Palestine´s exiles find family bonds thru Facebook (AP) Associated Press) By BEN HUBBARD SIDON, Lebanon 05/06/12 12:25 pm ET)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-Top
SIDON, Lebanon – As Jewish forces advanced on their village during
the war that surrounded Israel´s creation in 1948, the Palestinian
Faour family piled children and belongings into donkey carts and
fled, hoping to return home when the fighting stopped.
Only some of them got back, and the family is still divided. Some are
in the Lebanese city of Sidon as stateless refugees. Others are 80
kilometers (50 miles) away as Israeli citizens in their village of
Shaab, across a fenced and hostile border.
Granddaughter Mona Maarouf, 26, still considers Shaab home, even
though she has spent her life in Sidon, has never visited her
ancestral village and maybe never will. She knew she had relatives
there but knew nothing about them.
Then she joined Facebook.
Now she tracks who has died in the village, and her cousins in Israel
weigh in on her marriage prospects. "I didn´t think anyone knew
anything about me," she says. "Then I saw that they knew everything."
Social media have produced a boom in communications between
Palestinians in Israel and the Arab world, once connected only
through rare letters carried by intermediaries or the International
Red Cross. Younger exiles like Maarouf are tracking down and getting
to know relatives separated for decades.
Many Palestinians say they now know more about their extended
families than at any time since the birth of Israel, an event
Palestinians mourn every May 15 as the "Nakba," or catastrophe.
Mostly they stick to swapping family photos and news, worrying that
political talk could draw attention from intelligence agencies. Some,
however, say stronger ties will bolster the Palestinian demand that
some 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N. return
to their villages, a demand that Israel rejects, saying it would
destroy the Jewish state.
"Now we can communicate with all our family," said Maarouf´s aunt,
Taghreed Eissa, who also has spent her life as a refugee in this
Mediterranean city. "That makes it impossible for the new generation
to forget the Palestinian cause."
"What happened to the Palestinians is what happened to the Jews
before: They were dispersed throughout the world," said Ali Khatib,
67, a Shaab man with relatives in Syria, Denmark, Canada and Saudi
Khatib´s family, too, was split by Israel´s creation: his father
became an Israeli citizen, while his uncle became a refugee in
Lebanon. They lost touch. Then recently his son asked him about a man
in Lebanon named Hisham Khatib whom he had just met online.
His father pointed to a photo of his aunt and uncle on the living
"Those are his grandparents," he said.
Also in Shaab, Houriya Faour, in her 70s, said that before social
media, finding relatives was a struggle.
"Now my son comes and tells me, this person says hello," she said.
Typing on a laptop, her son Mohammed, 36, opened a Facebook chat with
a woman named Huda Faour whom he found while searching for his last
"how r u can I ask u a question," he wrote. "what are your mom´s and
Minutes later, he had found a new relative — in Texas.
Sitting in his travel agency in Shaab, Anwar Faour, 40, scrolled
through his Facebook friends, pointing out relatives he has found in
the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Lebanon, Dallas, Texas, and Los
Angeles. He recalled his surprise as condolences poured in from all
over the world upon the recent death of his uncle, a revered village
Across the border, Mona Maarouf followed the news of the uncle´s
decline on Facebook and was the first to tell her side of the family
when he died. Her grandfather and his father were brothers, among 11
siblings who ended up divided among Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
The interest goes both ways.
When Maarouf got engaged to a Palestinian man living in Sweden, Anwar
Faour and his brothers in Israel saw photos of the couple online.
"They asked for his number and called him and said, You take care of
Mona," Maarouf said.
The engagement broke off, but Maarouf said the experience made her
feel closer to her relatives.
While Facebook strengthens ties, it also highlights differences.
Faour, the travel agent, is an Israeli citizen and cannot enter most
Arab countries. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic. Like many Arab citizens
of Israel, he complains of discrimination by the state, but says he
prefers it to living in a refugee camp.
A cousin he corresponds with regularly, Larissa Ajjawi, has spent her
life as one of Lebanon´s 436,000 Palestinian refugees who cannot
become citizens, hold most jobs or buy property. She speaks Arabic
but prefers to write in English or French.
"We talk about general stuff: How are you, what´s going on, who got
married, stuff like that," said Ajjawi, 40, who lives in Beirut. "We
never talk politics. I´d like to ask them what they think about
things, but I can´t."
When asked separately, their views on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict differ substantially.
For Ajjawi, who says she gets uncomfortable around Israelis when she
travels abroad, the solution is simple: All the refugees should come
back, and "All the Jews who have come to Palestine since 1948 should
go back. They have their own countries."
For Faour, who never has lived outside Israel and has Jewish friends
and colleagues, the solution is different, and not at all simple.
"All we want is for there to be peace and two states so that all
people can live their lives," he said.
"Of course I want my relatives to come back and live here, but that´s
not what Israel wants," he said. "It´s a very hard question." (© 2012
The Associated Press 05/06/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY