On May 14 the Clifton Mosque welcomed guest speakers the Nakba Tour, two women who told their story about life before and after the massacre.
Eighty-six year old Mariam Fathallah and 22-year-old Amena Ashkar are two Palestinian refugees who currently live in the Lebanese refugee camps. Fathallah has lived there since she was 18 and Ashkar has been there her whole life.
Life before the Nakba massacre in the district of Accra, Palestine was great. According to Fathallah, both the Palestinians and the Jewish European settlers lived happily together. They worked together selling fruit, visited one another, and even supplied each other with medicine.
“We didn’t have a problem with the secular settlers, we had a relationship with them. We didn’t even have a way to differentiate between each other,” said Fathallah.
That bond quickly changed after the Palestinians began to hear stories about the massacres in the surrounding villages. They became fearful that they would end up in the same predicament so they began to isolate themselves. However, it wasn’t long before it happened on their land.
One day a group of Palestinians were traveling through the settlement in their fruit trucks when they were stopped by a group of settlers. The settlers ultimately attacked and killed them and burnt down their trucks. Two other truck drivers who happened to pass by the trucks returned to the village and told the story.
“People were extremely upset because they couldn’t believe that the settlers would do that to them. They had such a great bond, it was so unexpected,” said Fathallah.
Many Palestinians fled from their villages after this incident. Some of villagers were fishers so they escaped on fishing boats into the sea. Others lived in mosques, schools, and streets which Fathallah said was very painful.
In order to get the Palestinians off the streets, the United Nations started moving them into the refugee camps. However, the living conditions were terrible. The land was covered in sand, families had to share tents, there wasn’t any electricity, there was a limited water supply, and bathrooms were shared.
Every four or three days the camps were bombed by Israelites. Fathallah recalls that when the aircrafts first started bombing, people would call each other over to hide in the cement buildings. Her house was so close to the street that they saw kids running and mothers crying.
“Once, we witnessed a man try to help a woman who was laying on the ground. In the process of helping her get up, their hands were ripped off by an explosion,” explained Fathallah.
Fathallah also lost her father during that time due to a heart attack. According to his doctor he became sick due to all of the horrific things that he had witnessed during that time. Although that was a rough time for her, she is grateful to have survived the first few years in the camps.
The camp in Lebanon where Ashkar lives was only built to house 10,000 people. However as of 2016 there are 25,000 people living there. They are expected to have 25,000 more by the end of the year. She claims that quality of life for the refugees is continually getting worse.
“After 68 years, they are still treated as refugees. They cannot be engineers, doctors, or even taxi drivers. Their only options are to work as construction workers,” she said.
The refugees have very limited rights. In addition to barely being able to work, they cannot own land, obtain social security, go to public hospitals, or get a good quality education. Kids who attend school from first to sixth grade are usually in classes with 55 or more students. Many of them can’t even spell their name by the time that they are finished with school. Even those who don’t pass within their grade level are still allowed to move on.
Ashkar was fortunate enough to get her education through private schooling. Her father, who is a mechanical engineer, illegally works for a company in Lebanon. Although he has a privileged position, he is still discriminated against in the work force. He has to work more hours than everyone else and get paid a lower salary.
“That’s how Palestinian’s work, they work illegally and if they get paid less, that’s fine. At least they have work,” she said.
Both Fatahallah and Ashkar would like to return to Palestine and rebuild their village but they know that it can’t be done alone. The Israelites have banned the refugees from returning to their land, but Ashkar stands by the Palestinian Right of Return. This political position states that they have the right to return home and claim their property back. Ashkar believes that if everyone comes together they can regain their land.
Ashkar believes that the first step to regaining the land is to gather other supporters and to start talking to people about the cause. She hopes that Americans will be able to influence the politicians to make a change.
“I now believe in the Americans. This is something I would have not said two months ago. I now believe in them because I have seen many people who really support us and believe in our cause,” she said.