It’s Land Day in Palestine today (March 30th of every year). At least 12 people have been killed in Gaza amidst the peaceful “The Great March of Return”. Although today’s event is not expected to take any refugee home by tonight, because it’s a symbolic event and nothing more, I think it’s a great chance to explain why there’s such a thing as Land Day. And why there are millions of people who continue to be called refugees 70 years after their grandparents were forced to leave their home villages in historic Palestine (besides the fact that most of them still live in impoverished refugee camps).
The society of historic Palestine (before 1948) was largely a rural one. People lived and made a living off pieces of lands they inherited through many generations. It is actually hard, if not impossible, for most of us to know who the first great grandfather settling in their village was, or where they originally came from.
Farming the land was everything people knew. How much land a family owned determined their social class, because it meant they could make more money planting more trees. Culture varied by village, traditional songs featured the fruits people grew. Fashion wise, embroidery patterns and colors were inspired by the natural surroundings people were more familiar with, the colors of their fields and crops. People by the coast of the Mediterranean grew citrus, bananas, pomegranates, and melons, in other areas olives were the deal, in addition to almonds, grapes and figs.
Some would describe the life that I learned about only through my late grandmother’s stories, in great detail, as primitive. Because yes those farmers received very basic education if any, and knew very little of what was happening in the outside world. My 20-something-years-old grandmother had no idea there was a World War II happening in the early 1940s, a time she was working every day with her new groom on their small piece of land, to make living for two kids. Simple it was, but that was a satisfactory life for them. Having to be forced out of their village “Yasour” in June 1948, meant a great deal of disturbance for her and other millions. Having to spend the rest of her life in refugee camps in Gaza first, and in Amman later on (until mid-1990s), receiving food, as international aid through the UNRWA, after she was used to making her own bread back home, is the main reason she believed, and the following generations still believe, they are still entitled to that land. The land, celebrated today, was and still is really the pride of each individual family.
In Western cultures, a person’s hometown is where they were born or where they grew up. Here, a hometown is the place generations of the family lived and farmed their own lands. It’s the place where the family had its farms, because it tells what crops they grew and harvested every year. It’s where they worked hard throughout the year waiting for the harvest time. It’s the place where the songs we still sing in weddings came from in the first place. I was born in Amman, millions of us were, but when we ask each other “where are you from?” we know for sure they will answer by the name of the village their family lived at, at that time.
That’s why we continue to be refugees, because we belong to places we only know through grandmothers’ stories. (Palestinian women are known to be great storytellers especially to grand kids, and they still are). The lucky ones of us don’t receive any international aid anymore, but this is not about money, it isn’t about services, it’s really about heritage. About a culture that still values land as the source of life. It’s about family history.
The 30th of March is the annual reminder of identity for generations of Palestinians, ones who still hold very dear the names of the hometowns they never visited, and may never visit.