nakba03Perhaps we all can agree that no one possess' the definite truth and that no one has the last word?

Our thoughts, words, and actions are determined by our own particular experiences, by our families, our environment, our religious beliefs, and our personal expectations. Thus, we are all different; but not as different. I was born in a land discovered back in 1492. A land loved and cherished by its people, where foreigners are greeted and treated as family. A land where the air is full of happiness and festivities; not as different as in my beloved Palestine.

For some strange reason not yet clear to me, my family chose this tropical paradise, far enough from their homeland, to dwell. Why? Didn’t they want to return eventually to the land of olives and dates? What took them so far away?

Perhaps this question torments the mind of the approximate 30,000 Palestinians living in a small city in the Caribbean coast of that country we sometimes here about in the news: Colombia. The city of Barranquilla has more or less 1.2 million inhabitants which have shared the city, friendly and respectfully, with Arab immigrants since the end of the XIX century. Thousands of Lebanese came too along with a considerable number of Syrians; still, they were all called ‘turcos’ (Spanish word for Turks). The reason for the confusion is widely known, but the word turco remains indifferently used. Many of the first immigrants came with Turkish passport, for the Middle East was dominated by the Ottoman Empire until the end of the First World War.

In time, Arabs got used to be called turcos and sometimes people didn’t even mind to know their names; they were just turcos. Soon, the word lost its discriminative character and became a sweet appellative, such as habibi (Arab word for my dear). Even though the sometimes serious connotation and meaning that that word could have for an Arab who lived under Ottoman rule, the word also became, in some cases, a synonym for greedy. Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese who arrived to this coast brought only what they could carry; a suitcase and personal belongings.

They also transported their language and customs, such as kissing family men on the cheeks. They also brought their dreams of a future with hope and the famous Arab hospitality. Distance never meant forgetting the idea of returning what was once home.

Arabs did hesitate in involving themselves in almost every aspect of every day Colombian life. It became normal to see pita bread being sold in every street in Barranquilla, and a traditional Levantine snack, the kibbeh, found in all big, small, fancy or not restaurants. Houses where constructed with Arab and Islamic architecture and design, and names such as Yamile, Yazmin, Omar, Said and others became widely used by the non Arab population. Contrary to the anti-Semitic experiences many Arabs experienced in other western countries, Latin America became an oasis of peace. But their souls were not at ease. Especially those of the Palestinian immigrants.

The unimaginabale erupted in 1948. No one could have predicted the destruction of over 400 Palestinian towns, the expulsion of more than 700.000 Palestinians and the loss of that magnificent and beautiful land; from the Galilee to the Negev, the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The fertile land that produed olives, grapes, dates, and oranges was turned into a cruel battlefield, fragmented and expropriated.

The distance now had became too visible. Those tragic events seemed so far away, but entered into the heart of every Palestinian immigrant. There was nothing they could do; just read about the ignominious crimes that stained their land with innocent blood.

Years and decades passed. No sign of return. The coconut palm replaced the date palm, and the ‘cumbia’ (traditional Colombian folklore) replaced the dabke. Israel replaced Palestine. Zionists replaced Palestinians. Oppression replaced freedom, and peace ceased to exist.

Palestinians understood that they had no place to return to; they were stuck. Some began to forget their past, who they really where and where were their original roots. Others began to realize that their parent’s initial dream of returning home would not be possible unless they fought for what had been theirs for centuries.

The struggle for Palestine has never been easy. Palestine couldn’t be mentioned, and Palestinians were demonized as terrorists. The lack of information due to quality and sources and lack of effective communication at the historic period remains a struggle today.

Until now is that the Palestinian immigrants are finding their loved ones who were left behind; and to their surprise, many of them migrated eventually, settling in neighboring countries such as Chile. The reunification of families and the awareness of their catastrophe have been key and vital in the revival of the Palestinian patriotism. The younger generations of Palestinians born outside Palestine, even third and fourth generations, are beginning to realize that they are in a special condition; they are different, they represent a heroic nation, and they have a particular mission in life. Some descendants of Palestinians work for Palestine, devoutly and unstoppable; some don’t even know what Palestine is. When some Palestinians are asked about the origin of their families, their names and their last names, they answer, carelessly, ‘from Arabia’. Some others add ‘Palestine does not exist; try to look for it in a map. I am Colombian.’ Unfairly, Palestine is not a country that you can find in a map; yet. You can find it deep in your soul, you heart and your genes. Palestinians aren’t average people; the 61 years long resistance shows us that. The fact that we aren’t in Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem doesn’t mean that we are exempted of struggling-peacefully- for our inalienable rights. The future of Palestine resides in us, the young children of our homeland and in what we do to preserve it. It’s a matter of time to really appreciate our rich heritage, not remember that we are Arabs only at the time of eating kibbeh or being called habibi by our elders.

Yes we live comfortably in exile, in the Diaspora caused by Nakba. I think it possible to find a Palestinian in almost every country in the world. And I wonder will Palestine ever receive Palestinian immigrants?

By Odette Yidi, a Palestinian Colombian, human rights activist, a member of many Palestinian NGO's and Director of the Palestinian magazine Amalna: Our Hope.

From Palestine Telegraph Newspaper