Cover Image

Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori

Stories of Migration and Displacement: The Legacy of Palestinian Occupation

The legacy of Palestine lives through stories and acts of remembrance until a future generation is able to make more of their own.

Dec 7, 2019

One of my earliest memories as a child was being pushed in a stroller in downtown Atlanta at the age of four surrounded by banners and loud noises. The chants remain clearly ingrained in my memory — “long live Palestine!” and “end the occupation!” — in the Arabic-English code switch mixture that I had become accustomed to. When I asked my mother what was happening, she told me, “you’ll understand when you’re older.”
It was years later that I learned about the Second Intifada, or the second Palestinian uprising, and felt the power behind the chants that were ingrained in my mind. In another early memory, my mother picked me up from daycare early on a Tuesday morning and brought me back home, where I notice both of my siblings, as well as my father, home early too. When I asked what was happening, my mother told me, “it’s not safe, you’ll understand when you’re older.” It was years later that I fully understood the Sept. 11 attacks and the fear felt by my parents as one of the few Palestinian Muslims in our community. In 2006, at the age of seven, a friend from school told me that her parents banned her from entering my home. When I asked her why, she replied in somewhat of a whisper, as if confiding a terrible secret, “because you are Palestinians.” While growing up has allowed me to understand many of my past memories, this is one I am yet to comprehend.
The legacy of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six-Day War was one of displacement. My family was among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families displaced as a result of the failure to create an Arab State in Palestine. My father's family, displaced in 1948 from Jaffa, fled to Gaza and then to Egypt. My mother's family fled from Jerusalem in 1967 to Jordan, both sides looking for a more stable future from the war-torn villages they were forced to leave behind.
61 years later in 2008, I sat in my paternal grandfather’s living room in New Egypt, watching the news as the 2008 Gaza War unfolded. Surrounded by old photographs and posters of pre-war life in Jaffa, my grandfather recalled my family’s deep history in thick Palestinian Arabic, as he switched through various news castings, witnessing the newest addition to the long list of wars that our nation has endured. In 1948, his family fled from their beachside house in Jaffa to the then calmer Gaza Strip, to escape the violence around them. “It was just supposed to be a few weeks,” he said, showing me images of the house keys that were kept by his mother. “I didn’t know that I would never be able to come back home.”
Image One
Image Courtesy of Reema El-Kaiali
From Gaza, our family fled to Egypt where my grandfather, only in his early twenties at the time, searched Cairo for a suitable new home for their family of seven. “I wish you could’ve seen our old home,” he told me with a smile. “Hopefully one day you might be able to, it’s too late for me now.”
It is difficult to explain to those around me how I feel so connected to a nationality and land I have never gotten the privilege of stepping foot in. My family was lucky. From both Egypt and Jordan, my parents met in Kuwait before painfully having to migrate to the United States during the Gulf War. And while I was born and raised in the south of the United States, my parents ensured that Arabic was the first language I learned. We were part of the Arab Americans Society in Georgia and I celebrated my Palestinian heritage every international day at school.
If you know me, you know that the concept of borders does not resonate with me. But my Palestinian identity and its legacy has indeed been the most salient aspect of my life. I believe that identity is held more strongly under threat, and my Palestinian identity has been passed down on me — a third generational refugee — with all the memories and struggles of those who came before me.
Image Two
Image Courtesy of Reema El-Kaiali
Even though I have never lived in Palestine, that is where my Arabic accent stems from. Even though I have never been able to step foot in Jaffa, my grandfather's memories reign as mine. I have fought — sometimes daily — not only for my own existence, but for my family's existence. Because the question of Palestinian legacy is no longer one of borders, but one of absolute persistence. It is in the passage of time that imperialism thrives. However, in the 71 years of occupation so far, Palestinian culture and existence has yet to be forgotten and instead thrives through the stories of those who came and fought before us.
The struggle was never my own, but one for my entire family. I will raise any future children I may have with the comics of Naji Al-Ali, with the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and with the stories of my family, just as my grandparents did for my parents. I will argue about the proper way to cook kunafeh, I will continue organizing events with Students for Justice in Palestine and I will continue learning more about the occupation. The legacy of Palestine lives through these stories and acts of remembrance until a future generation is able to make more of their own.
Reema El-Kaiali is a columnist. Email her at
gazelle logo