IMEU, Mar 20, 2008
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Arouri was 20-years-old when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes or fled in fear as the state of Israel was established. His village, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah, was spared much of the fighting. Still, he says Zionist military units would patrol his village, rounding up young men. He and his friends avoided arrest by disappearing into his family's fruit groves.
Arouri left Palestine in 1951 and went to Kuwait. Like so many other Palestinians, he sought job opportunities available in the oil-rich Gulf states. He immigrated to the United States in 1981, going first to Rhode Island where his children attended university. Now, to be close to his grandchildren in his retirement, he lives in Orlando, Florida.
He made a point to visit Palestine every summer while his children were growing up. He wanted them to play among the olive and fig trees and the grape arbors where he played as a child. He wanted them to always know where they came from.
Recently, while Arouri waited in line at an Orlando pharmacy, another customer asked him where he came from. More than 25 years after coming to the U.S., his slightly-accented English may betray his immigrant roots. "I told him I was from Palestine," Arouri recounted. "He told me abruptly 'There is no Palestine. You come from Jordan.' I am usually a very polite man, but I have to admit I was less than polite when I disagreed with him."
Arouri knows that there are many misperceptions in America about what happened in Palestine 60 years ago and why Palestinians and Israelis are in conflict to this day. He is active with civic groups in Orlando, like the Arab-American Community Center, that educate the public about Palestinian history and culture. He believes that if more Americans knew the truth, they would support the Palestinian quest for freedom and equal rights in their homeland. But he doesn't suffer those who seek to deprive him or other Palestinians of their roots or their history.
"It may have been 60 years ago, but my thoughts even today are with those people who escaped massacres, who left their homes and towns and came to live under trees in our village. I still remember the looks on their faces. I will never forget."
The "Nakba" ("catastrophe" in Arabic) refers to the destruction of Palestinian society in 1948 and the exile of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and homeland. It is estimated that more than 50 percent were driven out under direct military assault by Israeli troops. Others fled in panic as news spread of massacres in Palestinian villages like Deir Yassin and Tantura. Nearly half the Palestinian refugees had fled by May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence and the Arab states entered the fray.
Israel depopulated more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages, destroying most while resettling the remainder with new Jewish immigrants without regard to Palestinian rights and desires to return to their homes. Israel still refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and to pay them compensation, as required by international law.
Today, there are more than 4 million registered Palestinian refugees worldwide. The Nakba is a root cause of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel's denial of its expulsion of the Palestinians and seizure of their homes and properties for Jewish use continues to inflict pain and to generate resistance among Palestinians today.
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