From one war to another (Part. II)

04/01/2024

Marseille, 20th December
On the 18th October, I met my sister and daughter at the Vieux Port in Marseille. It was a sunny day, with a light breeze. They had a Palestinian flag and it was waving gently in the air. I took a photo of them; they were happy.

A demonstration in support of Gaza had been organised, then banned and finally, we thought, authorised (the demonstration had in fact been banned, like most demonstrations in support of Palestine in France in the weeks following the attacks on the 7th October and the first bombings of the Gaza Strip, ed.). We arrived at the meeting point a little early, there was hardly anyone there, just tourists and passers-by. When, all of a sudden, dozens of police officers surrounded us, before taking the three of us away. We spent the next few hours in police custody.

It was a shock for me. I screamed like I’ve never screamed before. All the injustice I feel in my body because of what’s happening in Gaza came out in my voice. The injustice of the solitude we experience here as Palestinians; we feel completely alone.

I say that the arrest was a shock, but to be honest, everything that’s happening at the moment is a shock to me.

I’m Palestinian, although I have never lived in Palestine. My father and grandparents were expelled from Palestine at the time of the Nakba (the Arabic word for “catastrophe” refers to the forced exodus of around 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, ed.). I was born and lived in Syria, in Yarmouk, in the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. I was a physics and chemistry teacher there for 20 years and my children were born there.

Right from the start of the Syrian revolution, I took part in the protests. I went to the discussions and demonstrations with my Syrian friends. Fortunately for me, I was never arrested.

As the months went by, the revolution turned into war. The situation became too dangerous for us and one by one, we departed for Egypt. My brothers, my sisters, my mother, my children and I… the whole family left, except for my father. He didn’t want to leave his home for a second time. However, when the army bombed our neighbourhood in December 2012, he was forced to leave as well.

None of us had planned to stay in Egypt for very long. We had all bought return tickets. We thought we’d go back when Bashar fell. But Bashar didn’t fall and we still haven’t been able to return.

When I arrived in France in 2013, because the situation was becoming tense for Palestinian refugees in Egypt, I didn’t speak for a month. I felt terribly guilty about leaving and leaving the other Syrian families behind. I felt like a traitor. I was overwhelmed with sadness. Then, little by little, I picked myself back up for my children.

For the last ten years, here in France, I’ve continued to do what I can to help the Syrian and Palestinian people. I organise or take part in events, in support evenings, in demonstrations, in cultural events… And the Palestinian and Syrian causes are not the only ones I’m involved in. I feel and support the cry of every revolutionary. If people need me and there’s a way that I can help them, I will do it.

When I first came to this country, every time I went to a protest for work, for retirement or for other rights, I was happy. I marched with thousands of other people in the streets of Marseille, I’d never seen anything like it. I said to myself: “This is freedom”. Then I realised that the government wasn’t listening to all the people who were protesting and that the police could treat them badly.

Today, deep down, I feel depressed and angry. My family and I came to live here in exile so that we could have more freedom and democracy, but now we sometimes think about leaving. But we know that wherever we go, just like everywhere we’ve already been, we’ll be treated differently by the state. We are always treated as Palestinians.

Bessan was born into a Palestinian family who took refuge in Syria, a country she in turn left because of her involvement in the Syrian revolution. She likes to say that she is Palestinian, because “it’s a source of pride, and a blessing, but also, in her heart, a source of sadness”. It’s a feeling and a struggle that she tries to explain to us, even if, she warns, “as we say in Arabic, ‘the hand that’s in the water is not the hand that’s in the fire’” – we can’t feel what she feels.
*The name has been changed.

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