A Palestinian Reflects on a New Generation of Refugees
AMMAN—I think constantly about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I used to think that I lived the worst possible life, with all of the political, social and economic problems that I face every day. Then I met Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees in a trip to Jordan.
I was appointed as a teaching assistant for an online course—Human Rights and Everyday Life—that Al-Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences offers to students of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Amman. On February 14, Al-Quds Bard students traveled to Amman to meet with Jesuit Refugee Service students for two days.
The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
On February 15, after breakfast at King’s Academy here (a private school where the annual tuition is $53,250), we met Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees.
I stopped watching the news about Syria after the death of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy who drowned on the Turkish shore in September 2015. I felt I couldn’t bear to learn more details of suffering. Now I only read the headlines.
In recent days those headlines have announced the deaths of 700 people in Ghouta, an agricultural region east of Damascus where one of the most intensive bombardments of the seven-year civil war has been taking place. Women and children have been the main victims.
During icebreaker activities for the workshop, I noticed the behavior of a 20-year-old refugee named Issa—hyperactive, smart and a critical thinker. In a note shared with the group, I wrote: “Issa loves to show off.”
Yes, he replied—this will help me change the world one day.
Still, I felt that he was broken inside. I wasn’t wrong.
Later, Issa talked about his life in Jordan as a refugee. In Syria, he had been a good student, and was always first in his class. He wanted to study science and be an inventor.
But the civil war left Issa without education or a job, and a life of struggling from day to day.
He quoted the Iraqi poet Abu al-Atahiyya, who wrote, “Youth will come back one day.” “I can’t hope for that,” Issa said. “I have lost my youth.”
That statement brought tears to my eyes.
Rama was another young Syrian that I met. She was 18, and the previous week I had congratulated her on getting her tawjihi, the Jordanian certificate of secondary education. Rama was calm and smart, and like Issa had always been top of her class. Her mark for the tawjihi was 81 percent—not the grade she had hoped for, but at least she passed.
“I am looking for a scholarship to study design, and then to get a job to support my family,” Rama said.
I am a refugee myself, so I understand the meaning of refugee status. But I never experienced anything like what these young people are going through.
I was not directly affected by the Nakba, the 1948 Palestinian exodus. I didn’t live through the killing and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. I didn’t witness the destruction of their houses. I have not had to live in a country where I felt alienated and unwelcome.
Every person I met in Amman had a story where those feelings were part of the theme. There was 18-year-old David from Baghdad, who had a talent for music and had once been a singer. And there was Andi, 26, who had been looking for a job for years, without success. “I spend my life in volunteering and training,” he said.
As a Palestinian, I expect anything from the occupation. The Israeli occupation kills, destroys, arrests and now has been given Jerusalem as its capital. But the worst thing is when the oppression comes from your own kin, government and people.