THE following is a true story as related by a Palestinian student. Some details have been changed in order to protect his identity, but the facts are essentially true.
For us it was home. In spite of the crowded conditions my mother, as my grandmother before her, had made it so. Of course, three simple rooms and a bare concrete floor shared by 13 people may not be everyone's idea of home, but as Palestinian refugees, this is what the turmoil of 1948 has bequeathed to us.
My grandparents had lived in a small village near the town of Lydda, today called Lod, not far from Tel Aviv. Visitors to our country know it as the site of the Israeli international airport. During the war of 1948, for safety's sake, they fled to the hills and villages around Bethlehem. Then unable to return to their villages, they and their children became refugees.
Housed first in tents, the UN agency designated to care for them eventually allowed them to build small dwellings. Although always living in the hope of returning to our ancestral village, as time went on these dwellings became more and more permanent and it was here that my father grew up together with his five brothers and four sisters.
One-by-one the children married and left home, most moving into similar homes in the camp, until only my father — the youngest — and a sister remained. When my father married the daughter of a very poor refugee family, they stayed on in my grandparents' house.
I was born in 1967, my parents' third son, three months after the other great turmoil in this land that put the Israelis in control of the whole of the West Bank of the Jordan. We then became not only refugees, but refugees under military occupation.
Khaled, my eldest brother, is by trade an electrician, and although work on the West
Bank was scarce for him, he would never work for the Israelis. He preferred to be idle or take on any type of job rather than work for "them." He was scornful of the thousands of Palestinians who went every day to work in Israeli factories or building sites, saying they were only helping the occupation to stay put.
I knew he attended political meetings, although I don't think my father knew. These meetings were forbidden by the Israeli army as are all forms of open political discussion. But apart from the occasional detention for questioning, (a routine part of life for most of us), he was never in trouble.
It was in the spring of 1986 that the army jeep was blown up on a dirt road about 10 kilometers south of here. It apparently hit some sort of mine and the two soldiers in it were killed. The Israeli army was furious and mounted a massive hunt for those responsible. Hundreds of young men, including Khaled, were taken in for questioning. But after a week or two all were released and no charges brought.
It was late at night one Thursday that they came to arrest Khaled.
By morning the news was out. Khaled and two others had been charged with the murder of the two soldiers and had admitted doing it.
Just after noon the same day a group of soldiers appeared at our home and informed us — reading from a piece of paper — that the Military Commander of the area, in accordance with a certain Regulation, had ordered our home to be demolished at sundown. We had three hours to remove our belongings.
Late in the afternoon, with our belongings piled up about 50 meters away and with all of us watching, we saw two bulldozers crush and flatten our home.