Tim Franks
Bbc News (Blog)
May 12, 2008 - 5:39pm


To get to Ali Abu Zour's living quarters, you have to fold yourself into an improbable shape, and stoop-crawl-walk through the square hole in the back of his shop.

Once we had reached the bare room next to the kitchen, we decided it would be better to go back to the shop: just as comfortable, and he might not lose any passing business, as we talked.

Outside was the glare and the noise of the main market drag of Balata refugee camp, close to Nablus. Inside Mr Abu Zour's shop, the light was dull and greyish, the shelves filled with dusty packets of soap powder and floor cleaner.

On a plastic stool by his side, sat Mr Abu Zour's youngest son, 14-year-old Mohammed.

He grinned toothily as his father produced his ID card from 60 years ago.

In the photo, Ali may have been wearing a jacket and tie where Mohammed was now wearing a black t-shirt.

But other than that, the two boys were indistinguishable - replete with quiff, searching eyes, and large front teeth.

Ali Abu Zour lived in a village near Jaffa that no longer exists. The residents of Abu Kishk fled or were forced from their homes in 1948.



In 1950, Ali Abu Zour and his family wound up in Balata, the year that the United Nations set up a refugee camp there.

Mr Abu Zour recalled the small collection of tents. Balata is now the biggest of the Palestinian refugee camps on the West Bank, a concrete jumble, home to more than 20,000.

Shortly after arriving in 1950, his father was given the chance to buy five dunams (half a hectare) of land, close to the camp, for 75 Jordanian dinars.

Mr Abu Zour says his father barely considered the offer, telling the vendor that he was planning to stay only a week or two, or a month at most.

Mr Abu Zour laughed. "And here I am, nearly 60 years later."

He insists that he keeps alive the dream of returning to what he says were the 200 dunams of land his family owned in Abu Kishk.

Mr Abu Zour looks younger than his 71 years. He has 12 children: 10 daughters and two sons. A third son died in the first intifada, killed in front of Mr Abu Zour eyes by an Israeli soldier. He did not go into details. "But it is still very difficult," he said.


Before we left his shop, Mr Abu Zour asked that we stay and listen to a story; a story for the 60th anniversary of the Nakba (the "catastophe" - the name given by Palestinians and Arabs to the founding of the State of Israel) commemorated on 15 May:

During the 1973 war (Israel against Egypt and Syria), we were sitting in my house watching Syrian TV while they were covering the fighting.

My older sister was sitting behind me. She is dead now.

And we saw a picture on the Syrian TV when they captured an Israeli air force pilot. We saw that he was injured.

My older sister, she said: "Haram [Shame]! O my God, he's injured."

I told her: "He's Jewish, he's Israeli," because I thought she didn't realise.

She said that she knew.

"Look my brother, I'm a mother. And I look at him now as a mother. And I know that his mother may be seeing these pictures, and her heart is breaking," my sister explained.


If Umm Ishaq became the prime minister in Israel, and Umm Ibrahim the president in Palestine, then there would be peace

And I said to my sister: "If I thought that we can pray for anyone other than God, I would pray for your great emotions, because of what you are feeling."

Her name was Umm Ibrahim [the mother of Ibrahim]. And she just had one cow in the family. Once she went to check the cow. In her way were some Israeli soldiers. They threw a tear gas grenade at her. And she died from this tear gas.

In her heart she had mercy for everyone, even for her enemies… those same enemies who ended up killing her and her people, and stealing her land. But this didn't do her any good - this mercy. She was killed by the Israelis.

I don't want to blame anyone falsely. I do know that there are men and women in Israel who have mercy in their hearts.

Once at the entrance to the camp at Balata, I saw lots of Israeli soldiers. And there were a few kids who were getting ready to throw stones.

One of these soldiers, he saw me. He walked straight up to me and he said to me: "Please tell these kids not to throw stones, because my mother she told me not to shoot anyone."

At this time, I remembered my sister Umm Ibrahim. I thought that they - the Israelis - have Umm Ishaq [Ishaq being the Arabic for Isaac - a popular Jewish name].

If Umm Ishaq became the prime minister in Israel, and Umm Ibrahim the president in Palestine, then there would be peace.


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