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Refugees on North American tour: ‘We’re the other Palestinians and we want you to hear our story’

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Amena El-Ashkar and Khawla Hammad will speak at more than 30 events across the U.S. and Canada this fall on the North America Nakba Tour. To learn more about the 2017 Nakba Tour, visit or the North America Nakba Tour Facebook page.

Khawla Hammad was 16-years-old when she last lived in Palestine. That was 1948, when the Zionist militias drove her out along with her family and more than half the Palestinian population in Palestine.  Since then, she has lived as a refugee in Lebanon, with no citizenship in any country, and few rights.

I was born in Lebanon as a Palestinian refugee. I, too, have few rights and no citizenship even though I was born here, as were my parents.

Amena El-Ashkar. (Photo: North America Nakba Tour)

Today, the population of Israel is 75 percent Jewish and 20 percent Palestinian-Arab. When Khawla was born, the population of Palestine was almost exactly the opposite, with less than 20 percent of the population Jewish. Including the West Bank and Gaza, the proportion of Palestinians in Palestine today is still just below fifty percent–despite the massive expulsions.

Much is said about the Palestinians that remain in Palestine and the importance of preserving their land and rights, as well as the role of the Palestinian Authority that is supposed to represent all Palestinians but the minority who gained Israeli citizenship.  But what about the rest of us, living outside Palestine with no representation at all and no rights? There are more Palestinians outside Palestine than inside, due to the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and subsequent measures to exile as many of us as possible.

Our concern is not about preserving what we have not yet lost because we have lost everything.  Rather, we are concerned about restoring our rights as Palestinians. We are not Lebanese. We are and want to remain Palestinians, and we want our rights to be not only recognized (though that is a start) but also implemented, as required by international law.

We have a voice that has not been widely heard in North America and other western countries.  Indeed, getting the visas for people with no citizenship of any kind was not easy.  Nevertheless, we succeeded, and last year we traveled throughout North America by car. We spoke in 26 different places, with 86-year-old Mariam Fathalla telling her story of expulsion from Palestine and exile in Lebanon.

The results were eye-opening for us and our audiences. We were concerned that perhaps Americans might be hostile to us and our message. With some exceptions, this was not the case. When we were willing to listen to each other, the experience was enriching for us all; we left America with many new friends.

This year, Khawla and I will be speaking all over the east coast of the United States and Canada, starting September 15.  The tour is being organized by the al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the International Solidarity Movement ­– Northern California, Black4Palestine and the Free Palestine Movement.  The tour is by van, so there is a set route.  We hope you will attend one of the events that have been planned or reach out to us to plan one along the route yourself.

I look forward to introducing Khawla my friends from last year and to both of us making new friends this year.


Amena El-Ashkar

Amena El-Ashkar is a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon and the great-granddaughter of Palestinian survivors of the Nakba. She is a journalist for Palestine Today, one of the few sources of employment for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

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One Response

  1. Vera Gottlieb on August 31, 2017, 9:28 am

    I wish this tour lots of luck! But I can’t help wondering what pressure the israel lobby will exert, to see that these presentations are interfered with. One way or the other, the truth (unpleasant to israel) will see the light of day – thank goodness.

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