Sansour building, Jerusalem, circa 1930's
A conversation between Nadia Aburdene (presently based in London) and Marcella based in the USA. Both are part of the second generation Palestinian Diaspora caused by Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948.
Nadia.. Growing up in the US what role did your Palestinian Heritage play?
Marcella.. I was always politically active growing up because of my Palestinian back ground. I was an activist that attended protests and organized in high school for Palestinian causes and against the unjust situation there in my ancestral homeland of Palestine.
Nadia.. What’s it like living as a Palestinian American today?
Marcella.. I continue to be an activist and use my voice to speak about the ongoing injustices that the Palestinian face. I try to retain my culture by organizing and engaging in activities like cooking Arabic food with other Palestinians. I think it's important to create and maintain a community to be able to learn and pass on your culture.
Nadia..How do you feel and what do see when you visit the West Bank?
Marcella…I felt happy the first time I went to the West Bank to see my family and ancestral homeland, but sad and angry about the occupation and such stark reminders of it, like the wall that encircles Bethlehem and the controlling of movement and the every day difficulties of life of the people. I will return this summer, for the first time in 10 years.
The events that are occurring now are very hard to watch as the people of Gaza and the Palestinian people have endured so much since the Nakba 70 years ago. I do believe that public opinion is shifting in the U.S. especially among progressives due to all the activism and work of the past- and many people are beginning to acknowledge the oppression of the Palestinians where they weren't before. However, many people are under the false impression that this is something that has gotten worse with the Trump administration- and of course the embassy move to Jerusalem was a slap in the face, but in reality is a continuation of American oppressive policy towards the Palestinians. I do have hope that out of this darkness, we will see a time when Palestinians will be able to live freely in their land.
Nadia..Many people have the erroneous impression that Palestinians are a group of poverty stricken families that lived and still live at subsistence level could you explain the real situation especially of those in the Diaspora whose family had property and wealth in Palestine?
Marcella..A picture says a thousand words. All you would need to do to dispel this impression is to look at photographs that have survived from the end of the late 19th century onwards. I love looking at photographic portraits of my great, great grandparents and their descendants. My relatives liked to display their, shall we call it social status, through their clothes, hats jewellery and so on. I would describe them as elegant and worldly. Of course, they were not the only ones there were many other families who did the same.
I know that at the turn of the last century there were Palestinian merchants who had business in North and South America, Europe, Russia and even the Philippines. One of my ancestors had owned a cigarette factory in San Salvador before the nineteen twenties. He was fortunate enough to sell it to an American company for $500,000 a tremendous amount of money for the time. He believed that he was set for life and returned to Palestine. In order to secure his children’s future (he had ten) he decided to invest his windfall in Palestine, he bought property/land and especially in the capital Jerusalem. One of the buildings he constructed still bears his name and stands as the most prominent building in Zion Square.
The Nakba shattered the lives of the rich and poor. After 1948 he lost his land, buildings and source of wealth. It was declared absentee property by the new state of Israel. Although his children have attempted to restore their lost properties through the Israeli courts by submitting countless claims they know it’s hopeless.