Magazine article New Internationalist

Across the Fence: In the Aftermath of the Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, Reem Haddad Stumbles across Families Reunited after 52 Years of Separation

Magazine article New Internationalist

Across the Fence: In the Aftermath of the Israeli Withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, Reem Haddad Stumbles across Families Reunited after 52 Years of Separation

Article excerpt

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It was the last thing I expected and for a few seconds I stood there dumbfounded. I was climbing a small hill in the village of Dhayra in south Lebanon. Somebody had told me that I might be able to find some members of the South Lebanon Army, Israel's proxy militia until their withdrawal in May this year after 22 years of occupation. As a journalist, I thought this would make a great interview.

Instead, I came across dozens of people standing in front of a fence. They were tearfully calling out people's names. On the other side, others were doing the same. In between the two groups was a barbedwire fence - all that now separates Lebanon from Israel.

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And then it dawned on me: these people were Palestinian families torn apart 52 years ago when the state of Israel was created. And today they were seeing each other for the first time.

Palestinians on the Israeli side had made their way to the fence and asked Lebanese villagers to send a message to certain Palestinian families living in refugee camps in Lebanon. Somehow the message had spread and a busload of Palestinian refugees made their way south.

On both sides, men, women and children arched their necks trying to recognize each other.

'I am Itaf, the daughter of Rihan,' an elderly woman yelled from the Israeli side. 'Who are you? Do you know me?'

Immediately, screams rang out from the Lebanese side as cousins extended their hands in the air as if to reach her. Itaf and other Palestinians stepped over knee-high barbed wire and walked to the fence. Her hand reached through it to grasp the hands of her relatives on the Lebanese side. She had not seen them since 1948.

'How did this happen to us?' she cried out. 'Oh, how did this happen?'

Itaf was born in the Acre region in what was then known as Palestine. Her family fled to Lebanon in 1948 and contact with relatives ceased.

All around, sobs filled the air as relatives either recognized each other or met for the first time. Most were children when they fled. Only childhood memories remained of their friends and relatives. They persisted, calling out the names and trying to identify who was standing in front of them. …

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