Thursday, January 19, 2006

Unwanted

This is Daoud "Abu" Badr from the Northern Galilee town of Al-Ghabsiya. He lives now as an Israeli citizen. He is provided full health care as are all Israeli citizens, and is entitled to vote in federal elections. He lives in a modest home in a small village just about one kilometer from the former town of Al-Ghabsiya.

In 1948, when Israel declared independence, Abu Badr was forced from his home and relocated to a makeshift encampment in the area of the village he now lives in. In 1951, the Israeli supreme court ruled that he and his neighbors from Al-Ghabsia should have the right as naturalized citizens to return to their homes. Despite the fact that their families had been split up and sent to refugee camps in the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan, Abu Badr wantly badly to return to some semblance of his former life.

The Israeli military has prohibited him from returning to his home for 55 years now. We visited the site of his childhood home. The land is now covered in rows of trees, thanks to the Jewish National Fund, which are planted over demolished Palestinian villages in order to erase any trace of their former existance. There is also a mosque that stands in this former town... it is the only building the military did not destroy. But it is fenced off by multiple layers of barbed wire. This ancient sanctuary, which decays further with each passing day has been cordoned off because a few years ago Abu Badr and his neighbors were attempting to reclaim the mosque. They were restoring it and returning there to pray on Fridays, reclaiming some small piece of what was lost.

What was once Abu Badr's home is now just a few stones, you can barely make out the outline of the foundation amidst the thriving grasses and trees. He has not seen his sister since 1973, the day they coordinated to meet at the Lebanese border and exchange kisses through a barbed wire fence. He hasn't seen any of his family in the West Bank either, they speak via telephone, but neither can he go there, nor they come here. When he attempts to find answers to his questions from the government, he is sent chasing bureaucrats who never give him any answer or any solution.

The lands that once belonged to the town of Al-Ghabsiya now belong to two sprawling Kibbutzim that have actively capitalized on the water-rich springs of the area. We went and visited the source of the water, a treatment facility of sorts. It stands amidst piles and piles of ancient rubble in all directions. An entire community destroyed and forgotten.

Abu Badr's health is noticibly good compared with some of the others I had met in the refugee camps and other regions of the West Bank. His home is far nicer, his food far healthier. He lives a comfortable life. It is a far cry from the sufferings of a West Bank refugee. And still, he is separated from his family, he is prohibited from traveling, his family home and land has been confiscated illegally even by the standards of the Israeli supreme court. He is a second-class citizen in the sense that the Israeli government provides subtle (and not so subtle) incentives for he and his neighbors to leave. There is one poignant message to this: "you are not wanted here."

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