The following article "Resisting Oblivion" is part of a long research on a Palestinian demolished village, Lubya, and its historiography before and after its demolition in 1948. This article is part of a forthcoming book, due to be published in both Danish and English in Denmark this year. The article is based mainly on the oral accounts of the elderly generation from the village--700 people were interviewed--and archival documents, pieced together to produce this microcosmic piece of modern Palestinian historiography, and to show the power of past memory acounts in shaping the lives of people, even after fifty-four years in exile.
There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's
--Euripides, 43 B.C.
The idea to research Lubya's history began stirring in me long ago while I was still living in a refugee camp in Lebanon. In 1948, my parents and thousands of others from Lubya and the surrounding villages in the Tiberias district arrived at Wavel Refugee Camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon. Like other Palestinians who were expelled or otherwise forced to leave their homes and villages during the 1948 war in Palestine--an experience known to Palestinians as al-Nakba or "the catastrophe"--my parents refused to settle in "proper" houses, hoping that they would soon return to their home in Palestine. Although they faced extremely cold weather when they first arrived, they preferred to live in tents distributed by the Red Cross. My father's wife, her son, and many other refugee children died that year.
For more than five decades, resolutions concerning the right of return of Palestinian refugees have shelved in the archives of the United Nations. Every year the same resolutions affirming the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, mainly UN General Assembly Resolution 194, (1) have been voted on and passed unanimously, with the exception of a single state that votes against them--Israel. Protests have not helped; the result remains the same. The "temporary status" of Palestinian refugees has seemingly turned out to be "permanent."
A Palestinian child born in Wavel Refugee Camp soon begins to pose the normal, if naive questions: Who am I? Why are we refugees? Why are we not allowed to attend military classes in the Lebanese schools? Why do we live such a transitory life? Why does father refuse to buy a refrigerator, television, or washing machine, commenting that it will be easier, when the time comes, to return home without these cumbersome belongings? Why don't we have the same rights as the people we live among--the right to work, the right to a nationality or a passport? Why do the authorities close the gates of the camp and prevent us from leaving every time an official guest from abroad comes to visit the historical ruins of Baalbek? Why are we treated differently even though we speak the same language and share a common history? Where do we originally come from?
It was all these questions; the stories about Lubya recounted by my parents and relatives; the discriminatory policies of the authorities, and my long life of forced displacement from one country to another, that motivated me to visit Lubya in 1994. The visit became possible only after I had obtained Danish citizenship. For the first time in forty-three years, I was finally able to carry my own official passport, a document that gave me official status. Even with that status, however, I was forbidden to write the name of Lubya, my place of origin, in my passport. (In my refugee documents, my place of birth reads: Lubya-Tiberias). For the Danish authorities, Lubya had ceased to exist; they could only agree to write Tiberias, refusing even to include the word Palestine. Nevertheless, the passport enabled me to finally visit my homeland; but only as a tourist and not as a local or a citizen.
That first visit was followed by a second one on which I was accompanied by my parents and a Danish television crew, in order to film a documentary about Lubya's history. …