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Dhaka Tribune

Wandering tribes, lost homelands, dying dreams

The Jewish people were once a wandering tribe. Today it is the Palestinians who need a home but are being bombarded into fearful silence

Update : 19 Oct 2023, 09:26 AM

It is the saddest of tales. It is about people who have wandered the earth in search of lands to call their own. It is about people who have seen their land pass into the possession of people who come from other lands. It is about people who have struggled for a land to call their own and yet have been prevented from giving shape to their dreams.

For 75 years, the people of Palestine have lived scattered as refugees in countries not theirs, for their country disappeared in the onslaught of the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948. It was not supposed to be that way. The goal, as noted in the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, was the creation of a national home, as opposed to homeland, for Jews, who since the 19th century had been trekking to Palestine in search of their holy land.

In 1948, Palestinian families that had inhabited their villages and towns for generations, found themselves uprooted and forced to leave their homes, those homes taken over by a new people who called themselves the people of Israel.  

It was, for these uprooted Palestinians, the Nakba -- the disaster, the cataclysm. They did not think that the exile would be long, would be permanent. And yet that was the way it turned out to be. They could never return home, for home was gone in the maelstrom of history.

Today, as we observe the death and destruction caused by a far-right Israeli government on the people of Gaza, as the world watches in horror the nocturnal bombardment visited on them by Israel’s military might, it is the nature of man which seizes the spotlight. 

Hobbes was perhaps right, in a way, when he castigated the human race as nasty and brutish. Brutality is what goes for life in Gaza today, with an unarmed Palestinian population losing families to a military power they cannot combat.

The Palestinians, among the most intellectually endowed people on the planet, will likely not have a home, a country, in the lifetime of our generation. Among these Palestinians have been writers and filmmakers and poets and political analysts of a global reputation. 

There was Mourid Barghouti, the writer whose I Saw Ramallah breaks the heart, the hearts in us, every time we go back to it. A people who have had leading voices like Yasser Arafat, Hanan Ashrawi, and Saeb Erekat deserve better. A people who have among them the likes of Marwan Bishara are a race intellectually at par with any other nation around the world.

In these 75 years the Palestinian people have been a wandering tribe. They have gone to Jordan; they have been in Lebanon; they have been in Tunisia and other states in the Middle East. Many of their best and brightest are scattered across Europe and in North America. 

They are people who have no state, for their state was taken from them all those decades ago. Their parents and grandparents, compelled to give way to Zionist aspirations of a Jewish land, were never able to reclaim their homes. 

It is the tragedy of a people unprecedented in modern history. Over the years, the Palestinians have lost the part of Jerusalem they could call their own, through the June 1967 war. Over the years, much has been said about the creation of a new country, actually a mere segment of what they lost in 1948, through the Oslo accords in the form of a two-state solution. 

That has turned out to be elusive. Gaza demonstrates the indifference of the world to the Palestinian cause. And in the West Bank, occupied by Israel, there is no let-up in the rise of Israeli settlers’ homes in blatant defiance of international law. These settlers, many of them armed, have made clear their intention to stay on.

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For many around the world, the Palestinian cause is a lost one. Now that Hamas, in a moment of incomprehensible rashness that cannot be acceptable or supported, has fired those missiles into Israel, the state Netanyahu and his fellow right-wingers administer has found the perfect though untenable reason for pounding the hapless Palestinians of Gaza into near obliteration. 

The fury sparked in Tel Aviv is a stark reminder of the thousands of years the Jewish people have themselves trekked to and across large areas of the world in search of security, of a home they could call their own.

For centuries the Jewish people endured misery. Monarchs and governments persecuted them for generations, forcing them to eke out lives of sheer deprivation throughout the Middle East and Europe and the Americas. 

Not until Theodore Herzl came forth with his enunciation of Zionism did Jews feel hope rising in them about an end to their search for a homeland. In the times post-Herzl, the Balfour Declaration promised an end to the wanderings of the Jews. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, among others, made their way to Palestine, supervised the establishment of Jewish villages and schools, oversaw the teaching of Hebrew to Jewish children. 

The Jewish people suffered intensely at the hands of the Nazis, losing six million of their compatriots in Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and elsewhere. The wanderings of the Jewish people came to an end when Palestine was handed over to them in May 1948. 

And then came the irony. Where the Jewish people had wandered across the planet in search of a home, it was now for the Palestinians -- displaced and so homeless in the aftermath of the rise of the state of Israel -- to go out in search of sympathy around the globe. In 1964, the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation by Arafat gave them hope. And buttressing that hope was Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. 

But then came Black September 1970, when King Hussein of Jordan, threatened by the militant presence of Palestinian armed activists, went into action against them. Bruised and beaten, the Palestinians made their way out of Jordan, and went looking for refuge. 

And refuge was in the shape of camps in Lebanon. In the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, in 1982, these wandering Palestinians bore the brunt of vicious armed assault engineered by the Lebanese military, who were soon joined by Israeli forces.

It saddens men and women of goodwill that in these seven decades and more, the idea of Palestine has been confined to refugee camps, where Palestinians have lived but by leave of the governments of the host countries. Their plight has only recently been highlighted anew, through the cruelty of an insensitive Israeli government figure who suggests that Palestinians from here on must live in tent cities.

The world does not care. It has no time for a people who need a land that could be their sovereign republic. Neither does the world have time for the Kurds, who have, in their longing for a state, consistently been browbeaten into petrified silence. 

They live, only just -- in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria -- with their ever-receding dreams of a state that could be part of the wider international community. Persecuted for ages, trapped in a web of geopolitics, Kurds do not arouse the world’s interest in their fate. Destiny beyond the present is what they do not have.

The Jewish people were once a wandering tribe. Today it is the Palestinians who need a home but are being bombarded into fearful silence. The Kurds sit in starlight, sad that their destiny’s star has never shone bright and brilliant. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Consultant Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

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