Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 15:06 UK

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 12 May

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Ali Abu  Zour's ID card from 1950
Ali Abu Zour's ID card from 1950, the year the Balata refugee camp was established


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.

Ali Abu Zour in his shop in the Balat refugee camp
Inside Ali's shop in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank

In 1960, 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 65 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.

Here are a selection of your thoughts and comments on Tim Franks' diary:

Rare to see this kind of coverage. Good article.
Zafar, Sterling VA

Arabs talk of the "NEGBA" tragerty, when Israel was created, but many hundreds of thousands of Jews had their " NEGBA" also. I along with 1,000,000 Jews were expelled from Arab lands when Israel gained independance. My family were from Aleppo in Syria, we managed to get to Iraq and then to Israel, we lost our land, homes, businesses everything. What Arabs have to remember is they were responsable for creating the refugees by refusing to accept Jewish rights for independance, something they demand for only themselves. We too have keys & deeds to our old homes, what about our rights?
Shimon David, Yoqneam Israel

Thank you for this story. I wish people will read it and realize that instead of accusing each other and constantly building hatred in our hearts and our children's hearts, maybe it's better to forgive and start looking at a future together. I know it's easier said than done for people involved and who have lost a lot... but the story makes us realize that loss can make us think objectively sometimes. it's up to us. all we need is to believe we are humans before being palestinians or israeli.
Rana, Beirut

I am an Egyptian Jewish refugee. I also have a picture of my Egyptian passport, which was stamped that I was a Jew. Would you like me to mail you the picture? My Egyptian nationality was revoked in 1959, my father's business was expropriated and we were forced with 80,000 other Egyptian Jews to leave. It was tough starting our new lives from scratch and at first we missed Egypt terribly. But now after 60 years we have gotten on with our lives.
Semsem, New York, USA

How can you accept to see us Palestinian live in ghettos because we have been thrown out of the land that you live in, and still ask us for peace and to abandon the rightful fight to get back our land. We do not have the patience of Um Ibrahim and you do not have the wisdom of Um Isaac
Um Phalastine

This part of Tim Franks' diary shows ever so vividly how normal people can view each other. What a tragedy that the sentiment of Tim's message will not reach those responsible to bring about a situation whereby both peoples can lead lives of peace with each other. Let them get rid of their ulterior motives and recognize the normal needs of all of us once again.
Jim Krumrei, Haarlem, Netherlands

Before the usual recriminations and accusations of how biaised the BBC is and how evil Tim Franks is for showing the Israelis/Palestinians as bad people etc... Thank you for showing that people still remain human beings with a heart for kindness despite the situations they are thrust into. If Palestinians and Israelis, who have lost loved ones to the other side, still find it natural to empathize and love each other, then I'm sure the unaffected readers and HYS commentators can also find that compassion in themselves somewhere.
Ishaq Ibrahim, London, UK

Thanks BBC for the beautiful article, indeed Um Ibrahim and Um Isaaq is all what we need, but the air is full of falcons on both sides and no place for peace.
Eyad, London


Tim Franks 29 March
Views from Cairo



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