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What Home Feels Like Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Yara Kassem, Egypt Jul 28, 2004
Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Interviews
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What Home Feels Like They call them “the departed,” the Palestinian departed or the Palestinian emigrants: those ones who had to walk away from home to Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt in the year 1968, right after the tragic Arab defeat.
They call them “the departed,” the Palestinian departed or the Palestinian emigrants: those ones who had to walk away from home to Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt in the year 1968, right after the tragic Arab defeat.

I met her a year ago; it was my first day at work when I could clearly notice that small and loud lady, and most of all I could notice that incredible stubborn strength jumping out of her eyes - that’s what I liked the most about her. And in the same day, she stepped into my office saying loudly: “My name is Ghadeer or you can call me Om Bilal (which means in Arabic the mother of Bilal). The executive director and I are the only non-Egyptians in this company - Nelly (the executive director) is Ugandan - but I’m Palestinian.”

And out of my very special interest in Palestinians and the Palestinian cause, we became close friends. Her office being the first door next to mine, we had that daily chat each morning while drinking our coffees before starting work. She was the secretary for the sales department and I was the customer relations coordinator, and I fell in love with her strength, resistance and identity: the young 28 years old Palestinian lady who lived in the popular Embaba area in Cairo, struggling in that company, being so faraway from where she lives, having to take 3 ways of transportation to reach the office after she drops her 1 year old little son to her mom, then running after work to her mom’s place. I became addicted to her chats about home, about her family who was thrown apart in different countries, about the Palestinian resistance and about being in Egypt. What I remember the most is when I came into the office one day, and I knew that Sheikh Yassin was killed by Israeli forces, and I stepped quickly to her office to see her and she was crying, she was so sad, as if she were still living in Palestine, and I was so touched by her feelings and thoughts over home.

I have the chance to share with you my story with Ghadeer or Om Bilal through an interview with her about her life in Egypt as a refugee, or one of the departed:

Yara: To what country or homeland do you belong to? And in what country are you now?

Ghadeer: I belong to Palestine, Gaza, and I live in Cairo right now. They call us the departed. My father came to Egypt right after the 1968 defeat. He used to be an Arabic teacher that time, and they gave us a piece of paper that says that we’re Palestinians instead of a passport.

Y: What were the causes for you to leave home and take refuge in another place?

G: My father had to move from Gaza after the Arab defeat in 1968, like the thousands of others who had to walk away to Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt after seeing the Arab armies defeated in Palestine, and trying the escape the Israeli’s atrocities there. But my elder sister Ghada is living now in Gaza with her husband and son, and even though there is much danger and she can’t leave home. She witnesses a lot of bombs, atrocities against the Palestinians on a daily basis, and yet she’s so strong and so attached to home. I remember she was crying on the phone when she told us about that little girl who was going to school that day and out of a sudden an Israeli bomb killed her. Ghada had seen the little girl dying and, by the way this sight is quite common, it happens on a daily basis. It’s not really easy to live in an occupied home.

Y: What were the conditions of your new home? And how have you been treated?

G: We’ve been living in Egypt for quite a long time; my father came to Egypt in the year 1968,and we were hosted by the Egyptian government that time. Egyptians are very friendly, very warm, they treat us like we’re real Egyptians and not refugees… But, the fees for education are really expensive for us. I graduated from the science faculty in Cairo University and even though Cairo University has so reasonable fees, I had to pay my fees in sterling pounds, which cost us a fortune.

Y: What is being done to help refugees? And what needs to be done?

G: The Egyptian government is already doing a lot to help Palestinian refugees specifically; there’s a huge number of Palestinians being hosted by Egypt, getting education in Egyptian schools and universities, working in Egyptians institutions and living easily and smoothly amongst Egyptians. But as I told you earlier, what would have made things easier if we pay our education fees in Egyptian pounds, which would be really better.

Y: Are there any special challenges that refugee youth face?

G: Well, some of the youth refugees forget about the home issue - they might forget how home looks like, but don’t forget what home feels like and they don’t feel at home in their new asylum, which is so painful. Some young refugees maybe came to that asylum when they were so young like myself, and the fast and busy rhythm of life makes them forget about the cause, why they had to walk away from home.

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