A Generation That Has Never Seen Homeland: What Does Palestine Mean To Them?

al-aqsa friday prayer israel
A Palestinian Muslim woman heading to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. Photo: AFP

AMMAN, Jordan — Two weeks after U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to there, protests against the move are still being staged in different places around the world, including Palestine and Jordan.

Demonstrations in Jordan are mainly organized by the youth. A daily one takes place in front of the American Embassy in Amman. The majority of protesters are younger than thirty. Many of them are Jordanians of Palestinian origin — the third-fourth generation that has never seen Palestine.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is not new and has spun for more than 100 years. Although it would take thousands of papers to describe it, the timeline below attempts to show the main transition points in its history.

After the wars of 1948 and 1967, many Palestinians left their homes. According to the Jewish National Funds, a total of 145,000 people departed from 190 villages in and outside the Jewish state’s territory.

At the same time, 77,000 Arabs left the cities of Haifa, Beisan, Tiberias, Safad, Samakh. Another 73,000 departed Jaffa and Acre. Moreover, 40,000 Arabs left Jerusalem.

All in all, 335,000 Arabs fled the region, but the numbers could be much higher.

Today, more than 2 million registered Palestine refugees live in Jordan, according to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Most Palestinian refugees in Jordan — but not all — have full citizenship. There are ten recognized Palestinian refugee camps throughout the country, which accommodate nearly 370,000 people, or 18 percent of the country’s total population.

Palestinians all over the world — people who are recorded as refugees and those who are not — are still demanding their right to return to Palestine. A generation that has never seen its homeland continues to fight for it.

Alia Kana’an, a 34-year-old journalist whose family is originally from Tulkarm, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, was born in Kuwait. She currently lives in Jordan. She has been a volunteer for the Jerusalem Cultural Forum in Amman for nine years. Ms. Kana’an also took part in many campaigns in support of Palestine, but she has never had a chance to visit it.

Palestinian refugees infographics
Palestinian refugee camps, according to UNRWA.

Ms. Kan’an said her parents raised her with a strong feeling of belonging to Palestine. As a child, she was very happy to get a gift from her family still living there: she said it was an exciting feeling of receiving “something from our land.”

Ms. Kan’an thinks Mr. Trump’s latest decision “has returned the Palestinian issue back to the front,” which she considers a good thing. She told The Globe Post that she wished the right to “the whole Palestinian land” was returned to the people.

While volunteering for the Jerusalem Cultural Forum, Ms. Kan’an helped spread knowledge about Palestine and Jerusalem. “I took training and many courses to increase my knowledge. I found that Palestine is very connected to us, to our identity and religion.”

Many Palestinian refugees in Jordan can recall stories of how their families had to flee their homeland. The family of a Jordanian journalist, Osama Mograbi, 26, is originally from Jaffa, where his grandfather had one of the most prosperous orange groves businesses that allowed him to export goods to Europe.

“He – the grandfather – refused to leave his home. His sons and daughters carried him on a chair that he was clinging to. He crossed the bridge between Palestine and Jordan barefoot,” Mr. Mograbi said.

Mr. Mograbi covered many protests in Jordan in the past ten days. He also took part in many campaigns for Palestine. He said he was not interested in this issue only because Palestine is his country of origin, but because it was a case of people forced to leave their land and forbidden from returning. “Palestine means everything to me. I am ready to give it everything I have to return it back to its independent Arabic and Islamic identity,” he said.

Some Palestinian refugees, like Hadeel Shaheen, a 25-year-old urban planner, consider their Palestinian identity a right that they should be able to execute. “Palestine is my stolen right. It’s my and my grandfather’s land, my home that I was deprived of. My right will not disappear with years. Palestine is my issue and the issue of everyone who has a conscience,” she said.

Ms. Shaheen’s family is originally from Hebron, the city she has never seen. Her grandfather was working for the Arab Army. Therefore, he spent most of his time in Jordan. In 1948, her family fled to Jordan to reunite with him.

Architect Hanan Da’as, 26, is originally from Ramallah. Her extended family still lives in the West Bank. For political reasons, her father’s last visit to Palestine was in 1974. Her mother has been identified as a Jerusalem resident. Of course, it was not something she could inherit, so neither she nor her siblings can enter Palestine.

Ms. Da’as visited Palestine when she was four, but she can barely remember it. “Palestine is my mom, home, and the forbidden wanted land. It’s a part of me,” she said nevertheless.

“Palestine is hard to describe; it’s a chronic disease that you cannot be cured of,” she added, noting that the hardest part for her is not to be able to attend family ceremonies.

All of the interviewees spoke against Mr. Trump’s Jerusalem move. They linked it to the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British government some hundred years ago to announce support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

“It’s not about the Aqsa, the mosque, and the prayings. It’s not the problem of Jerusalem. It’s about Palestine. We refuse the occupation!” Ms. Da’as said.