Old Umm Anwar was a little girl when she was kicked out of her home by Israel nearly 60 years ago. Although she is now around 80 years old with many grandchildren, she still feels homesick and dreams of going back.
Umm Anwar is among a handful of ageing Palestinian women who are still alive in a tiny refugee camp in Lebanon to testify to an age-old tragedy that had befallen hundreds of thousands of peaceful people who were expelled from their villages and cities in historic Palestine.
While the calamity has allied with age and the death of her husband to shake up her features, they apparently could not shake her will. After all those difficult years of living as a poor refugee in that rugged camp, Umm Anwar is still smiling and her sense of humor has never been stronger.
Deep inside, she knows that she might not see her home again because of her old age and Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but she still believes in the return. And for this reason, she still keeps the rusty key of her house in Palestine.
“If not me, it could be my children…if not my children, it could be their children or their grand children,” said Umm Anwar, while smiling.
“Palestine has been lost but not forever…it is our right and right is never lost forever….I am confident my people will be back to their homes in Palestine…I know Israel is strong now but strength is not perpetual without right.”
Umm Anwar was a teen age girl when Israel troops invaded her village and drove its residents out in 1948 after a brief military but unqualified confrontation.
The woman came from Mirun, a tiny village in northern Palestinian with its population not exceeding 300 during the war.
Umm Anwar still recalls that day when bombs began pouring into the village to shatter its peace, purity and tranquility. She still recalls men screaming to their wives and children to take shelter from the bombs. A few days later, they all packed and trekked a 15-km rugged road towards the Lebanese border to escape death after news of massacres by Israeli invaders in nearby villages.
“We were peaceful villagers and farmers…our main concern is how to plough the land and feed our sheep…it was a simple and pure life that had been massacred by the Israeli and Jewish aggressors…we did not do anything wrong to the Jews…...it was an unprovoked attack by the Jewish,” said Umm Hussein, another old Palestinian women, who live metres away from Umm Anwar’s house in the tiny hilltop refugee camp of Mieh Mieh in south Lebanon.
“I still remember when we left in panic….I was a little girl who was not married…I got married here and have children and grand children…my husband had died and he was buried in Lebanon…all the old Palestinians who have died are buried in Lebanon away from their original home….I don’t think the Israelis feel guilty about this because they have no conscience….but what I am sure of is that one day my people will be back home as no one will even think of forgetting Palestine, the land of our fathers and ancestors.”
Umm Anwar and Umm Hussein still remember how they lived in their village, where women had played a key role in livelihood.
“We used to cleanup our houses, cook, milk the cattle and look after our land. We made Labneh (sour milk), cheese, butter, bread, thyme and grit. We toiled at our gardens and went out into prickly fields to pick edible herbs… at the end of the day, our homes were shining and our families were ready to go to bed with filled bellies to prepare for yet another day,” Umm Anwar said, still smiling.
“We were simply the lifeline of our village…we used to wake up at dawn to clean the cattle shed and milk the goats, sheep and cow…we then had to clean the house, tidy up the rooms, wash up clothes, then cook for the family….women in Miroun were very dedicated housewives,” said Umm Hussein.
“Besides all these duties and responsibilities, we used to toil at our land to cultivate it and produce crop….we never had the so-called babysitters nor did we have any housemaids or helpers…we were simply in charge of the house and had to do all the job…we started doing household work at early age…that is why when we married at early age, we were ready to manage a house.”
Following the death of most men and women of their age, Umm Anwar and Umm Hussein have become so close that they are seen together most of the time.
The two women live with their families at massive houses that have been gradually expanded over the past years to accommodate their steadily growing offspring. Both of them now have at least six children and 10 grandchildren.
All their children were born in Lebanon but they are classified as refugees because they have no passports except for the travel document given to them by the Lebanese government. The relatively large brown documents bear on top of their cover the words “for Palestinian refugees.”
Umm Anwar and Umm Hussein had struggled with their husbands to support their families while living in Diaspora before old age forced them to retire.
They now spend most of their time playing with their grandchildren, watching television, praying and chatting in their massive back gardens after sunset.
Some of their children carry weapons as they belong to what is left of the Palestinian armed groups, which are seen as symbol of the people’s struggle to regain their land. Umm Anwar and Umm Hussein enjoy seeing those weapons.
“We should not quit guns and sit idle waiting to get Palestine back on a gold tray…without struggle, pain and patience, it won’t be back,” Umm Anwar said.
“Umm Anwar is right…we have made big sacrifices and need to make more…Israel is much stronger than us now but that doesn’t mean that we give up our land, our dream and our hope…the Israelis are a cruel enemy as they never feel guilty for what they had done to us…I don’t think they go to bed every night with a sense of guilt…that’s why we should be strong and cruel.”