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Until Return - Issue 6

The following article was written by Khairya Zubaidi of Al-Hawiya Organization, Yarmouk camp, Syria, and translated by Sama Abdulhalim in San Diego California.

The article is about Um Amer (mother of Amer) who passed away on July 2 from complications from cancer. Um Amer, may she rest in peace, was one of 750 Palestinians stranded in Al-Tanaf refugee detention camp located in no man's land in the desert between Iraq and Syria. Um Amer appeared in the documentary "25 Thousand Tents . . . Maybe More" demanding her right and hoping to return to her village near Haifa. The documentary was screened recently at the Sixth Annual International Al-Awda Convention. Copies of the documentary are now available. Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp including Khairya Zubaidi of Al-Hawiya Organization have been assisting our people at Al-Tanaf over the last two years with whatever they can. Through these efforts they have developed personal relationships and knowledge of the people stranded at Al-Tanaf.

Um Amer
by Khairya Zubaidi

Her passing was as difficult as her eventful and harsh childhood. As a child, she began to awaken and discover the beauty of the world and to make connections with the land and trees, home and hearth, and bread kiln in her home. She had an invisible connection with everything she saw and all things surrounding her; who said that the land and trees are not sentient
beings and that the air travels and is not connected to a specific land? She was connected to all these things and the occupation of 1948 severed this connection and cruelly uprooted her. She rushed off with her family without even taking the necessities. She took refuge in the mountains by using the land as her bedroll and the sky as her blanket. She drank the rainwater and foraged the land. She found herself traveling through many different lands ... traveling still after 60 years. Even 60 years didn't diminish her love and desire to reclaim her roots. Longing for her childhood home still burns in her heart. I asked her about her desire to return home and her face lit up with a hope that she refused to lose, and she answered "I will go back."  She said "I wish this will come true. I want to go back even if I have to go back to foraging the land and drinking rainwater. Just return me to my land. I wish this would come true. Will it come true before I leave this earth?"

Um Amer's dream did not come true. Illness got the best of her. Illness was the only reason she was allowed to leave Al-Tanaf refugee camp -  to receive medical treatment. Test results showed that her illness was in an advanced stage and hope for a cure was slim. Um Amer did not know how severe her situation was. She had hoped she would get better and be able to stand on her own two feet. Being in a public hospital that treats refugees made it easier for her to deal with her situation for her fellow refugees would visit with her. As a result of the illness, Um Amer was moved to another hospital that specializes in cancer treatment.

Um Amer moved from the confinement of Al-Tanaf refugee camp to a harsher and cruel confinement - death. She is confined by death. The dire situation of the other patients surrounding her forced her to acknowledge and wait for death. When she first found out she had cancer, she tried to go back to the refugee camp. She felt it would be easier to be surrounded by family and friends. All parties responsible, from the hospital to the team responsible for Al-Tanaf, used her illness as an excuse to refuse her request to return to the refugee camp. That is when Um Amer gave up and not only did she refuse the cancer treatment but also treatment of any kind. Her refusal to fight the cancer and seeing her forcefully subdued with painkillers caused me great sorrow and sadness. I hoped she would keep resisting and fighting the people in control because I felt that as long as she was trying to get back to Al-Tanaf she would be fighting death as well.

I spoke with her about life and told her that she would get well and go back to Al-Tanaf. I told her that she had to fulfill her promise to me to cook biryani. I told her that she was stronger than Zahra, another Al-Tanaf refugee who was currently fighting and winning the battle against a cancer of the blood. After our conversation, Um Amer decided to resume the cancer treatment. But it was already too late.

At one point, I spoke with Um Amer's doctor about her situation. He told me that Um Amer was negligent in her treatment of herself. He said that she should have gone to the hospital before the situation had gotten this bad. I felt that his words were part of a dark comedy. All I could think to myself was "doesn't this man know how often sick people try to go to the hospital or see a doctor and are refused exit from the refugee camp until they are at the point of death?" To all parties responsible for the refugee camp, the people living there are just numbers not human beings. They don't have names or feelings or needs, they are just a serial number. A year ago things were even more difficult for people who were sick. Back then, someone who was ill could not even be accompanied by a family member. They had to leave the refugee camp and go to the hospital alone. Now they are allowed one person to accompany them.

Um Amer's son, Amer, had a very difficult time getting permission to leave Al-Tanaf refugee camp to visit his mother. After he finally received permission to leave the camp and visit her at the hospital, he was only allowed to stay with her a week. Um Amer was not expected to live long, she was given hours at worst and a couple of days at most. The people responsible for Al-Tanaf tried to make Amer go back to Al-Tanaf before Um Amer passed away. Amer was in a difficult situation because his father was also ill back at the Al-Tanaf camp. He wanted to stay with his mother but he wanted to go back and take care of his father. In the end, logistics forced his hand. There was no transportation available for him to go back to Al-Tanaf. So he ended up staying with his mother until she passed away.

Um Amer's life was a chain of hardships. At age seven she was a suffering immigrant, then sanctions and war for 10 years, then another unbalanced war, then civil war which is, maybe, even more cruel created by countries who claim they are democratic. She was forced to leave Baghdad to save her children. The family was separated. One of her daughters left with her
husband. Her son, Omar, immigrated to Chile. The family was separated but they are not the only ones. A similar story exists in every tent in the camp and some stories are even worse. The hardships brought the refugee community together. Their only crime is being Palestinians even though they weren't involved in the Palestinian cause. All of this didn't convince the executioner - if your Palestinian you're a fugitive not deserving of mercy. This is the logic of current civilization. She left this life alone. Her daughter, Nida, was her companion in suffering through the night. It was very difficult for Nida to see the suffering her mother went through and her certain death.

I will never forget you Um Amer . . . . how can I visit the camp without seeing you? Without your exuberant welcome. I will miss hearing the strength and pride you display when you speak. Your hardships didn't make you weak and didn't cause you to beg for mercy or feel self-pity. I will never forget your tears the last time I saw you. After I saw the movie, I felt you were the hero of the film. You watched the movie in silence and your tears ran down your wrinkled cheeks. You didn't speak but the expression on your face said it all. While saying goodbye to you I wondered if I would ever see you again. And it turned out to be the last time I saw you.

If you wish to direct a donation to help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians currently stranded on the border with Iraq, please go to this page and follow the instructions. Please indicate "Iraq Relief" with your submission.


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