The Key – Messages from Gaza Now – October 2023 – June 2024

The Key 

My grandfather passed away in 1982. All that I remember about him is that he was a very serious man, never smiling, barely talking. To be honest, we did not like him. The opposite of my grandmother who was a very caring person, smiling, showing love and talking a lot. Mostly she talked about her life before 1948 in Almajdal, (so-called Ashkelon today) 25 km from Gaza city to the north. She talked about her big home, the huge land they owned and her work in the fields with her husband, especially in the olive harvest season. 

My grandparents did not communicate much, but I remember one day when my grandmother shouted at my grandfather. It was one of those summer afternoons. My grandfather took a brown leather bag out of the closet, it was a very old bag. He took it out carefully, he opened it and started to take things out of it. There were several papers, old papers almost yellow, full of writing and many stampings at the bottom of each page.  

He put all the papers side by side. He started to take one out after another, look at it, and then put it on the ground in order. There were five or six papers. Then he took a key out of the bag, an old, big key, which would look funny compared to the keys of nowadays. He held the key in his hand and closed his eyes. Out of his closed eyes I could see tears coming out. 

What? My grandfather is crying? This serious, frightening man is crying? As a kid I almost laughed at the image. It was astonishing to see him crying. 

Suddenly my grandmother entered the room shouting at him: ‘Don’t you want to stop? It is not helping any one. It is not helping you. It is not helping me. Stop taking these papers out. Leave this key. Throw it away. We will never go back. Do you understand, we will never go back.’ She said these last words and fell into deep crying like a hungry baby, crying in a way I had never seen a human being crying. My grandfather held her hand, pulled her towards him, hugged her and they were both crying. I was afraid. I could not stay there. I left. 

I have never told this story to anyone before. I don’t know why. My grandparents with their sons and daughter left Almajdalon in 1948. They ran away at the arrival of the Jewish gangs like the Hagana and Stern who committed massacres in many villages in Palestine, massacres in Al-Tantora, in Deir Yaseen, in Kafer Qasem, in Berwa and many others.

In 1948 almost a million Palestinians were expelled, dispossessed and forcibly moved out of their lands, homes, villages, towns and cities, to become refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and many other countries.  

My grandfather with his family took refuge in Gaza, not far from home, holding onto his land ownership documents and his home key, hoping until the last breath of his life to go back. 

He did not. Palestinians forced to leave their homes in 1948 waited and are waiting almost 80 years now, and they did not go back. Before they die, they hand over the documents and the keys to their sons and then to their grandsons. And still keep on hoping.

Today, I am in Egypt, in Cairo, 500 km away from my home. I left home with almost nothing but some clothes and guess what else? The key to my home. This is what I have today, only a key, holding in it all the hopes to go back, to go home.

The Israeli army control the only border with Egypt, no one can get in or out, yesterday they destroyed all the premises at the crossing point. 

Now more than 8 months away from home, my home seems far, far away.  Am I going to wait another 80 years to go back home, like my grandfather? Am I going to lose my ability to smile and then will my grandsons and daughters dislike me? 

Forgive me Grandpa, I am sorry. I was young. I did not understand. I love you.