“Only faith will free Palestine” was something my grandma acquired after six decades of being a refugee.
“I was born in 1938 – the eldest among my siblings. Everyone in Melkiye had a gun at the time, so my Dad bought one of those French guns to protect himself, and protect our home.”
She was 10 years of age when she and her family were forced to exile from the motherland. Leaving behind everything they had, there was a desperate call for asylum.
“We were sure to protect ourselves when they wanted to beat us with their guns. Every time they tried to raid our land, we’d kick the Zionists out each time. At one point, we were able to defend ourselves,” Khadije reminisces.
But when the bombs started falling from the sky in broad daylight, there was no way the Palestinian people could stand a chance.
“There was absolutely no room to think when the world was set on fire. I was panicking. We were many children, and almost every corner of the sphere was either bound to ignite or already firing up in flames. The stampede of villagers by our home was ridiculous. I felt dizzy not knowing which way to head midst in the chaos. However, it was until I watched my mother run for her life with my other siblings, leaving me behind with my sister, was when I realized that there was no room to be dizzy either.”
After her mother left, Khadije looked onto the bolting crowd with the infant in her arms. Fatima, her sister, was only two months old, and they were both alone with their own fate. She ripped a cloth from her dress and wrapped Fatima for protection. Khadije charged into the crowd, lumbering with the flow.
“Nobody could see, and nobody could hear. We were all running for our lives as our homes were burning to the ground. There was no time to go back and retrieve anything that mattered to us at the time – and by things that matter, I mean even children. Many children were left behind, just like what could’ve happened to Fatima. Come to think of it, I could’ve left my sister the same way my mother did. But, I didn’t. I don’t know how, but I didn’t,” she said.
War, for someone as young as Khadije, is a shock which doesn’t leave her memory.
Palestine in the 40s didn’t have much technological advancements: Khadije’s family, like many other families in the northern region, were farmers. They sustained themselves with crops as well as selling their harvests to commoners. Although their home was “wooden,” as Khadije would call it, they were the owners of over 500 acres of land. As bourgeois as that may sound, the lands were rather utilized to grow crops made to sell.
Barefoot with Fatima in her arms, Khadije made it to Aytaroun, a village in the Southern region of Lebanon today, just on the borders. It is a twenty-minute drive from Melkiye, where war rid her family from.
There, she found her mother. Refugees and homes were compact in a time so critical, so it wasn’t impossible for her to get her way through. A refugee crisis splurged in the region, losses and displacements were profound, and tensions arose.
“The first thing I remember is that when I saw her, it wasn’t a hello or a “thank god” – it was more of me, asking her, “How did you leave me?” The answers remain nebulous; there are some questions which couldn’t be provided logical explanations.
When I spoke to her, she was lying on a mattress in her garden, staring into the black sky, recalling the unending memory of her mother. “We were all over the place. I do not blame my mother. Israel oppressed us all,” she muttered. “I forgive her.”
Khadije married at the age of 18 – both she and her husband were holders of the infamous “Palestinian Refugee” identity card, and they raised 12 children.
“I never needed anyone. I never stretched my hand out for help, and I’m forever humbled for that. I’m illiterate – I barely know how to read. But I cared and gave everything I could; I sold my gold for my children’s education – with the rise of the dollar in the region, life got expensive. But, I taught them well.
They took away our land, our children, our pride – even when we left to Ghazieh, the Israelis followed us. They broke into our home at 2 am and kidnapped our 16-year-old son and imprisoned him for six months. Even the young and innocent weren’t let out of it. But, my heart never ceases to tell me that there still exists a void, which knocks and bounces on every wall in every room in this building.
I know my house is destroyed in Melkiye, but my home thrives. I keep telling myself I want to go back. There will always be a sense of emptiness at the end of the day, and I could only feel it – only my generation could feel it. At this point in my life, my only wish to go back and die there.”
To me, Melkiye is rather a concept – an abstract one that I have yet to see.
Melkiye is a place to live and a place to die. It is a battleground of war and a rose-bed of peace. Like the concept of God, I know it’s there even though I haven’t seen it – but I know He’s watching over it, for He watches over all territories: the free and the forbidden; the known and the unexplored. Between right and wrong; from sea to coast and all that is apart: I will meet you halfway, where hearts are blind to beauty and skin; minds conscious to hatred and imperialism; eyes which see beyond the wall – a place where souls find a home to rest in.