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'Bury me in Beit Daras': My right of return is sacred

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This is the story of four Palestinian peasants who have been dead and buried for many years, but whose legacy continues to define the collective aspirations of a whole nation. It is also the story of a village that was erased from existence 70 years ago. The peasants are my grandparents, and the village of Beit Daras will always be my home.

My maternal grandfather, Mohammed died a few months after he was expelled from his village.

All I know of Mohammed is what I learned about him from my grandmother, Mariyam. Just 37 years old, he passed away on the canvas floor of a tent provided by the Quakers for refugees arriving to the Gaza Strip from all over Palestine. His ailment was never diagnosed, let alone treated.

"He died from a broken heart," Mariyam often told us.

My mother Zarefah would cry at the mere mention of her father's name. When he died, she was too young to differentiate between coma and sleep or understand that death was an irrevocable finality. She was summoned into the tent by the women of the refugee camp to kiss her father before returning to her impatient playmates as they played hopscotch. "Good night, papa," she whispered in his ear. He never woke from that deep slumber.

"Your grandfather was a handsome man," mom would tell us. But there was no physical evidence to verify that claim, for his wife had destroyed every piece of paper and every photo that she salvaged from their burning home back in Beit Daras during the "great massacre".

Mohammed, like other men of the village, fought to the end. When the Zionist militia, the Haganah, finally broke the stubborn local resistance in the village, its fighters torched the houses.

Mohammed only left because Mariyam begged him to, but he fell ill on the dusty road to Gaza. As soon as they pitched their tent in what became the Buraij Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip, his illness turned into a coma.

Mariyam erased her husband's existence from the record for she feared Zionists would find the freedom fighter's family in Gaza. She feared for her three boys, and for my mother, Zarefah, who as soon as her father was buried joined Mariyam in a protracted mission to survive.

Miraculously, the boys were educated, thanks to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which was established in the years after the Nakba - the destruction of the........

© Al Jazeera