Longing for home, from Palestine to Punjab

Last week marked the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, meaning catastrophe, when an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. I, and others, have argued elsewhere why the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination is relevant for us as Sikhs, so I won’t reiterate that here (see Sikh Solidarity with Palestine statement).

Every year Palestinians and their supporters commemorate the Nakba by holding demonstrations, vigils, and educational events. This year saw unprecedented resistance by Palestinians in the Middle East, who mobilized at numerous points across Israel’s borders. Their resistance to occupation and their commemoration of one catastrophe was met with with violent repression by Israeli forces — catastrophe upon catastrophe. 14 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured as Israeli troops fired on the massive protests.

In an interview on Democracy Now last week, Fadi Quran, one of the protest organizers stated:

…we, as a youth movement, called for the protest because, as many of you know, there are about seven million Palestinian refugees who just want to go home, and theyve been unable to go home for the last 63 years. So at the protest, initially what you had is a lot of people who are my generation, 23 years old, carrying or wheeling their grandparents to the border so that they can finally take them back and they can return to a normal life, where they are free, where they live justly, and where they can pursue happiness.

A few days later, President Obama made a big speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which, contrary to popular belief, he essentially upheld President Bush’s position on the establishment of a Palestinian state (reiterated by the President again a few days later at an AIPAC event), which backs Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and resembles nothing close to self-determination for the Palestinian people. And most certainly contains no possibility of millions of Palestinian refugees going back to their homes.

While under different circumstances (and even more different contemporary realities) than the Palestinians, both sides of my family, along with millions of others from Punjab (and elsewhere in South Asia), were displaced one year prior to the Nakba with partition, with the slicing up of our homeland, Punjab.

Over 10 million people were displaced with partition in 1947

My dad was a baby when his family fled the Sargodha region of Punjab in 1947, and much of his extended family was killed in the communal violence pervading the mass migrations. An estimated 12.5 million people were displaced in the partition of British India, and hundreds of thousands (some estimates say over a million) were killed. As one era of tyranny ended in 1947, a catastrophe of our own was born, setting off decades of continued communal violence, national tensions, and even a nuclear arms race.

As I was thinking and reading about the Palestinian Nakba last week, I found myself wondering why we South Asians so rarely talk about the traumatic impact of partition on our communities and our displacement from our ancestral homes. Is it simply too painful for those who went through it to initiate these conversations? Being born and raised in the United States, it’s honestly not something I think about that often. And I find that a bit troubling. I’ve never been to West Punjab (in Pakistan) where my ancestors are from and where Sikhi was born, and who knows if I ever will go? How much does it matter? What really is Home to me, to us?

It’s amazing how the arbitrary borders of nation-states literally can keep people from their history, their roots, and for many, their homes. One of the key principles of the Palestinian movement is the right of return, which is supported by international law. Palestinian human rights activist Merna Alazzeh writes:

The old will die and the young will forget this was the prediction of Israels first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Sixty-three years later, I still wonder what made him think so. Would the Jewish masses or indeed any of the other millions of people who suffered the Holocaust everforget?

As far as I know, having lived in al-Azzeh refugee camp for most of my life, there has always been much space even in the narrow alleys of the camp for the collective memory of Israeli massacres, systematic displacement and ethnic cleansing. These images are imprinted in the minds of Palestinian refugees both young andold.

…My grandmother passed away last year in March in the refugee camp. However, her dream of returning to Beit Jibrin is still alive and I deeply believe that she is in a place where borders do not exist. Her soul is finally free of the shackles of ethnic division, and she is able to hover over Palestine and our beloved village our home Beit Jibrin. She might be whispering secrets to the fig and olive trees there right now. Her dreams of return are stillalive.

What is it going to take to free humanity of these shackles of division, oppression and occupation in our lifetime?

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59 Responses to “Longing for home, from Palestine to Punjab”

  1. Citizen Singh says:

    Why has my question been removed Brooklynwala?

    It appears you which to stimulate "debate" only if the viewpoints raised agree with your agenda. You disappoint me.

  2. Citizen Singh says:

    Which? I meant "wish."

  3. billa says:

    Brooklynwala, your victimhood mongering and desperation to ally yourself with Islamic causes is risible.

    Thankfully most Sikhs are not as bewildered as you and don't have a self-pitying victimhood complex that you so hysterically claim to speak on behalf of all Sikhs with. Its actually rather pathetic.

  4. h S says:

    @Jodha: Oppressed? Those who say they will annihilate Jews from earth? Those who say they won't recognize Israel state even if Israel is ready to recognize Palestinian state? Those who teach in their schools and institutions all bad things about Jews?

  5. Jodha says:

    @ HS – Oppressed people talk big, as they know they are powerless. Please send actual quotes that back up the claims you are making. As far as asinine remarks made about 'annihilating' Jews, there are plenty of links I can send you about Israelis saying horrible things. What is the point of that?

    The Palestinian Papers leaked to Al-Jazeera belie your claims about the Palestinians not seeking compromise or even recognition of Israel. In fact the Palestinian people were shocked to learn what toadies and to what extent the PA was willing to go, while the Israeli Government remained recalcitrant. Thus your claims about non-recognition are just laughable.

    You never have empirical evidence to anything you say. What are these 'schools and institutions' you speak of? Send me a link to a textbook. Give me some evidence that you have any grounding in reality. So again HS, what's your point?

  6. Citizen Singh says:

    hi, thanks for your response.

    The Jerusalem Fund is a non profit organization working to raise funds to the aid of Palestinian people. It is not an "Israeli group." The link is not biased, it is the charter reproduced in full.

    I am not asking you to defend this particular Hadith. The fact that Hamas select a Hadith that encourages the murder of Jews and enshrines that in their Charter should really be of concern. Do you think this is not a problem? The Charter advocates killing Jews, there is some debate as to whether that means "all" Jews, but I personally disagree with killing people.

  7. Citizen Singh says:

    Re AJ – Two wrongs don't make a right. The fact that Fox News, Russia Today etc are also biased does not excuse Al-Jazeera's bias.

    Re King Fahad Academy – The concept of the Ummah exists to link all Muslims together. I disagree with your dismissal of this as intellectual lethargy – It is in fact an essential feature of their religion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ummah
    Re the textbooks, I agree that the problem has been resolved, but the fact that the school thought it was a good idea to use them in the first place is of real concern to me. Plus it took a whistleblower (sacked teacher) to uncover this… not good!

  8. Citizen Singh says:

    Perhaps my earlier post was a little unclear – it is the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip who voted in their droves for Hamas- they chose to embrace hatred, division and violence. I applaud the people of the West Bank for rejecting this approach, despite the hardships they have faced.

    As for your assertion that the Gazan Palestinians have backed Hamas as a result of Israeli brutality, again two wrongs don't make a right. I am all for self-determination of the Palestinians, but I do not believe that should occur by the slaughter of Jews. Can we make the comment box a bit bigger please?

  9. Rishi says:

    as a fellow Sikh, I think was a great article.. I can't imagine how a fellow Sikh could deride it.. Perhaps it's the classic anti-Muslim sentiment that is still rampant in the "old."

  10. Rishi says:

    And please can you all shutup about Hamas.. Can we perhaps discuss the right for the children of Palestine to play without the fear of white phosphorus or tanks pointing gun sights at their homes? If there was no occupation, there would perhaps be greater opportunity, greater investment in infrastructure and lesser influence by organizations that prey on overwhelming resistant sentiment.

  11. Harinder says:

    Few comments Dear Brooklywala:–

    Firstly Congratulation for having the courage to take on such a major problem the world faces head on:–

    1) Sikhs philosophy and prayers is of SARVATT THA BHALLA this would include welfare of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims
    2) Israeli Palestine conflict roots are in Religious and Refugee conflict.
    Ans :–Religious conflict : Prayers
    Ans :–Refugee conflict : Two co existing state answer

    3) Challenges likely to encounter :–
    a. Theological :-Jews Muslim relationship as told in Quran.
    i. Ans : Prayers
    b. Israel acts as a safe zone for Jews .After the holocaust Jews insecurities have increased.
    i. Ans :The whole world should guarantee Jews the right to live.
    c. Major powers in this peace process have found the going difficult .
    i. Camp David Accords :–2000
    ii. Madrid Conference
    iii. Oslo Accords / Oslo II :–1993
    iv. Hebron Protocol
    v. Wye River /
    vi. Sharm el-Sheikh Memoranda
    vii. 2000 Camp David Summit
    viii. Taba Summit Road Map :–2001
    ix. Annapolis Conference
    x. Arab Peace Initiative
    i. Ans : Prayers

    4) Your assets : Prayers .
    5) Preach the virtues to Jews and Muslims through prayers of
    a. Trust .
    b. Give and take philosophy.
    c. Mutual co-existence .

    6) Lastly Punjab and Palestine are not same except that both begin with P
    This implies that Jews Muslim relationship is not same as Hindu Sikh relationship.

    Do some time write on plight of KASHMIRI PUNDITS also.

  12. Harinder says:

    I will also suggest Brooklywala that we must set up "GURUDWARAS" in

    1) Israel
    2) Palestine
    3) Jersualem
    They must be made to realize that we are made up of common DNA , protons,electrons ,neutrons & quarks.
    Also the whole earth will be destroyed by the SUN one day when it becomes a red giant and
    there will be none of the places existing mentioned above over which they fight today.
    From Gurudwaras then prayers may be sent to GOD for peaceful co-existence of both communities .

    The Jews & Muslims.

  13. h S says:

    @brooklynwala and Jodha: These cartoons are produced by state run TV in Arab World.

    How about you do away with your liberal/leftist position of political correctness and argue with just facts?

  14. Harinder says:

    Dear HS let me tell you my impression :–
    Trying to reunite Jews with Muslims will get some one at least 10 Nobel peace prizes.
    If you can reunite Jews and Christians you will be given 100 Nobel peace prizes.
    Still it is a worthy Goal Brooklynwala. My good wishes are with you.

  15. TLH may not have solutions for complex issues but it is now an indisputably a working thrash pit for ideas, where different view points can produce substance without getting blown away unnecessarily. I admire the admin. with their supperior knowledge, homework and genuine instinct to keep the discussion civil, meaningfull and stop going astray. TLH post readers by and large must be impressed and encouraged how this third rail kind of issue was dared to be laid bare here by Brooklynwalla and then kept on course by Jodha. I was impressed to read what every participant contributed in a way they see the world and this is how it is. Not to change the subject I wish to invite the TLH reader to visit my website where I had a similar post on May 19, 2011 : Leila Khaled- a Revolutionary symbol, with a poetic touch and as always expecting your comments at : http://www.pashaurasinghdhillon.com

  16. Bik says:


    You might also want to write about the Jews who were forcibly expelled from the Arab countries bordering Israel in 1948. These Jews who number a similar number to the Palestinians were were forced from Israel don't rely on UN handouts. They got on with their lives whilst the Palestinians live off handouts. Rather than deriding the Jews for having the guts to fight for their traditional homeland in 1948 and then taking back their religious places like wailing wall in 1967, Sikhs should be ruing why the Sikhs didn't have such a leadership as the Jews had in 1947. Had the Sikhs had leaders like the Jews had then we would have had our own state from Chenab to Yamuna. Unlike us, the Jews don't have to apply to a foreign government for a visa to visit their holy places. Although as a consolation at least the Sikh leadership in 1947 was aware of what a Islamic state meant for Sikhs and were able to clear our Punjab to make room for Sikhs being expelled from West Punjab. Thank god we didn't have these new liberal left wing right-on 'yes we can' pajamay like Brooklynwala in any kind of leadership position in 1947.

  17. harinder says:

    Jews will live even if Prophet Mohammed and Brooklynwala gang up against them.

  18. moorakh88 says:

    I see a lot of “liberal” or “left wing” labels been thrown around in every discussion. It seems it’s an easy way to be dismissive. It reflects a weakness and undisciplined mind. The truth is you need both groups, liberals and conservatives, to challenge the other and make the world better. One thing great about the USA is that has been weaved by both progressive and conservative agendas over hundreds of years. Any country solely run by one ideology is doomed for failure. Of course they’re some things I don’t agree with either sides but consider placing a turbaned Sikh in the middle of two extreme groups. One full of conservatives, for immigration control, limited govt, NRA members, and pro life, etc. And the other pot smokers, for gay marriage, gun control, pro choice, etc. Guess which group is going to call the Sikh “Osama” or a racial slur first?

  19. Harinder says:

    For brooklynwala school of people here is a truth test for you :–
    If you feel so strongly for the people of Palestine then
    Marry a Palestine girl /widow and fight a " Intifada" against Israel.
    Other wise your support means little for Palestine people.

  20. Citizen Singh says:

    I think this picture really gets to the heart of the matter…


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