Anniversary highlights Palestinian struggle

May 13, 2008 4:57:59 PM PDT
President Bush will arrive in Israel Wednesday for the state's 60th anniversary celebrations. But there are many who are not in a festive mood. Specifically, they are Palestinians, who have lost their homes over the years.

They are victims of a conflict in a region where peace sometimes seems a fantasy. Still, they cling to the hope of going back someday.

Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett is in Jerusalem.

To the Israeli people, the 60th anniversary is something to celebrate. For Palestinians, it is entirely different. It is known as the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe. And mournful commemorations took place today across the West Bank. It is a startling reminder of how deep the divisions in the area really are.

Mohammad Hussein wanted us to understand. He wanted us to see the squalid four-room apartment he shares with his wife and a dozen other relatives.

"I am 94 years old, and I only want to die in my land," he said through a translator.

The Husseins are first-generation Palestinian refugees, among the hundreds of thousands who fled their homes after the Jews declared their independence in 1948 and were attacked by their Arab neighbors.

The United Nations estimates that by the time the war was over, some 800,000 Palestinians were displaced.

"After we left the village, we never came back," Mohammad's wife, Khadijeh Hussein, said through the translator.

Sixty years later, the Husseins are determined to return.

"I would love to go," Khadijeh said. "God-willing, we will go back. But they won't take us back."

They live in what's known as the Jalazone refugee camp, a dusty moutainside of the West Bank that is home to 16,000 people. They are all refugees from 1948, their children, their grandchildren and even their great grandchildren.

The dispute over whether the refugees have a right to reclaim their land has been a major obstacle to a peace agreement. Although they could live elsewhere, the refugees refuse.

"If I give up my right to return to my homeland, it's like giving up pride," refugee Ahmad Ramahi said. "It's like giving up my honor."

"I have not lost hope," Mohammad said."I have hope that I will return."

The Israelis have insisted that the right of return is not negotiable, because it would make Jews a minority in their own country. But Palestinians have insisted that compromise would be unthinkable.