The mother of Mohamed al-Khateb resolutely awaited the return of her son. But waiting for her was hardly a metaphoric notion. She sat on an old blanket, placed permanently in a shaded spot adjacent to her house and waited, for decades.
We grew older, from childhood to manhood, and the tired old face of Mohamed’s mother always greeted us, as we walked about our tiny yet crowded refugee camp. My foolish age once made me wonder if she ever moved or took a rest, even once. Later, I realized that she simply waited for her son, never losing hope that he would return one day.
Mohamed was in Kuwait. He left his refugee camp in Gaza following the 1956 war. He was still young then and the Diaspora was still fresh in the minds of all refugees. There was no work in Gaza, so he choose to head to Kuwait, joining an influx of well-educated Palestinian youth that sought better lives in the Gulf states.
The young man never intended to stay in Kuwait for eternity. The plan was as simple as all others, making enough money to support one’s family and return home. Mohamed returned twice or more to visit his family in the camp, once with a family of his own.
But as the longing for her son and grandchildren reached an intolerable stage, Mohamed’s mother was struck with the aftermath of the 1967 war: the Israeli army occupied the Gaza Strip and the rest of the territories. The woman felt the bitterness of defeat and the cruelty of a new fate imposed on her. But there was more on her mind than the fall of her last safe heaven. Mohamed, along with tens of thousands of Palestinians who were outside of their towns, villages and refugee camps, were denied even their refugee status. They were permanently exiled.
The old woman who once hoped that the hardship of life would one day ease when she would be reunited with her only son, was now torn by military occupation, checkpoints, barbed wire and an Israeli government decision to deny her the ultimate hope of her anguished years.
As I often strolled back and forth by the old lady’s house as she hunched and awaited so patiently for her son’s return, I never understood how she, her son and the aging blanket were all players in one of the world’s most complicated political struggles. Never had I guessed that Mohamed’s mother represented a whole generation that longed for the return of beloved ones. I was too young to read much into the old woman and her endless gaze on the horizon. Did she hope that one day a taxicab would emerge, roofed with luggage and hauling her son and grandchildren?
I doubt that the old woman followed the news intently. But I have no illusions that her heart leaped with joy every time she heard the word “peace” being uttered. While Palestinians and Israelis negotiated the complex steps required by the peace process, Mohamed’s mother must’ve measured the end result of the peace talks by the return of her son. Little did the old woman know that the right of return for Palestinian refugees was the last “compromise” Israel was willing to make. Despite the clarity of international law on such a right, it remained a red line that the Israeli government always vowed to refuse. And because Mohamed’s mother had little knowledge in Israel’s “demographic needs”, she never abandoned her sacred spot on the old blanket near her house.
But the long wait has abruptly ended. On July 08, 2003, Mohamed al-Khateb was killed in a car accident in Kuwait. His mother, now very old, received the news and for once abandoned her blanket outside. On a telephone call to a neighbor in the camp, I was told that the old woman has lost consciousness and doctors are expecting that she too will soon die.
The chances are that Mohamed’s mother, now over 80 years old, will soon pass away. But while the death of Mohamed might have forced an old warrior to abandon her trench, millions of Palestinian refugees refuse to submit to an unjust fate that has separated them from Palestine for so long. They remain steadfast in their trenches, in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Syria, in Iraq and all over the world, waiting the moment that international law would for once, prevail.
RAMZY BAROUD is the editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and the editor of the anthology “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion 2002.” 50 percent of the editor’s royalties will go directly to assist in the relief efforts in Jenin. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org