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NEWS Winter 2018

The Nakba, My Brother and Me By Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch

This year is the 70th year of the Nakba (the catastrophe when my mom and with her generation, because our house was full of
Israel uprooted 750,000 Palestinians from 531 villages in 1948). women when I was a child.
This year my brother will be 70 years old. He was two weeks It’s clear to me that each generation carries inside them-
old when my family was forced from our village, Zakariya. My selves the trauma of the Nakba and their reality as refugees. My
mom carried him, swaddled in a cloth, while my father carried mother’s generation carried the trauma of the Nakba and memo-
my grandmother on his shoulders and back. My stepmom (my ries of those horrible days, reliving the fear of the massacres
father’s first wife), who was very ill, was riding a donkey. Ac- in village after village. They focused on survival and protecting
cording to my mom’s description, on the donkey was my step- their families. My brother, like many in his generation, carries
mom, my two-year-old youngest sister, and a bag with food for his childhood as a refugee and the pain of his life in the diaspora.
a few days. My generation inherited from them their feelings about the trag-
My brother grew up far from our village. He spent his child- edy; at the same time, we live with the discrimination we have
hood between Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and vil- suffered and this feeling that as refugees, we are less than others.
lages near Hebron. In July 1967, like many others, my brother My brother doesn’t share a lot unless you push him to share
had to leave Palestine. He became an exile and lived in many his feelings or his thoughts. He’s a deep person, well educated.
places, but now he is living in Jordan. This year, it will be 50 As a family, we don’t share that much emotion because we grew
years since my brother has set foot in Palestine. He has spent 50 up far from each other. The borders ripped our family apart geo-
years in exile. graphically and emotionally. We never had the chance—three
I don’t know my brother well because I never lived around brothers and two sisters—to sit down together and have a cup
him in the usual way, when a younger brother knows that his of tea until 2005, when my sister passed away, and the rest of us
older brother will take him here, take him there. I grew up with got together.
Continued on page 4

• In 1948, approximately 750,000 Palestinians (75% of the Arab popula-
tion of Palestine) were expelled by Zionist militias from what became
Israel (“1948 refugees”). This is known as the Nakba or “catastrophe.”
• Some 531 Palestinian villages and towns were destroyed or occupied
by Israeli settlers.
• Internally displaced Palestinians are those who were expelled from
their villages but remained in the lands that became Israel. They num-
bered 30-40,000 in 1948 and were placed under military rule to facili-
tate the expropriation of their land. Israel does not recognize internally
displaced Palestinians, whose number (including their descendants) is
now estimated at more than 250,000.
• During the 1967 Israeli attack, about 300,000 Palestinians were dis-
placed to the West Bank and Gaza. More than half of them were al-
ready refugees from 1948.
• Most Palestinian refugees live in 59 refugee camps in Jordan, Leba-
non, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Today, the total Palestin-
ian refugee population is estimated at over 7.9 million (66% of the
Dheisheh Refugee Camp in 1959. My brother was eleven entire, worldwide Palestinian population, estimated at 12.1 million).
years old. I was not yet born. © UNRWA archive • Israel forbids Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, their
villages or their country, despite numerous UN resolutions and the
right to return embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Gift of Warmth for Refugees New Community Park in Beit Lahia, Gaza
A group of Syrian and Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon Wafaa El-Derawi, Gaza Projects Assistant
came together at the Al-Jalil Center to crochet and knit warm
clothing items for refugee children. Support from MECA en- Hundreds gathered at the opening of the Turath Garden in
abled Al-Jalil to purchase yarn, provide training, and pay the Beit Lahia, Gaza last summer. I had been there just a few months
women for their work. Four hundred children in and around the before and the place had no grass or plants, just old and unusable
refugee camp each got a scarf, a pair of mittens, and a hat. An- playground equipment.
other 300 items were sold to raise funds to expand the project. Now, a new community garden provides fresh air, a relax-
ing place for mothers, and a safe place for children to play. The
pressures of life are increasing dramatically in Gaza as a result
of unemployment, poverty, electricity shortage, water pollution,
siege, closure of crossings, and unstable political and security
situation. People need green places to free themselves.

“I’m proud of my work with Al-Jalil Center and this humanitarian Children enjoy the new playground equipment
project that will help refugees during winter. Also, I can depend on © MECA
myself and support my mother and sister.”
—Ibtisam Mohammed Al Ahmad, a Palestinian refugee from Syria
who spends most of her time at home caring for a disabled sister
and her elderly mother. She joined the group because she wanted
to be less isolated. © Al-Jalil Center, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Girls’ Basketball
for Refugees
Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in and around Baalbeck
Refugee Camp in Lebanon have a new basketball team for girls
ages nine to fourteen. After they learn the game, they’ll play
against other local teams. When they’re not playing, the proj-
ect staff and volunteers will lead workshops on first aid, life
skills, conflict resolution, hygiene, menstruation, and psycho-
logical health.
© Al-Jalil Center
Education for Deaf Children Your MECA
in Memory of David Halaby
By Mona Halaby DOLLAR$
In September 2017, Joining Hands, a group of Bay Area at WORK
women who support projects for women and children in Pales-
tine, held an event to raise funds to sponsor a classroom at the Atfaluna is a compelling cause. It touches our family per-
Atfaluna School for the Deaf in Gaza. The classroom will be sonally, because it combines education, which is my passion, the
dedicated to the memory of David Halaby. Below is an excerpt Gazan people, whom David loved, and the fact that our family
of the talk David’s widow, MECA supporter and Joining Hands knows first-hand how trying it is to face the silence of deafness.
member Mona Halaby gave to the more than 60 friends and fam- We want to give the hearing-impaired children at Atfaluna a
ily who came to honor David and support education for deaf chance at education and a trade. To support this project, you can
children. The benefit raised more than $26,000, which will cover make a donation to MECA and indicate that it’s in memory of
expenses for a fourth-grade classroom at Altfaluna for two years. David Halaby.

You know how there are some places that really speak to
you? Places that feel like home, that ring true? Well, that’s what
Gaza meant to David. Even though he was a native of Jerusalem,
he loved the Gazan people, espoused their struggle, and appreci-
ated the landscape along the shore.
In 2002 and again in 2004 we traveled to Gaza with our two
sons, Lex and Greg (our oldest, son Jason who was in graduate
school, couldn’t join us) while on a MECA fact-finding delega-
tion. I remember one day standing with David on a beach watch-
ing a young boy, Ahmed, give his horse, Zouzou and donkey,
Mishmish a bath. David immediately struck up a conversation
with Ahmed, asking him questions about his life in Gaza. This
beautiful scene was juxtaposed to the destruction we saw ev-
erywhere. It felt as though we had stepped into a Louis Bunuel
movie. It felt unreal and surrealistic. David was forever changed
after our two visits to Gaza. We all were.
Gaza has suffered numerous wars with Israel, and has never
“I remember one day standing with David on a beach watching a
received adequate reconstruction funding and supplies in order young boy, Ahmed, give his horse, Zouzou and donkey, Mishmish
to rebuild their lives and economy. a bath. David immediately struck up a conversation with Ahmed,
The power shortage has led to a water and sewage crisis, asking him questions about his life in Gaza.” © Mona Halaby
which in turn is having serious effects on the health of its inhab-
itants. Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza for the
past decade, while Egypt has also closed off its border in recent
years, both citing security concerns. The already dire humani-
tarian circumstances have been exacerbated in recent months
by Abbas’ Palestinian Authority seeking to squeeze Hamas, by
reducing the electricity to be piped into Gaza among other mea-
To return to David and his connection to Gaza, David devel-
oped Meniere’s, a debilitating disease that affects the vestibular
system, and damages the auditory nerve. In 2008, after 18 years
of severe vertigo and declining hearing, he finally became com-
pletely deaf, and underwent cochlear implant surgery, by which
an electronic medical device replaced the function of his dam-
aged inner ear in order to provide sound signals directly to the
A student and teacher at Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children com-
municate in Arabic Sign Language. © Atfaluna

The Nakba, My Brother and Me, Continued from page 1
My brother is a very practical man, he focuses on his work. refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria who are so close they
But all the time, you feel there is something deep inside him can see their country but they can’t cross. Especially the Syr-
he doesn’t speak about, he doesn’t share. When I visited Jordan ians. when the civil war arrived a few years ago, they could see
in 2003, his family told me he leaves sometimes in the after- their villages just a few miles away, but they couldn’t go to their
noons. He takes his coffee, his cigarettes, and some snacks, and homes in Palestine. They were forced to go everywhere else in
he leaves the house for hours. This is his own tradition. He never the world, but couldn’t go home.
told the family where he was going or what he was doing. These border fences, walls, and landmines that the Israelis
That visit, I asked him directly what he was doing. He built have ripped the Palestinians from our land and from our
avoided answering me. Two days later, he invited me to come families. Destroyed our families. But holding on to family is in
with him. I said yes, so he told me, “OK, come with me.” We the nature of human beings. In Palestine, after they bomb your
started driving from Amman, where he lives, toward the Dead house, you go through the piles of debris to see what you can
Sea. As we were driving down toward the Dead Sea, the Jordan save. They call it lamlamet, which means a bundle of what re-
Valley opened up in front of us, and we could see Palestine on mains, to try to start again. This is what we do with our families.
the other side of the valley. Because there is a necessity to survive and to hold onto our fami-
When we were close to the Dead Sea, he turned left and lies, however we can.
started to drive up the mountain toward Mount Nebo. When we I will share a secret with you. I don’t know if we will suc-
reached the top, there was an archeological site, it is a Christian ceed, but my family has a plan, a hope to be together to celebrate
holy place with lots of my brother’s 70th
olive trees. We parked birthday. At the same
and walked a few hun- time, we will com-
dred meters until we memorate 70 years of
came to an amazing Nakba. Whatever hap-
vista. We could see all pens to us, our family
of Palestine spread out struggles to challenge
before us. the borders and stay
My brother, be- connected, struggles
cause he comes here for our rights, and
all the time, knew just struggles to return to
where he was going our village.
to his favorite olive
tree. We spread out a
blanket and sat down.
“Here,” he said. “This
is where I come. This
is how I communicate
with all of you on the
other side, this is how
I recharge myself. This
is Palestine in front of
me, this is where I grew up. If I were a bird I could fly in just a At the entrance to my mother’s village Jarash, just west of
few minutes. This is how I build my spirit as a refugee, this is Jerusalem. It is now an Israeli “nature reserve” and the in-
how I feel connected to my family, remember my childhood, digenous Palestinian inhabitants are not permitted to re-
charge my hope. This is an experience shared by many Palestin- turn. Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi writes, “The site is
ian refugees. overgrown with grass, interspersed with the debris of de-
stroyed houses and stones from the terraces. The ruins of a
“At the same time,” he said, “I have mixed feelings. Being
cemetery lie northwest of the site. Groves of trees cover two
here gives me good feelings—hope and closeness—but at the hills to the west of the site that are separated by a valley.
same time it’s painful. The view I see makes me feel strong be- Carob, fig, almond, and olive trees grow on these hills.”
cause of what I carry inside for my village, for my land, for my © Pablo Pitcher-DeProto
family, but also it makes me feel weak because I can’t cross, I
feel helpless.”
For 50 years my brother hasn’t been allowed to cross the
border. He lost his dad, his mom, and many friends who died
before they could meet again. There are so many Palestinian


Campaign Against Displacement: Your MECA
“We are steadfast in our village.” DOLLAR$
Approximately 90,000 Palestinians live in the 176 unrecog-
nized villages inside Israel, mainly in the Galilee or the Naqab
Volunteer Corner
(Negev) desert. Villagers are not entitled to municipal services
like water, electricity, roads, transport, sanitation, education, or By Lamia Wahba
healthcare. The postal and telephone systems do not serve them
and trash is not collected. Construction and residence in these Even though I grew up in Egypt, I didn’t know very much
areas are illegal under Israeli law. Residents are instructed to de- about life in Palestine until I went to graduate school in Mary-
molish their own houses. Failure to do so can result in arrest and land. My best friend was Palestinian and she told me a lot about
fine. If houses are demolished by the Israeli police, the owners day-to-day life under Israeli occupation. So, when I came to the
have to pay the costs. Bay Area for post-graduate work in 2010, I wanted to get in-
Al-Zarnug, home to approximately 5,000 Palestinian Bed- volved with a local organization working for the rights of Pal-
ouins, is one of approximately 40 unrecognized villages in the estinians. I found the Middle East Children’s Alliance and I was
Naqab in southern Israel. A mosque was the only public facil- immediately attracted to the work. How can you disagree with
ity until, after a long legal battle, the Israeli government finally meeting children’s basic needs?
agreed to allow the opening of one public elementary school. One of the first things I got involved with was the “Child’s
There have been many home demolitions in Al-Zarnug and the View from Gaza” exhibit of art by children who survived the
residents are threatened with displacement by the “Prawer Plan,” 2008-2009 Israeli assault. They expressed their fears and de-
legislation that would mandate the dismantling of the unrecog- picted their memories in paintings and drawings. Right before
nized villages of the Naqab, displacing more than 80,000 Pales- the show was supposed to open at the Museum of Children’s
tinians with Israeli citizenship from their homes. The Israeli state Art in Oakland, the museum’s board canceled it. Fortunately, an
sold the land of Al-Zarnug to a real estate mogul who plans to inexpensive storefront was found nearby and I volunteered at the
build houses for Israeli settlers. exhibit for several weeks.
In 2017, MECA provided support for a campaign developed For six years now I’ve worked at dozens of public events.
and implemented by 7amleh, a professional Palestinian social I’ve learned so much from speakers like Noam Chomsky, from
media center. The center provided training to men, women and films, and meeting people at the busy Annual Holiday Bazaar.
youth to: I’m always eager to talk with people about Palestine and ME-
• Amplify the cause of saving the Naqab’s unrecognized CA’s work.
villages through online media and empowering the Pal-
estinian Bedouin population to advocate for themselves;
• Give the residents of the unrecognized village al-Zarnug
the tools and knowledge they need in order to build a
strong online presence and support their cause;
• Teach photography and online activism to the residents
of al-Zarnug while tailoring the trainings to the individual
needs of different groups.

Lamia at the MECA sales table during a
recent event with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti
from Palestine © MECA

“Many homes have been
destroyed in our village. We
are steadfast in our village.”
© 7amleh MECA NEWS 5
The Freedom Theatre Made
History with its Ten-Day Run
of The Siege in New York

New Backpacks
Thanks to Zam Zam Water
Zam Zam Water is a California based non-profit organization
providing water and other resources for people in Palestine,
Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Uganda. They have been support-
“We never brought a tank into the stage. We brought a play. ing MECA’s Maia Project to install water purification units in
This is why art is important; to open the way for people to agree Gaza schools. When our Gaza staff told us that many kids at
or disagree, negotiate, talk.” the schools needed backpacks and other supplies, Zam Zam
–Playwright Nabil Al-Raee said on NPR. stepped up and raised funds along with MECA and PaliRoots.
© Ian Douglas The backpacks were made in Gaza, filled with hygiene products
and a reusable water bottle, and distributed to 1,500 children.
The Siege tells the story of the 2002 siege on Bethlehem’s
Holy Church of the Nativity, at the height of the Second Inti- One child told MECA staff: “My brother Amir and I share one
backpack. Amir goes to school in the morning shift and I go in
fada, from the point of view of six Palestinian fighters who took
the afternoon shift. Every day I wait for Amir to come back from
refuge inside the church and were trapped there for 39 days. Co- school then take his bag, put my books and pens and rush to
directors Nabil Al-Raee and Zoe Lafferty spent several years de- school often late. I am very happy because for the first time
veloping the play, and Nabil crafted the script from interviews I have my own bag and go to my school early and eager to
they conducted with fighters exiled to Europe and Gaza. study.” © MECA
In October 2017, it was performed to an audience of 3,500
people in New York, as well as to five packed houses in Jenin
Refugee Camp. The Siege opened the door not only to future
Freedom Theatre productions, but to Palestinian works of art be-
ing produced more widely all over the U.S.

Resources for Educators
For the past 20 years, teachers have asked MECA to come
visit their classes to talk about Palestine and the Middle East,
and for curricular materials and resources. In response, we de- Jody is working with Palestinian-American educator Samia
veloped the Teach Palestine Project, coordinated by educator Shoman and designer Lisa Roth on the Teach Palestine website
and Palestine activist Jody Sokolower. Teach Palestine Project (coming soon!). The website will include articles on teaching
staff and volunteers lead workshops at conferences for K-12 about Palestine, curriculum and lesson plans, resources, and op-
and post-secondary educators, do classrooms presentations, and portunities for teachers to collaborate and discuss challenges and
work with individual teachers on curriculum about Palestine. successes. If you’d like to have MECA staff speak in your class-
room or would like help finding and/or developing resources,
Gaza Lights: Electrical Power for Families Your MECA
So far, more than 300 families have Gaza
The Gaza Strip has been deprived of adequate electrical
Lights systems set up in their homes.
power for most of the last ten years. By June 2017, as the hot © MECA
summer approached, most families were getting just a few hours
of electricity per day. The shortage affected almost every aspect
of daily life: storing perishable food and medicines, perform-
ing basic household and care-taking tasks; studying and work-
ing; phone and internet communication. The widespread use of
candles caused many house fires.
“Gaza Lights” provides households with electrical power by
using a rechargeable system that generates electricity for about
twelve hours and includes three lights, a fan, and a mobile phone
charger. The target population are the most vulnerable families
in the Gaza Strip, including those with infants, elderly or dis-
abled family members, and those who do not have the financial
means to purchase generators. The systems were designed by
local Palestinian engineers and are made with materials that are
available and affordable in Gaza.

“Many mothers told us the same story. Their children are so scared of the dark
they won’t even get up at night to use the bathroom. One mother brings
home rubbing alcohol from the clinic where she works to make a small fire
so her children can have light to do their schoolwork.”
–Amal Abu Moailqe, MECA Maia Project Coordinator, Engineer

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Winter 2018

JOIN US for these Monday, June 4, 2018
events, to celebrate 5 - 9:30pm:
MECA 30th Anniversary
MECA’s 30th Anniversary! Celebration & Tribute
to Barbara Lubin
Sunday, March 4, 2018 - 7pm: Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley
speaking at With: Ali Abunimah, Alice Walker,
Oakland Tech High School Auditorium Angela Davis, Melanie DeMore
& Holly Near!

© S. Smith Patrick