West Bank, Palestine is not a romantic or dreamy homeland to me, but rather my real home.

It is the place where my parents live, where my mother makes amazing maqlooba, where hummus is a public obsession, where I have friends and memories from childhood, and where I experienced the area's political reality in all its forms, from checkpoints and Jewish settlements to the Second Intifada and the siege of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.

Q:Why is Church of the Nativity important to Palestinian Christians?

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A: The Church of the Nativity stands above a cave where it is believed Jesus was born. It is one of the holiest sites in Christianity.

In my view, that is the main difference between what it means to grow up as a Palestinian inside Palestine, and being a Palestinian in the diaspora. The perception of the place is very different.

My Christian identity has also played an important part in my upbringing, and it influences who I am today. It is partly why I always talk about my hometown, Beit Sahour, which is one of the very few towns left in Palestine with a Christian majority.

Q:Do Palestinian Christians and Muslims oppose each other?

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A: Christian Palestinians have been victims of the Zionist enterprise as much as their Muslim compatriots. Their holy sites have been vandalised and destroyed. The Head of the PLO Department of the Christian World, Father Manuel Musallam, says Christians should not visit Jerusalem under Israeli protection.

Thus, my hometown is a strong reflection of the fact that, even though we are few, minorities do exist in Palestine and we are successful. It is also a nice way to show the world that coexistence is truly possible.

Nadia Abu Shanab

Place of current residence: Wellington, Aotearoa, New Zealand

Born in: Leeds, UK, 1989

Originally from: Al Shuyūkh, Hebron

My dad's life sprung from Palestinian soil - literally: my grandmother gave birth to him in a cave during the annual harvest of our family's land, northeast of Hebron in the West Bank.

Some 58 years later, I live with my dad in Aotearoa, New Zealand. About 10,000 miles away, our family struggles tirelessly against settler violence, and for access to the land where my dad was born and where previous generations of our family were sustained.

Despite the distance, the land my dad came from flows through him. As a young adult, he joined millions of others in exile. In every corner of the world, generations of Palestinians not physically born on the land are still raised as its children. In the diaspora, parents are the soil that nurtures the proliferation of the Palestinian struggle and its aspiration.

Q:How can the Palestinian narrative be reclaimed and promoted globally?

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A: The Palestinian narrative can be reclaimed through individuals telling the human story of Palestine: spend more time discussing humanitarian issues and life stories, rather than focusing on political polemics and name-calling.

My grandparents were "fellahin", Palestinian peasants. They were full of knowledge on how to cultivate land, but they had not attended formal schools and were illiterate. My dad, meanwhile, grew up to become a physicist. He has won awards and accolades for his extraordinary teachings in science, but he told me at my wedding that fatherhood has been his life's proudest work.

Fatherhood is teaching, too. My dad was my first teacher and he has dedicated 27 years to weaving my understanding of Palestine together with the many strands of our cultural identity: poetry, folklore, politics, food, literature, humour, frustration and hope.

Q:Why is the Palestinian struggle a global campaign?

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A: The Palestinian struggle is not a struggle between Israelis and Palestinians; if it were, it would have been resolved a long time ago. It is an international struggle for many reasons, including the role of Britain (the Balfour Declaration) and the UN (1947 partition plan) in supporting the creation of a Jewish state on Palestinian lands.

In revealing Palestine to me, he, in turn, exposed me to the contradictions of our beautiful, yet unjust world. Throughout history, powerful aggressors have blamed their victims for their own oppression, he told me. From a young age, I was versed in the brutality of racism, dehumanisation and militarism. Inversely, I was taught that solidarity and resistance were necessary antidotes. Television news in our home was always accompanied by a running commentary, with him passionately denouncing imperialists or cheering on liberation movements.

With his life's work, he has instilled in me a commitment to Palestine and a commitment to struggling against oppression everywhere, a commitment which honours his parents, and a commitment that will flow through me to my children. This is what being Palestinian means to me.

Salma Rashdan

Current place of residence: Burj al-Shemali, Lebanon

Born in: Damascus, Syria, 1993

Originally from: Lubia, Tabariya

Being a Palestinian often means living through an unusual and illogical reality that is imposed on us. That is why I'll choose to start my story not from the beginning, but from the end.

As a young, Palestinian woman, refugee camps represent something very personal to me, rather than merely a public concern. I'm willing to give everything I have to see the life of a refugee become easier. I have tolerated, and still do, a large number of difficulties in a society that is politically, economically and socially unstable, and I have tried to challenge the rules and restrictions in order to stabilise this society.

Q:What happened to Palestinians when the state of Israel was created?

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A: Zionist gangs expelled about 805,000 Palestinian civilians from their towns and villages in 1948. Three-quarters of the Palestinian population was expelled, and 531 villages were depopulated and destroyed.
Three main Zionist groups carried out the ethnic cleansing: the Haganah, which dates back to the late 19th century, the Irgun Zvei Leumi and the Stern Gang.
The expulsion was laid out in Israel’s strategy, “Plan Dalet”.

I hold no legal status in Lebanon, my latest "location" as a refugee, and I'm both considered and registered as a displaced person. I see myself as a Palestinian with a right to return to my homeland, Palestine, to which I've been spiritually, mentally, and physically attached for as long as I can remember. But I'm always worried about what will happen, or where I will go next, knowing that Lebanon is definitely not my last destination.

My family is originally from the village of Lubya, near Tiberias in northern Palestine. But I was born and raised in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, the Syrian capital. The camp was the first point at which I solidified my relationship to Palestine, and I spent 19 years there before we had to flee the Syrian war in 2012. The war destroyed 19 years of beautiful memories and big dreams.

I know it may sound strange, but Yarmouk refugee camp means nothing to me. My personal identity is not defined by geographical locations, and all I care about are the rights of the Palestinian people, wherever they are. In that sense, the fate of 500,000 refugees in Yarmouk — the displacement and loss they have suffered — matters more than my own sense of personal loss.

Q:Will Palestinians’ homes and land be returned to them?

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A: Under United Nations Resolution 194, Palestinians are entitled to return to their homes and villages from which they were expelled.
The resolution describes three aspects of the right of return: repatriation, restitution of property and compensation for the losses incurred from Palestinians’ inability to use their property, and the psychological suffering they experienced.
General Assembly Resolution 3236 also describes the right of return as “inalienable”.

We eventually fled to Lebanon, and I came to Burj al-Shamali refugee camp in the southern part of the country. Here, my dreams have become even harder to pursue. Being a refugee in Lebanon is harsher than in Syria; I can feel more injustice against refugees here. But my relationship to my Palestinian identity has deepened.

I'm a social worker, and I work as an educational projects coordinator at American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), a non-profit, humanitarian aid organisation in Tyre. I'm also a member of the Palestinian Youth Network in Lebanon, a member of the Diyarouna association, which promotes youth volunteerism, and a reporter with Qalam Rasas, a magazine that focuses on life in the refugee camps.

Some Palestinian refugees use their experiences as a weapon to fight their displacement and their enemy. The war today is a war of existence, after all: "to be or not to be". This is what pushes me to fight for any "temporary" Palestinian society, and help communities withstand challenges until their right of return to Palestine is realised.

As a Palestinian refugee, I leave many memories behind every time I leave a place, but I have never lost, and I will never lose, my Palestinian identity or my total faith in the righteousness of the Palestinian cause. It is my cause and the cause of every single Palestinian in this world.

Yousef Aljamal

Place of current residence: Sakarya , Turkey

Born in: Gaza City, occupied Palestinian territories, 1989

Originally from: Aqir village, outskirts of Ramle

Palestine to me has always held a metaphorical meaning.

While I grew up in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Palestine hid behind walls and checkpoints. Palestine has always meant the village of Aqir, which my grandparents were forced to leave in 1948. It is a place my feet have never tread upon, thanks to the numerous Israeli checkpoints and crossings that made moving between Palestinian towns and villages an impossible task, especially for young Palestinians.

Q:What is the separation wall and how long is it? How high is it?

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A: The separation wall is a concrete wall built deep inside the Palestinian territories and encircling a number of Jewish settlements. It is eight feet tall in most places.

The last time I was able to move between Gaza and Palestinian cities in the West Bank was about 17 years ago, when my mother would take me to the West Bank in the summer to visit her family.

Israeli-controlled checkpoints would later hinder my mother's connection to her family in the West Bank, where she was born and raised for nearly 12 years, but for which she now needed a permit to visit.

Checkpoints have divided the two territories. They have also made accessing medical care - a right enjoyed by people all over the world - yet another impossible task for my sister. Israel denied her a permit in 2007 to undergo minor surgery in Jerusalem, after labelling her a security threat. Without treatment, Israel caused her death, at the age of only 26.

Q:What does it mean that Gaza is under siege?

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A: Both Egypt in the south and Israel in the north tightly control the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. As a result, the strip has been under an economic and human blockade since June 2006.

In 2014, while Gaza was living through yet another Israeli massacre, I watched helplessly from Jordan. I was there on a family visit, having successfully challenged Israel's checkpoint system to get to see relatives in the West Bank for the first time in about 12 years. I brought my cousin to the Palestine-Jordan border, as he was on his way back to Bethlehem in the West Bank. Meanwhile, I gazed at the mountains of Palestine, which appeared on the horizon, as I received the news that my friend, Ayman Shokor, was killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza.

I was prevented from bidding him a final farewell by yet another checkpoint standing in my way.

Maphaz Yousef

Current place of residence: New Delhi, India

Born in: Missouri, USA, 1990

Originally from: Hulayqat village, sub-district of Gaza City

From a very early age, I used to join my grandmother on a journey through her memories. In our imaginations, we would travel to her lost land, that land of calm and spirituality, drawing joy from the ambience, and chuckling.

My grandmother is no more, but she left behind a strong mark on our minds. We felt euphoric when we imagined playing among the olive and orange trees of her family's land, and we never lost hope that we would one day reclaim that garden.

My grandmother used to tell me that while Israel is stopping us from physically returning our land, it cannot control our memories. She was right. I can visit Palestine in my thoughts whenever I want. I walk on our land, pray in Jerusalem, and touch and feel the soil beneath my feet. The walls of my grandmother's home speak to me, and I visit my late sister's grave.

Q:Why is the Al-Aqsa mosque important to Palestinian Muslims?

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A: Al-Aqsa Mosque is important to Muslims because it represented the first Muslim “qibla”, the direction to which prayers must be made. This was later changed to Mecca during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Today, the mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

My sister, Shiraz, got married in al-Khalil (Hebron) in the West Bank just before the Second Intifada. The day of her marriage was also the day that separated us. We have only seen her once in 17 years. Shiraz was not allowed to visit the Gaza Strip and we were not allowed to visit her in al-Khalil. Even when, through death, she got her freedom from the Israeli occupation, the Israelis refused to give my mother a permit to attend her daughter's funeral. While both my grandmother and sister are gone, I often hear their souls encouraging me: "Maphaz, my dear, do not give up," they will say. "Keep fighting for your rights."

Whenever I used to miss my grandma, I would smell the traditional, Palestinian dress that she left behind, and I wished to one day wear it to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Once, before her death, my grandma told me to do her a favour if she were to die before returning to our land. She said: "If you ever have a chance to visit, bring some sand from [Palestine] and spread it over my grave. I will be happy to smell it." I laughed. "But you will be in your grave, how will you smell it?" I asked. She calmly replied, "Maphaz, the soul never dies, my love."

Q:Do Palestinians living in the West Bank have access to Occupied East Jerusalem?

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A: Before the Oslo Accords of 1993, Palestinians had general access to Jerusalem. But after 1993, and especially after a series of violent acts of resistance were carried out against Israelis, permanent checkpoints were erected. They forced every Palestinian wishing to enter East Jerusalem or Israel to obtain permission from the Israeli army.

Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once said, "the old will die, and the young will forget", expecting future generations of Palestinians to give up their inalienable rights. He turned out to be wrong, and his dream remains unrealised.

Our elders may die, but not without passing on the love and memories of their homes and lands in Palestine to their children, and to their children's children. We grow up with the belief that one day we will live in our ancestors' homes and that we are entitled to the "right of return" to our lands, which are now occupied by colonialists. This right means everything to us.

My grandmother once told me that her only wish in life was to kiss the sand of her homeland one last time. "If I die, I wish to be buried in it," she said. I continue to see our struggle through my grandmother's eyes.

Hind AbuRamadan

Current place of residence: Barcelona, Spain

Born in: Gaza City, 1992

Originally from: Gaza City

It was the best and worst of times, living in Gaza under the Israeli occupation.

It was the best when it was all I knew, and it was the worst once I was exposed to other ways of life, like in Spain, where I currently live and work. It was there that I first felt a bittersweet taste of freedom and I was racked with guilt to witness what life could be like elsewhere, as my nation still suffers.

I had a very simple and happy childhood in Gaza, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends, yet it was full of ups and downs. I remember that I was always thirsting to see the world, or even meet the citizens of our neighbouring countries. However, the blockade was beyond limiting, and so I contented myself with watching international television shows and listening to music from the top of the charts. But even that was interrupted by daily power shortages.

Q:Is that what is called the Gaza siege?

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A: This actually preceded the siege. The election of Hamas in 2006 and internal fighting that ended in Hamas fighters taking over the Gaza Strip led to a tightening of restrictions. Certain items are not allowed in or out of Gaza and people struggle to enter or exit the territory.

Luckily, the struggles of daily life in Gaza instilled me with a stubborn attitude and I was determined to pursue an education and a career abroad - a dream that finally came true after I gained my Master's degree and started a professional career here in Spain. It was refreshing to finally see that the foreign people I now live with share my eagerness - if not more - to know more about the other side of the world, Palestine.

I felt very welcomed here in Spain, although it was a little heartbreaking in the beginning. When I was applying for my student residency permit, I realised that Palestine was not on the application list. I knew I was in the right place, though, once my complaint was considered, and Palestine was finally added to the list, one of the happiest moments I can recall.

Q:Why are Palestinians in Gaza not allowed to go to the West Bank?

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A: Israel disallows their movement in order to maintain its divide and rule status quo.

As I look back on it all, I feel like I am a lucky and privileged person. I have been able to roam, and visit places beyond the borders of my country; ironically, I've seen far more places than I was allowed to see within my own country itself. I am thankful today for being able to experience an ideal travel situation, where I do not have to stress over checkpoints or flip a coin and pray to make it beyond closed borders. I am also grateful to live in a peaceful environment, where I can feel safe and lead a stress-free life, at least for the time being. This is the most I have ever been free.

Finally, I am blessed to be surrounded by an optimistic and a dynamic nation, which is genuinely interested in my story, my background, and my country. Despite all the differences between my two realities, I still feel a connection between the people of Spain, and my own people; both are optimistic and hopeful. My plan is to continue enriching my experience abroad and make the best out of it until I return home and use all my positive experiences to make a difference socially and economically in Palestine.

Mariela Kawas

Current place of residence: Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Born in: Honduras

Originally from: Bethlehem

As a Palestinian in the diaspora, I always dreamed of going to Palestine. And the stories my grandmother used to tell me about her hometown, Bethlehem, are still very much fixed in my memory.

When I finally had the opportunity to go, I felt an instant connection to Palestine as a whole and a sense of belonging. Going to Bethlehem, however, was the most magical part of my journey thanks to the kindness of the people and the way they made me feel: like I was home.

I was raised a Catholic, but at the time of my visit, I was having issues with my beliefs. I remember, though, that when I entered the Nativity Church, I was in awe. I felt such magic and immediately started crying. Jesus, a Palestinian, was born here.

Q:Is the Palestine/Israel conflict a religious one?

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A: The conflict in Palestine is fundamentally a political one brought about by Israel’s colonisation of Palestine. However, Israeli Zionists very often use the Jewish faith to rally international support and to justify their policies. Their threats and assaults against Christian and Muslim religious sites have given the conflict a religious dimension, as well.

As I walked through the halls and the tunnels of the church, as I took everything in, as I breathed in everything, something began to change within me. I felt as if my life would be divided: before Palestine and after Palestine. And it did. Not only did my trip restore my faith in religion, but it made me realise I AM Palestinian.

I always used to introduce myself as a Honduran with Palestinian origins; I now introduce myself as Palestinian-Honduran.

To me, Palestine is, in a word, identity.

Q:What is the current status of Palestinian Refugees?

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A: The existence of the majority of Palestinians in exile since 1948 is a direct consequence of their inability to exercise their right of return.The peace process never intended to solve the refugee problem on the basis of international law. The convenors always aimed to strip the issue of its international legal character and resolve it within the framework of a regional Arab-Israeli political settlement.

It means that no matter where you are, you will always have it close to your heart. You will always be Palestinian-something. In Palestine, I saw kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth and genuine love for our land. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to visit my homeland, and it made me faithful, and stronger and prouder to say, I AM PALESTINIAN.

Yousef Rabeh

Current place of residence: Ein al-Hilweh, Lebanon

Born in: Tripoli, Libya, 1990

Originally from: al-Husayniyya village, outskirts of Safad

"A refugee." This is the very first name I was given, even before I was born. My father and mother are both Palestinian refugees, and that is why I was doomed to be a refugee, too.

My family comes from al-Husayniyya village near Safad, in the north of historic Palestine. But I was born and still live in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

Just like every other Palestinian, I dream about going back to my homeland, Palestine. By going back, we will become complete human beings again and only there will our bodies and souls unite and complete each other, something other people in this world often take for granted.

I was born into a refugee camp, a location that, although removed from Palestine geographically, I will always consider to be an intrinsic part of my homeland. At the same time though, refugee camps represent a consolation for all the disappointments and failed attempts we've made to return to our homes.

Q:Is Israel as a state for the Jews a modern idea?

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A: Yes. Although the Zionist narrative insists that Palestine is the historic homeland for the Jewish people, it is argued that the idea of Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” was at the centre of modern Zionism, which emerged in the late 19th century. Source:

Palestine has always been our goal and dream. Palestine is like my mother, always embracing me when I feel disappointed or defeated. I see Palestine in front of me with every step I take in the refugee camp. Everything there reminds me of Palestine and of the sense of hope that the great Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani described when he said: "You have a goal in this life, go after it." Despite all the difficulties, oppression, injustices, racism, and disappointments we experience there, the refugee camps are the main witnesses to our right to return, and they always remind us of this right. I can't help but remember Palestine as I wander through the camp's streets, from the al-Quds neighbourhood to the Safouri, Safsaf, al-Ras al-Ahmer, al-Zeeb and Tabariya districts - all named after cities and towns in historic Palestine.

This is how we live, always attached to our homeland. My grandfather and grandmother always tell us stories about Palestine, about their childhoods, about how they used to live happily, and about how "life was much better than today". They speak about how everything changed when "those bastards came and turned our lives upside down, stole our land, forced us out of our homes and killed many of our youth who sacrificed their lives for Palestine and for the sake of Palestinians." They have thousands and thousands of stories.

My father joined the Palestinian revolution when he was a teenager. He always talked about the importance of their struggle and about how every Palestinian and free Arab in this world must fight for, and defend, the Palestinian cause. His answers to my countless questions enriched my awareness of our cause and deepened my strong faith that, as a human being, I have rights and must fiercely fight to reclaim them. My mother, who has always supported my father, makes me even more determined when she says: "Those who don't do good for their homeland, do no good for anyone else!"

Q:How are Palestinians in Israel treated?

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A: Palestinians in Israel are treated as second-class citizens. They do not have the same opportunities as their Jewish counterparts. Israel defines itself as a “Jewish state”, making inequality institutionalised for Palestinian citizens of Israel. Source: Adala

In 2012, I finally became whole, and my body and soul were reunited for a few days: I finally went home to Palestine. For those few days, I was not a "refugee" anymore, and they were both the happiest and saddest days of my life.

I walked in the streets of Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin with so much confidence because I finally felt that I was not a stranger. My homeland embraced me and I apologised for being away for so long.

I will never be able to describe how beautiful those days were. I felt the air on my face and smelled the water. I saw the sky, the land, the people, the walls, the sun, the moon, the rain and the cold weather. Everything seemed different, but familiar, because this is where I am from. I would smile, laugh, and think about how lucky I was, but then I would cry when I remembered that I was deprived of my homeland and that I would soon go back to being "a refugee" again.

Despite being a son of this land, I could only visit Palestine, while others get to enjoy my precious homeland every day.

But I promised my beloved Palestine that one day, no matter how far in the future that is, I will return and I will rest in Palestine's arms because "on this land, there is something to live for".


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