Away from home,refugees unite for peace

His hands trembling,Palestinian refugee Hassan Khalil,quickly drew the map of Israel,pointed out Gaza where his sister still stays with her family.

Written by Chinki Sinha | New Delhi | Published:January 10, 2009 12:30 am

His hands trembling,Palestinian refugee Hassan Khalil,quickly drew the map of Israel,pointed out Gaza where his sister still stays with her family. After a brief pause,he drew a small circle just above Gaza where about 800 civilians have been killed in the Israeli strikes so far.

“That’s Al Majdal,my village. I have never seen it. I left Gaza when I was 13 and have been a refugee all my life,” Khalil said. “And now look what they are doing to us now. They are killing everyone.”

Khalil was among the few Palestinians,Iraqis and Libyans gathered at the Iraqi School in Safdarjung Enclave on Friday to denounce the killing of women and children in Gaza and express their solidarity for the Palestinians trapped in the city.

Friday was the 14th day of continued strikes by Israel. Women and children constitute more than 40 per cent of the casualties,as relief programmes hit a blockade with Israel allowing only rescue and relief operations for a few hours.

Khalil last heard from his sister a few days ago when the first of the air strikes took place. And he has not seen her in the last 25 years. Now as the reports of the death toll rising in the Gaza strike flash on television screens,Khalil can only pray and hope.

That’s what he has done for so many years anyway,he said.

“I hope she is fine. She has 14 children. I don’t know,” he said,his eyes a mix of anger and despair.

On Thursday,at a United Nations meeting,14 countries called for an immediate ceasefire. United States abstained. With Barack Obama winning the elections,hopes rode high. With United States’ silence on the issue,Khalil and his son Nehad Hassan no longer believe in the promise of change.

“Why are they silent? Ask anyone who has lost their country and are hounded about what it feels like. Israel doesn’t listen. How can it kill so many people? This is against humanity,” Nehad Hassan said.

And if the governments are not doing anything,let the people at least unite and rally in support,Hassan said.

For Laila Khalid,who is half-Palestinian,it was important for the children in Gaza to know others feel for them. Hence,the event,she said.

“Let them know we are there,with them. The children there live in fear – on the way to school,in their homes,everywhere. And now they are being killed,” Khalid said.

Since 1948,Khalil’s family has been on the run. He was born a refugee,and shuttled around several places all his life,often fleeing terror and persecution,looking for home in different countries. But home remains an elusive dream. At 55,he is preparing for yet another move.

This time,the destination is Sweden. Khalil and his family were approved for third country resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There are a few Palestinian families in Delhi. Most children attend the Iraqi School.

On Friday,while the strikes were on and hospitals in Gaza filled in with the wounded,expatriates from Iraq,Libya,Oman and Palestine gathered to condemn the war and urge Arab countries to stand up for the people of Palestine.

Posters lined the basement hall of the school. In bold red and green,they urged everyone – the Security Council,the Arab nations,and anyone who would care to listen – to stop the “massacres”.

“Open all borders for humanitarian and medical aid”,one poster said.

“The children ran around the room,little flags in hands including that of Palestine. Iraqi women sat with Palestinian women,held hands. Children hugged and kissed each other,smiled and sang.

On the stage too,students waved flags. They sang “Arab Dream”,a song that called for unity of the Arab world and for peace and optimism. And they repeated “My home,my home”.

“And if the night is long,be sure of sunrise after it passes,” they sang,and the tempo went higher,and the urgency was hard to miss.

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