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15 May marks 60 years since the founding of the state of Israel and the first Palestinian al Nakba or catastrophe. Palestinian Hala George describes a displaced life in 1960s Scotland.
Nothing in the disruption to me and my family described here compares with the continued suffering and desperation of those driven off their land in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon.
My father’s family were of Crusader stock and came from Malta via Greece, hence the name and the fair looks. My father was Anise Saleem George born in Haipha in 1906. His father, Saleem, was a Palestinian-born grain merchant. My father was the only son amongst five sisters, all born and raised in Palestine. My mother, Haipha Urban, was born in Safad, Palestine in 1909 and raised in Jerusalem.
I was born in the Church of Scotland hospital in Tiberias in 1945, and had two older sisters, Salwa and Olive.
In 1948 my father was working in Nablus. We were living there in a rented house and became citizens of the West Bank, under Jordanian jurisdiction. But the rest of the family was in the part of Palestine which became Israel and we were unable to return to my father’s house in Nazareth. From then on we were severed from all our relatives, with no mail or telephone connection.
One of my aunts was married and left Palestine, in fear, to join her husband who was working in Beirut. My grandmother soon went to join her and she died without seeing the rest of her children again. I only met her once.
I lived in Nablus and then Ramallah until I was 19. Then in 1964 I came to Leith Hospital, near Edinburgh, to train to be a nurse. My sisters and I went to private schools, but there wasn’t enough money for post-school education. Nurses’ training was free with maintenance and some pocket-money!
I never saw my father again as he died suddenly in 1965. In 1967 the Israeli invasion and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza occurred. I had completed my training and only had a student visa, so I couldn’t stay or obtain work in Britain. I desperately wanted to go home and I contacted the Jordanian embassy in London, but they said that they no control over the West Bank so were unable to help me.
In March 1968 the Israelis granted me a visa for only two months.
Life was hard for me in 1960s Scotland. Although I made some very good friends, I experienced a lot of racism and had no one who shared my history. I was completely alone. One heard about the Six Day War on the BBC, but we had no telephone and my only contact with home was through the Red Cross. It was devastating.
There was little foreign travel. People were more interested in Sandie Shaw and the Beatles than in war elsewhere. The first time they took notice was when Leila Khaled hijacked a plane. Then people had a wee giggle and said “Hala! You look like Leila Khaled!” Then the first Intifada started; we saw youths with stones confronting heavily armed troops and people started to take notice.
I visited Palestine again in 1973, this time with a British passport. But I was taken out of the queue at the Allenby Bridge, kept standing in the sun for eight hours and then physically searched. The presents I had bought for my mother were taken. The excuse given was security and I often wondered what danger there was in a blouse, a scarf and chocolates.
There will never be peace without justice. Israel continues its oppressive and illegal occupation, flouting the rule of law with the total and unconditional support of the USA. The media continues with its unfair reportage. When Palestinians use weapons they are described as terrorists; Israeli soldiers are never murderers. Neither are American and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United Nations is ineffective and countries of the third world get told how to vote or are threatened with cutting off aid and trade.
When ordinary people in Scotland discuss a solution for Palestine with me they usually talk about compromise. I say to them that it is like someone taking your house and garden, your passport, your job, leaving you the small shed at the bottom of your garden (and thou shalt have no water either) and then asking you to compromise.
And then they do understand.
There is some dialogue between thinking Israeli and Palestinian citizens and long may it increase and continue. The Israeli public suffer like the British and Americans in that they are fed misinformation, which makes peace further away than ever.
The Nakba of 60 years ago means for me that I lost the right to live in my native land. It meant loss and separation from my friends and relatives and banishment from home.
Though I have moved on, it is impossible to forget.
I have made friends worth their weight in gold; I have a house with a garden.
I urge everyone to visit the West Bank and Gaza, to witness for themselves. For travellers, an Alternative Guide to Palestine can be bought from firstname.lastname@example.org