This post by Kristina Abela is written on the 71st anniversary of the 1948 war that Palestinians remember as “al nakba”, or ‘the disaster’. It’s a perspective of that war that is controversial and there are other points of view. But whatever your politics and what political conclusions you draw from that story of 71 years, the story of a people who cannot go to the place their ancestors go home is a universal story made of the politics of suffering, deprivation and isolation.

Seventy-one years of catastrophe

–  Do you know where they took you?
–  The bus we went on did not have any window.
–  Was the place far away?
–  I do not know. It took three hours the journey.
–  For how long were you detained?
–  Two days.
–  Did something happen to you during these two days?
–  They accused me that I had support from Ramallah (West Bank) to be involved in the protest, and they kept me for two days and I was tortured beaten and investigated.
–  What do you mean by tortured and beaten?
–  They used to beat me especially when I did not answer the questions I was asked. And they kept me in a small cell. And they used to insult me as well.
–  Were you detained alone?
–  Yes, I was alone in the cell… It was not an official prison. They arrested us in an unknown place. We didn’t hear any sound close by such as that of cars. The people who used to investigate me, I never saw their faces because they were masked.
–  But they were from Hamas?
–  Yes.

In the spring of 2018, after a long journey through Israel, Jordan and Turkey, Mohammed Abunada landed in Malta. Friends and family, who had connections, had managed to facilitate his way out of Gaza. Cousins, who own a bakery in Qormi, helped him to procure a visa into Malta. Within weeks of his entry, he was at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner, seeking asylum as a political prisoner of Hamas.

–  Is there any other reason why you are asking for protection?
–  Because of the Israelis. From the war of 2014, the house of my sister and the property of my sister got destroyed by the Israelis. There is no safety in Gaza and the Israelis used to attack us with rockets.
–  Are they still doing these attacks?
–  Yes.
–  Couldn’t you try to move to West Bank?
–  No, it is not allowed for us by the Israelis.

Like many other Palestinians, Mohammed and his family were born refugees. History has erased his grandparents’ village from the map and replaced it with an Israeli town. With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Palestine came under British rule. This transfer of authority would herald a century of dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people.

In 1917, as part of the Mandate on Palestine, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, a document pledging to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” inside Palestine. Jews located around the world were encouraged and assisted to migrate to “the Promised Land”, despite its population being 90 per

cent Palestinian. The reasons behind the Balfour declaration are debated widely amongst historians, but there was no question regarding the consequences.

When the mandate expired in 1948, Zionist militias drove out more than 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine commenced, and those who didn’t escape died in massacres and in the destruction that razed hundreds of villages to the ground. On May 14 of that year, the Jews proclaimed the territory the state of Israel. To the Palestinians, this became known as Al-Nakba. The Catastrophe.

 Is there still fighting between Israel and Palestine at the moment?
–  Yes.
–  Why do they do this?
–  The main reason is for the land.
–  Is Palestine a recognized state?
–  Yes.
–  Are there any countries that do not recognize it?
–  They were recognized as a country four years ago by the United Nations.
–  Why did it take so long?
–  The main reason is America because Israelis do not want Palestine to be recognized as a country.

As a result of the 1948 war, Palestinian refugees scattered into Gaza and the West Bank as well as other nearby countries like Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. In 1950, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was created to deal with the needs of this displaced population, and today they continue to offer services to around 5 million Palestinians.

Over 50 per cent unemployment, scant access to clean drinking water, and a tenfold increase in people who need food assistance since the blockade in 2007, means more than half of the population in Gaza depend on the UNRWA to survive. This includes some 620,000 abject poor who survive on US$ 1.6 per day and nearly 390,000 absolute poor who get by on US$ 3.50 per day. The recent cut in funding by the United States has severely crippled the aid agency, and they have issued a statement claiming that unless they manage to secure US$60 million by June, many in Gaza will be “severely challenged.”

The destabilization of Palestine over such a long period has also rendered it vulnerable to violent fundamentalist groups. Hamas, who took over Gaza in 2008, will not recognize Israel’s right to exist and refuse to renounce violence. As a consequence, internal struggles have been rife, and international aid to Hamas continues to be limited.

–  Are Palestinians living abroad able to return to Palestine?
–  No.
–  Why not?
–  No one can return back because their homeland is under the control of Israel.

A report published by the United Nations (UN) in 2017 predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by the year 2020.

–  Did you seek asylum in the countries you travelled through before arriving in Malta?
–  No.
–  Why not?
–  I chose here because it is a European country and there are rights here.
–  Would you like to go back to Palestine in the future?
–  If the situation changed.

In September 2018, Mohammed received a letter informing that his application for international protection was rejected on the basis “that he still benefits from protection from UNRWA which is still available and accessible.” The office of the Refugee Commissioner concluded that his application “fails to meet the criteria for recognition of refugee status,” even though “since the applicant benefits from the protection from the UNRWA, he is ipso facto a refugee.” Mohammed lodged an appeal eight months ago and is still waiting on the outcome. In the meantime, he works at the bakery belonging to his cousins and continues to support his family back home.

The above dialogue was an excerpt from the interview submitted as part of the application for international protection, conducted at REFCOM.