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Palestinian refugees hope Gaza solidarity boosts cause

Hashem Osseiran - Agence France-Presse
Palestinian refugees hope Gaza solidarity boosts cause
A man walks alongside girls beneath a Palestinian flags on an alley at the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on May 21, 2021. From marching in rallies to posting live updates on social media, Palestinian refugee Mira Krayem has barely slept since conflict gripped her ancestral homeland earlier this month. But the 24-year-old university student, who lives in Lebanon, said she felt solidarity messages for the Palestinian cause from across the world have made her and fellow activists feel reenergized after years of crushing defeat.
Anwar Amro / AFP

SHATILA CAMP, Lebabon -- From marching in rallies to posting live updates on social media, Palestinian refugee Mira Krayem has barely slept since conflict gripped her ancestral homeland earlier this month.

But the 24-year-old university student, who lives in Lebanon, said she felt solidarity messages for the Palestinian cause from across the world have made her and fellow activists feel reenergized after years of crushing defeat.

"It makes us feel like we have a voice," said Krayem, on a rooftop overlooking Shatila, the tightly packed refugee camp in Beirut where she was born, one of some 475,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

In 11 days of violence before a ceasefire was declared last week, Israeli jets and artillery pounded Gaza, the blockaded Palestinian coastal enclave of two million ruled by Islamist group Hamas, who fired thousands of rockets towards Israel.

With graphic images of Israeli bomb blasts and Hamas rocket attacks broadcast live on television networks, supporters of each side took to social media to express their anger.

The United States and other states stressed Israel's right to defend itself against rockets fired by Hamas, but rights groups spoke out against the destruction wreaked on the enclave.

As the death toll mounted -- especially on the Palestinian side, given Israel's air superiority and its Iron Dome missile defense system stopping most Hamas rockets -- there were growing expressions of solidarity for the people of Gaza as thousands were made homeless with entire tower blocks blasted into dust.

'Makes you feel alive' 

During the bombardments, hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese marched in Beirut, echoing similar rallies of support for Gaza held in countries across the world.

British pop star Dua Lipa and models of Palestinian descent Bella and Gigi Hadid posted messages of support for Palestinian rights -- in turn prompting solidarity messages from those backing Israel's right to defend itself.

It has given the impetus to Palestinian refugees to keep pushing their cause.

"It is tiring, but it's tiring in a beautiful way," Krayem said, a Palestinian flag drawn on her black jumper.

"It makes you feel alive and close to Palestine."

Krayem's energy is emblematic of a generation born long after what Palestinians call the Nakba -- the "catastrophe" -- when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes by the 1948 war that led to the creation of the state of Israel.

Nearly three-quarters of a century later, their number has grown to millions scattered around the world.

Most live in the surrounding regional nations of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria -- countries all bordering Israel --  where they are often marginalized.

Israel disputes their right to return.

Recent normalization deals between Israel and Arab states looked like another nail in the Palestinian cause's coffin.

But the tragedy of the recent crisis has brought people together.

"Everyone in the camp is looking for a way to help... and discussions about Palestine haven't stopped," said Krayem, who also works as a volunteer teaching children Palestinian history and culture.

"All these people, who were so distracted with the economic crisis or the coronavirus pandemic in Lebanon, they all started talking about return again," she added.

"You can hear people saying things like 'tomorrow, when we return'".

'Our time is up' 

For elderly grandmother Rahma Abdul Qader in the Syrian capital Damascus -- one of some 438,000 Palestinian refugees in the country --  she fears it may be too late for her to ever return.

Qader left Jaffa -- now a mixed Arab-Jewish quarter of Tel Aviv -- in 1948, when she was nine.

"Even after all these years, the image of this place is fresh in my mind," she told AFP, surrounded by her family. "I tell my grandchildren about it all the time." 

Unlike Krayem, she is not hopeful she will see her homeland again.

"Our time is up," she said. "But maybe my grandchildren will return one day, because justice always prevails in the end."

Her 55-year-old daughter Iman said she was touched by messages of support.

"The Palestinians used to feel isolated in recent years," said.

"But after everything that happened, there is a feeling that we have people on our side."

-- with Maher Al-Mounes in Damascus

CONFLICT ISRAEL LEBANON PALESTINIANS REFUGEES
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