STORY: “Good morning, house.” Yacoub Odeh greets the home he grew up in like an old friend.
He was only eight when he escaped on foot from the village of Lifta near Jerusalem, under fire from Zionist militants.
Seventy-five years later, he’s still determined to return.
His was a serene childhood, he recalls, of swimming in local springs and picking figs from the groves.
But in late 1947, violent conflicts broke out between armed Zionist and Palestinian groups towards the end of the British mandate of the land.
Odeh was among some 750,000 Palestinians who were forced out or fled their homes in the 1948 war.
“Lifta is the West gate to Jerusalem, so it was a target for the Zionist military groups back then. So they seized it after they put explosions inside 20 houses in Lifta. People were under blockade. Britain wanted to withdraw so it gave them the weapons. We came under blockade, so the families started to send their wives and children to the caves around the village.”
Every year on May 15, Palestinians lament the Nakba, or catastrophe, of their dispossession when the Jewish state of Israel was created that year.
Odeh lives about four miles away and comes often to the place he still calls home.
Villagers sought what they thought would be temporary shelter and to this day they remain scattered.
“Within an hour we were sheltering in the trees. We were kings and then we became refugees.”
On this visit, Odeh meets two Israelis touring the area.
ODEH: “Sure I’ll never forget.”
SHMULIK: “You’ll never forget.”
ODEH: “Yes. (POINTING TOWARDS HOUSES) Here I born.”
SHMULIK: “My father and my mother came from Poland. They suffer from the holocaust.”
ODEH: “They came instead of me.”
This year the United Nations commemorated the Nakba for the first time.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a siren sounded for 75 seconds to mark 75 years.
Israel has rejected any Palestinian right of return as a demographic threat to its Jewish majority.
Those dispossessed and their descendants now number in the millions.
And many young Palestinians, who have never seen their ancestral homes, also long to return one day.
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