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by Mohammed Omer

On 60th Birthday, Israelis See War in Near-Future

(IPS) RAFAH -- Holding up an old copper key, Yousef al-Hums settles down to retell the story of his eviction from what was once his home, and now is Israel. Because only the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel is over, the occupation of home of which al-Hums still keeps a key is not.

What was to Israel the creation of their nation is to Palestinians al-Nakba, meaning the catastrophe, of eviction from their homes and homeland. From that event now, it's 60 years, and counting.

Palestinian children do not learn of that event from history books, but from people like al-Hums. "We cannot return to our homes today," he tells his sons and about 50 of his grandchildren gathered around him, with the key raised. "But you are going to return to your grandfather's home in Yebna village."

That the home or the village does not exist any more only adds to the emotion around the upheld key. "Every day I pray that when I die I am buried on my land in Yebna," he says. "Those were the most beautiful days of my life. Everyone in our village supported every other."

Al-Hums got married in 1947 at age 15. And then in May 1948 it all changed.

"It was about 2AM. We all had to run after we heard that the Haganah (a Jewish force at the time) had invaded our village." Like others, he fled with his wife to Gaza, the only exit route left. He barely survived, he said, and showed scars on his hand he said came from an attack by a British helicopter backing the Jewish forces.

Today, home is the Yebna refugee camp in Gaza, where he lives with his two wives, seven sons and the many grandchildren.

He has been back to the real Yebna twice, the first time in 1976 and the second in 2000. By the second visit, he said, nothing was left of the farm as he had known it. "They took away everything and all is destroyed," he said.

But still, he keeps the key. It gave his story an anchor. And it appeared before the children as a command to action to reclaim their home and heritage.

There is almost nothing by way of a single history of the events 60 years back; only stories of very different kinds told on both sides. As al-Hums told it, Yebna was one of 675 towns and villages Jewish forces destroyed. They were later built over as Israeli towns or covered over with tree plantations.

The build-up to the eviction had begun earlier, al-Hums told the children gathered around him. "At first Jewish groups arrived as guests in our homes," he said. "Some slept in our big two-storey house." Then came offers to buy Palestinian land at prices well below the market price. Some sold, others who stayed on were eventually forced off their land and out of their homes. Overnight, prosperous families became refugees.

What is not in doubt is the very large number of Palestinians who had to flee their homes; by Palestinian estimates about 750,000. Many of them are now seeing a fourth generation grow up in refugee camps.

Palestinians who stayed behind found themselves facing discrimination, humiliation and poverty. Much of that continues today.

As does the inability of Arab countries to fight for the Palestinians, diplomatically or otherwise. Back in 1948 an Arab force drawn from Egypt, Jordan and Syria was no match for the Jewish forces, who had strong British and U.S. backing, as they do today.

The story from al-Hums, and the stories like this told and retold in family after family of Palestinian refugees carry force because Palestinians see more of the same forces against them day after day. The stories all tell of a happy and proud life destroyed by force and deceit.

The copper key does its bit to make sure that the young do not at least lose their anger.

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Albion Monitor   May 19, 2008   (

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