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For Palestinian Refugees, Dream of Returning Home Remains

By Sonja Pace
Southern Lebanon
30 September 2009

Two states side by side, two homelands for two peoples - those are the broadly accepted tenets for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a cornerstone for peace in the Middle East. Many hurdles lie ahead, not least of which is the claim to land. For Palestinians, that means the right of return for more than four million people - those who fled or were driven from their homes at Israel's founding in 1948 and their descendants.

Many Palestinian refugees say they prefer a one-state solution, a democratic and secular state that would merge Israel and the occupied West Bank and allow Palestinian refugees to return to villages that are now part of Israel. Israel rejects this solution outright.

One Palestinian family - now living in southern Lebanon - is yearning for home.

From afar it seems life among these hills and olive groves has not changed through the millennia.

For Ahmad Sa'adi it's a far away dream and one he has tried to recreate.

"This is my village in 1948. I remember it," he said. "This was my house since 1871."

Home was Taitaba, a well established Palestinian farming village in what is now northern Israel.

Ahmad Sa'adi was only seven when his family fled in 1948, in the midst of the first Arab Israeli war. It's estimated that more than 700,000 Palestinians were either driven from their homes or fled the violence.

Mohamed Sa'adi, 84, remembers.

"On the 15th of May, [1948] we were told by the King of Jordan that 'we need you all to get out of the way because we are going to bombard the area to kill the Jews and so we packed our stuff and left,'" he recalled.

Mohamed Sa'adi says he knows some people were driven out by Jewish militias and the precursor to today's Israeli army. For Palestinians this was the "Naqba", the "catastrophe." For Israelis, it was their war of independence.

Mohamed says people in Taitaba expected to return after what they thought would be a brief Arab offensive.

It didn't turn out that way. Many like the Sa'adis ended up in exile.

Today it is estimated there are over four million Palestinians refugees registered with the U.N. who trace their origins to the events of 1948.

The Sa'adi family settled here, south of Beirut, and life went on. They found jobs, married, had children and grandchildren.

But to this day, the few items they brought with them remain proud possessions.

And there's little doubt they've not forgotten.

"I think about it every day. I want the memory of this place and for it to pass from generation to generation," said Ahmad Sa'adi.

It doesn't matter that places like Taitaba don't really exist anymore. The Israelis destroyed the village - and many other Arab villages - after the 1948 war.

A two-state solution - a homeland for Palestinians and one for Israelis - is widely espoused by the international community, and reluctantly, by Israel's new government. But Israel insists on a continued Jewish identity for its country.

But, for Ahmad's wife, Alia Sa'adi the two-state solution is of no interest.

"Cancel all the peace agreements because nothing has gotten us anywhere," she said. "I would live in a secular, democratic country. I would live alongside the Israelis, back in my village, in my home, in Israel, as long as I have rights."

For Ahmad Sa'adi little matters except that he and his family return one day to Taitaba.

"Return, of course. There is an Arabic saying that says there is no right that dies when somebody still claims it. So, I hope that we will go back," he said.

The dream of going back home may be elusive, but it's there.

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