The diaspora of my people began in 1948. The story of the ordeal I was subjected to when forced to abandon my home dates back to the same year. I was sitting with my children around the hearth while sipping tea to warm up when someone banged on the door so fiercely that for a moment I thought they were intent on busting it down. My wife and children hid further inside the house and I opened the door. In front of me stood a group of Israeli soldiers. Even before I could ask what I owed the pleasure of their visit to, one of the soldiers instructed me in Arabic to evacuate the house. My heart skipped a beat. What would I tell my kids? Where were we supposed to go?
I apprised my wife of what had happened and she started crying. So I did the only thing I could at the moment. I patted her on the shoulder and comforted her. “Have faith in God and be patient, for one day we will return.”
We weren’t given enough time to pack, which is why we just grabbed the bare essentials. My son Jihad, who was seven years old at the time, asked me, “Dad, should I take all my clothes with me?”
“No, sweetheart,” I replied. “We’ll probably be back in a couple of days, God willing.”
It was pitch-black outside when we left the house. We had no place to go and had to sleep out in the open that night before crossing the border to Syria the next morning. Yet things had only started to get messy. It was winter and the paths were covered in snow. My kids fell ill because of the extreme cold they had to brave on our journey to exile. Eventually, we settled in Yarmouk Camp. My children and I lived there in a house whose ceiling and walls were on the verge of crumbling.
The third of November 1948 has become firmly lodged in my mind because that was the day I had to depart from my beloved Acre. I will never be able to forget it.
Time marched on, my son Jihad grew up and one day turned eighteen. He then came to me and said, “Dad, I still remember you telling me on the day we had to leave Acre that we would only be away for a couple of days. Instead, it has been several years now and still we have not returned. I have almost forgotten what Acre looks like. Has the city forgotten about us? Do you think we’ll ever get a chance to see it again?”
With a lump in my throat I answered, pining for my precious Acre. “I am certain the city still remembers you. A mother never forgets her children. As for whether you’ll ever see it again, I can only assert that God is magnanimous. Perhaps you will, sweetheart. I can’t say. Just make sure to remember what the Koran teaches us. The Lord tells us to never give up hope, because whatever we can’t wait to see happening may occur sooner than expected. However, if you feel the homesickness is too harrowing to bear, look at the moon, because the color of freedom floods her face. She will bolster your hope of one day returning to Acre.”
From that day onward, I often found Jihad waiting anxiously to catch sight of the moon, his eyes glinting with love and a flicker of hope. Over time, I got older and began to go gray. I then started to grow impatient, wishing to become a grandfather, and began to nag him about getting married. “How much longer are you gonna duck your duty to start a family?” I used to ask him.
He always gave me the same answer. “I’ll get married when I find a Palestinian woman who is right for me.”
Thank God he finally found her. She was a refugee girl. Both Samra’s eyes and hair were black. She had truly Arabic-looking traits. After getting married, the couple conceived a baby boy, who Jihad named Sabir, the Patient. He later said to me, “Oh, father, how I wish my son had been born in Acre and were able to enjoy his childhood over there so that it would be as happy as mine was. I know you said we would return soon, but I believe that by now we are closer to landing on the moon where we carved Acre’s name than we are to returning to Acre itself.”
I laid my hands on his shoulders and told him, “Acre is like the moon. It lies amid darkness, to wit, the occupation. With God’s aid, we will be the sun, which by dint of shining will expunge the darkness. Dear son, in this life you have to learn to work your way up. Aim for the moon regardless of how unreachable it may seem. Pull out all the stops for what you desire, devote all your brains and brawn, and never give up hope. You have to pursue your dreams no matter what—even if they hang from the sky.”
Written by Seema Khaled Hamad Saqr.