Story of a Refugee

United Arab Emirates – It was 1948. A mass exodus of refugees occurred.

Alarming radio broadcasts announced that the British army had turned over the country to European Jews and they in turn pronounced the land the State of Israel. As Arab armies interfered, they urged the people to leave, promising them that in no time at all they would be able to return to the Holy Land victorious and get all their properties, possessions and lands back. Alas, the armies were defeated as news depicted the inhumanities, massacres and monstrosities committed. And those who left remained refugees – people without a country.

That was how the story of my life started – forty years before I was ever born.

On that fateful day, the refugees amounted to approximately 650,000 individuals. Now, there are more than five million of us demanding the right of return to our country. Most of us have never lived in Palestine, we’ve never even set foot in it – we are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled in 1948 – and yet we remain solidly faithful to our origins and roots.

On my mother’s side, my great-grandmother fled Jerusalem in 1948 while carrying a child in her belly. As soon as she reached Syria, she felt her first labour contractions and gave birth to my grandma. I come from the beautiful city of Safad – now known as Tzfat. In 1948, my grandfather and his family were forced to flee barefoot, leaving all their possessions behind, as they feared for their lives and that of their families. They also fled to Syria, where they spent the remainder of their lives in refugee camps.

That makes me a third-generation refugee. One who has never set foot on Palestinian ground, never smelled its earthly scent, never tasted its infamous knafeh, never stood at its checkpoints or thrown a stone, and never heard the Athan resonate from Al Aqsa Mosque.

It is always difficult to speak of things that are personal, and especially difficult when the personal is intertwined with the political. Being from Palestine shaped the person that I am today, and the person that I want to be. I was born fighting for my country. I was born with the struggle of my people. Yet I was born far away from it all – and that is the hardest part to accept.

I have lived my entire life in Abu Dhabi, as an Emirati citizen, yet I grew up a Palestinian. I may have never been there, but I have found ways to bring it to me, to incorporate it into my daily life. Palestinian music, books, crafts, embroidery, traditional dresses, and kuffiyehs fill our house. Most importantly though are the huge family gatherings where tales of Palestine are regaled and passed on to future generations. And I know that I will one day be sitting with my children, telling them about Palestine and all the stories of their great-great grandparents as well.

I may not know where I belong or where I will find myself in the future. But I do know what I hope for, and that is a free Palestine.

Suad M. Shamma

Suad is a Palestinian living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Suad has a BA in Mass Communications (PR) from the American University of Sharjah and an MA in Communication Studies from the University of Leeds, where she was part of Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Group. Suad blogs here and tweets here.


  1. smshamma says:

    Reblogged this on Just Sayin' and commented:
    This is a piece I wrote for Beyond Compromise – a brilliant online publication run by Palestinian youth from all over the world. I highly recommend you take part by sharing your stories, thoughts and/or opinions. They welcome contributors from all over the world 🙂

  2. Intesar Alghanim says:

    We are as a Palestinian proud of you Suad 🙂 inshallah one day you will go to Palestaine and pray in al Aqsa as well as one day you will be sitting with your children, telling them about Palestine and all the stories of their great-great grandparents if God welling. khalto Intesar

    • smshamma says:

      Hi khalto, wow, I just saw the comment! Thank you so much, and inshallah I will, sooner rather than later 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading the story and was thinking that it must have been similar to thoughts of the Jews of Europe from days long past, thinking and saying to each other as they did for centuries, “Next year in Jerusalem”

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