I Declare My Return: Defiant Young Palestinians Start Living the Life of Ancestral Villages They Still See As Home

Abby Zimet

Six decades after Israel forced them from their homes during the 1948 Nakba, third-generation Palestinians still bound to their roots are returning to ancestral, rubble-strewn villages to begin again as best they can. In taking direct action, they're following the lead of young people in Iqrit, who after years of holding summer camps there and "sick and tired of governments that choose to ignore us," decided last summer to create an outpost and stay. Israel had destroyed everything in the Christian town but the church - and continues to do so - but the activists built two small rooms onto it and began living there. Sleeping in shifts to maintain a permanent presence, they grow food, take pictures, tell stories, unearth ruins, hold church services and, this summer, built a small football stadium. Over time, young people from at least six villages - Kufr Birim, Ghabisiya, Saffuriyya, Miar, Malul, Lajjun - have likewise begun Udna (Our Return) projects. Some run summer camps with history lessons, storytelling, music, film and mingling of young and old. In Christian Birim as in Iqrit, activists have erected tents and stayed, holding services in the old church and organizing events. All the groups are fighting ongoing eviction efforts, demolitions, threats and court battles from Israel, which seems threatened by the dedication of those whose memories and longing they thought, evidently wrongly, they'd destroyed.

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