To commemorate Land Day, group of Palestinian refugees returned to the villages from which they were expelled in 1948.
“We only took a few utensils to use for food preparation, we didn’t take many clothes, and we left our jewelry back at our home. We thought we would be back in a few days.”
— Hawwa told Al Jazeera.
In a rush, Hawwa al-Khawaja and her daughter Khawla stepped off a bus as it pulled over at the entrance of what was once the village they called home. The elder Khawaja stood there greeting others who had arrived on the buses that followed, just as she used to greet her village’s visitors as a young woman before 1948.
“Welcome, welcome to al-Thahiryeh,” the 90-year-old said. “We apologize for not having a home to welcome you in.”
Since 1948, there have been no homes or residents in the destroyed village of al-Thahiryeh, which lies southeast of the city of al-Lydd. That year, Zionist forces pushed out Palestinian families living in the village, before destroying every inch of it. Al-Thahiryeh was one of 500 villages that faced the same fate in what became known as the ethnic cleansing of at least 800,000 Palestinians.
On Wednesday, Hawwa al-Khawaja returned to al-Thahiryeh for the first time, but only for a few hours.
As part of an initiative launched by Filastiniyat, a Palestinian non-governmental organization, a group of elderly refugees from the occupied West Bank and from inside the territories occupied by Israel in 1948 were given a chance to fulfill their dreams of returning to their destroyed villages surrounding al-Lydd.
They were all between 70 and 95 years old.