|Awad Joumaa and his father arrive in Lebanon from Denmark|
In the second part of A Journey Home, a special three-part series marking the Nakba, Al Jazeera’s Awad Joumaa undertakes an extraordinary and deeply personal journey with his father, Hussein, as they return to a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s Baalbek.
|Part Two – Lebanon|
My father Hussein recalls how it was his uncle who had first been to the Baalbek refugee camp and advised the family to move there.
My father told me: “At the time we had been forced from our homes and were living out in the open. Life was tough for everyone. Food was short and the main barracks were very exposed to the cold. My father arranged for a small shelter that had once been used as a stable.”
The camp was one of the smallest in Lebanon and it came to be known as the Galilee camp, named after the region where most of its residents came from.
As the years passed, his life began to take shape behind the camp’s walls. But questions remained: “I always used to ask why do we live like this? Why do we live in a camp? People outside had homes and gardens, why didn’t we? In time I had a very good idea of what ‘Nakba’ meant to us.”
A new generation – raised in exile – slowly began to rise up and chart a new course for the Palestinian people.
“At the beginning my closest friends and I used to meet secretly because Palestinians at that time were not allowed to organise. If the military police had caught us we would have faced harassment, jail time, even torture,” my father said.
But the war in 1967 changed the lives of all Palestinians. After Egypt and the Arab nations suffered a crushing defeat to Israel, Palestinians realised they needed to play a larger role in their own affairs if they ever wanted to return to their homeland.
As the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) began to gain support, strength and influence in Lebanon and the refugee camps, young Palestinians of my father’s generation declared that they were ready to take up the fight.
Their demands were simple – they wanted their freedom.
My father and his friends – once forced to meet in secret – were among the first to join the PLO.
|IN VIDEO: A Journey Home, Part 2|
At the PLO office my father helped to set up in the Baalbek refugee camp in 1969, he tells me: “We built it with our own hands. We were responsible for everything there. We wanted to organize, energise and educate our people.”
The office is still there in Baalbek – now it is used by a local Palestinian faction – but it no longer reflects the significance it had in the 1960s and 70s.
In those formative days, it was a hub of social and educational activities for the residents of the camp.
But despite the passage of time, my father’s position on the best hopes for the Palestinians has not been weathered.
For him the key is the classroom.
“This generation’s only option is education. We need people who can address our issues and make our case to the world. We cannot remain divided as we are now.”
Later as we stood together on the Lebanese-Israeli border, my father recalled the promises that had been made to the Palestinian people.
As a child he had been assured that his return was just a matter of time. Sixty years on, he finally had the chance to do something that his father – who had been buried in Lebanon – never could.
“The feelings I have now have been a lifetime in the making. I think of the mountains, valleys and the village my father told me about. We had lived there for hundreds of years.”
“If I make it to the village where I was born it will be the experience of a lifetime,” he said.
There will be more on Hussein’s journey in the coming days, when we will hear about his emotional return to his village in what is now Israel.