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Palestinian refugee: We are nothing without UNRWA assistance

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The George Salama family has lived in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem for 70 years. However, he prefers to call it the title “El Yafawy”, and its meaning comes from “Jaffa”, the Mediterranean city that his family left in 1948 and still considers it the home for them.

“If I started walking now, I would be there in the afternoon.”

Salameh, like many Palestinians who and their families became refugees after the war that coincided with the establishment of Israel, and his presence in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, is considered temporary.

Other Palestinian refugees are scattered between the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Many still hold the iron keys that they say are the keys to their homes from which they fled or were forced to flee during what Palestinians call the “catastrophe” in 1948.

Salama, 59, now runs a restaurant for falafel, beans, and chickpeas, off the Manger Square in Bethlehem. The slogan “Since 1948” was printed on the restaurant’s menus and the sleeves of the workers’ shirts.

He says that his membership card issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) guarantees his right under international law to return to his family’s home in Jaffa, which is now in central Israel, about 78 km away.

On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to renew UNRWA’s mandate to provide education, health and relief services to more than five million Palestinian refugees across the region.

UNRWA says its services are essential “in the absence of a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem”.

But Israel rejects the right of return claimed by Salama and other refugees, fearing the country will lose its Jewish majority.

Salama admits that return is still a distant dream.

He said that the demand for the right of return “resembles (the pill) the drug that relieves pain but does not treat it.”

In the Gaza Strip, Zakia Moussa says that her family previously owned 16 acres to the north of the fortified border of the Strip with Israel.

Zakia, 63, spent her entire life in the Palestinian refugee camps in the Strip, which Israel has besieged since 2007.

Near her home in the beach camp on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, Palestinians were unloading the sacks of flour they received from UNRWA, which provided aid to more than half of the Strip’s population. The population of Gaza is two million.

“UNRWA provides us with flour, vegetable oil, beans and milk,” she said. “We are treated free of charge, and we get medicines … We are nothing without UNRWA.”

She added that her family’s land included a house surrounded by areas planted with fruits and vegetables, all north of the Erez border crossing with Israel.

If conditions were different, she says, this land would be a short walk away.

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