My Grandfather and I: Descendents of refugees in Gaza learn the stories of their elders

This is a story about an AFSC project to build social cohesion among Palestinian communities to discuss how best to reach a just and lasting peace.

A Palestinian dress flees from its large wooden box, where it was kept for safekeeping for years, and flies over the sky of Gaza to return to its original owner in Jaffa.

An elderly grandfather wakes up one morning and sees his orange groves in Haifa in full bloom.

A small boy meets his long-lost elderly neighbor in Majdal, who used to fix him bread every day fresh from the traditional oven.

These are stories written by young children, aged between 10-13 from the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. Stories which revive the memories of those who fled in 1948 and started their life anew in a refugee camp.

Children in Gaza with the books of their grandparents' stories

"My grandfather and I" is a $5000-project that promoted the concept of return among the young generations living in Gaza. Their grandfathers and grandmothers were very young when they were displaced and forced into exile, hence the link between the ancestors and the descendents needed to be tied.

The return of refugees is a topic that has remained taboo in Palestinian society for various reasons. 750,000 Palestinians were originally displaced in 1948 and today their descendants amount to about 4 million. More than 60 years have elapsed, and the young child who fled then is an elderly person now. The new generations do not grasp the idea of their occupied lands and lack the passion of returning to their olive and orange groves. Elders are full of passion to tell the story of their village and to raise the awareness of the young generations of the inevitability of return.

Over the period of 45 days, a dialogue opened between the elderly and the children to create a space in which memories of displacement could be shared. Children aged between 10 and 13 gathered around their grandmothers or grandfathers to listen to the 1948 flight and plight.

Participants in the "My Grandfather and I" project in Gaza

AFSC has partnered with a local NGO in Gaza, Al Wedad Society for community rehabilitation, to link the first generation of Palestine refugees of 1948 to their descendants today. The NGO ensured that the children learn skills related to theater production, campaigning, and creative story writing. 90 boys and girls joined these workshops.

After the workshop, children had the opportunity to share the stories and organize theatrical plays in five different schools in Gaza. They are also able now to transfer their knowledge to their peers, who themselves, would also collect stories and share them.

Abdel Fatah, the project coordinator at Wedad explains: "Kids were very happy to write the stories of their grandfathers, spread them in other schools. This has left a smile on both the elderly and their descendants, they imagined how their return would look.”

Illustration of "My Grandfather's Key" by Yusuf Al Fasih, 12

Below is an excerpt from the booklet, “My Grandfather and I,” the story “My Grandfather’s Key" by Yusuf Al Fasih, 12, Gaza

I love my grandfather Sobhi; he always takes me to the beach to sit in front of the sea. He likes to sit there, but to be honest I prefer swimming and playing on the boats. My father and my uncle had had a small boat; they were using it in fishing. I used to catch the back of the boat until it moved away, and then I stood to watch them using the long paddle to move the boat.I want to tell you the thing that motivated me to write the story, it is that my grandfather used to hide a big key tied with a cloth rope in his jacket pocket, and he used also to stare at it. One day, I crept into his room while he was sleeping and took the key silently. I wanted to know the secret of this key. I tried it in every door in my house but it didn’t work.I took the key to my friend Ahmed to ask him about it, but he had no answer. When I asked the rest of the children, no one had an answer except one who said that it might be a wooden box key for the precious things.Finally, we agreed the wooden box was in our house store where we kept old things. They went with me to the store; we found a big wooden box, but it was already open! When we looked in the box, it was full of old clothes, pottery jar, and a mill. There was an old photo and a decomposed paper. From our spilling, we discovered that the paper was ownership paper for a house in our city ”El Majdal,” and when we focused on the photo, we noticed that the house in the photo had a big aperture for the key which was appropriate to my grandfather key. At that time, I solved the mystery of the key, so I went back to my grandfather’s room to put it in his pocket again. When I was about to put it, my grandfather held my hand and smiled: “Now you know the key secret; you can keep it with you so that when you return to El Majdal, you will be able to open the door again,” my grandfather said.