By Abigail Roberts | Contributor
1948 is a year many will not forget. Whether one knows it as the year Israel became a state: the year of Independence, or the year over 500 Palestinian towns and villages were destroyed and invaded: the Naqba (Catastrophe in Arabic), it has cemented itself into Middle East history books forever, and into the hearts of those from the land for even longer. As Israel maintains itself as a democratic state, the lives of those who lived within the land before the Jews continue to be impacted each day.
My Arabic tutor Aya is Palestinian. She was born in Jordan and has never seen her homeland. During one of our first lessons I noticed a small blue book peeking out from her bag. I asked her what she was reading. She was reading a book by Ghassan Kanafani, a Palestinian political thinker, militant and journalist. The book, "Returning to Haifa," documents a family's struggle inside the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the midst of 1948. As she talked about Kanafani tears ran from the corners of her eyes. She has read all of his works and has read this particular novel so many times she has lost count. Kanafani was assassinated in Beirut in 1972 at the age of 36. To her he represents so much.
I asked her once about the necklaces she wears around her neck. She replied that one is an original Palestinian pound from before 1927. From her second necklace hangs a small bottle. Inside is dirt from her grandparents' village. A friend of hers traveled to Palestine and asked, "What do you want me to bring back?" Aya answered, "All I want is the trab (soil/dirt) of my home." She keeps both close to her heart at all times.
For Aya, growing up only hearing about a place she is told is her home is more than difficult. Her grandparents were forced out in 1948 when her father was a young child. Her mother was born in Jordan and so was she, "but this doesn't mean I am any less Palestinian," said Aya. Sixty percent of the Jordanian population is made up of Palestinian refugees.
At the moment, if Aya wanted to travel to Palestine she would have to apply months in advance for a visa. She wouldn't be sure if it would be accepted or when it would be accepted. Once approved she would be given an exact time frame in which to travel in and if she was already scheduled for classes or work and couldn't make it in that time, too bad.
However, all of these stipulations only encourage her more in her identity and the identity of her people. She has let me borrow her copy of "Returning to Haifa." At the moment, it is the first thing I reach for to read.