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Guest contribution by Mariam Nawas
Talat Nawas, age 8 and farthest to the left, poses for a picture with his parents and his two sisters, Baheya and Zaher, in a studio in Al-Bireh in 1958.
Talat Nawas is the youngest of eight born to refugee parents in Al-Am’ari camp near Al-Bireh. Lacking basic facilities, the makeshift camp of tents inadequately sheltered families from Lydd, Ramla, and Jaffa displaced during the Nakba in the late 1940s. Unable to endure the dismal conditions, Talat’s large family relocated to a one-room home in Al-Sharafa, a nearby town.
The rent, though cheap, burdened his parents and eventually forced the family back to Al-Am’ari. By now the tents had been replaced with concrete shelters and the family upgraded to a crude two-room house.
Far from being welcomed back into the fold, Talat and his siblings physically fought to regain status in the camp. Talat accrued scars from neighborhood brawls and bore them proudly alongside the ragged cartilage on his ear, courtesy of a nibbling rat during his first stint in Al-Am’ari.
As his siblings grew up, they gradually scattered abroad to work, study, or marry, searching for a livelihood that was virtually unattainable in their native Palestine. Dispossessed and dispersed, they embodied the Palestinian plight.
When Israeli warplanes shaded the blazing sun in the summer of 1967, only Talat and his youngest sister Baheya remained with their parents in the West Bank. Ground forces captured Ramallah near Al-Bireh and closed the road connecting the adjacent cities to Jerusalem. The family fled to Jericho, where they spent a sleepless night tormented by the screeching of hailing mortar shells. As Israel advanced closer, Baheya and her mother managed to secure a ride to Jordan while Talat and his father set out on the 30-mile journey by foot in the scorching heat. The family arrived safely in Amman two days later, and at age 16, Talat became a refugee twice displaced.
After completing high school in Al-Zarqa, he shuttled from city to city seeking a spot in a university. The flood of refugees into Jordan produced a competitive applicant pool that saturated the limited seats. His father refused to relent; he pushed Talat onwards insisting that unlike land, wealth, and even human life, education was the single thing the enemy couldn’t take away. Talat spent four fruitless months in Egypt with his brother Rifat, a medical student, finally returning to Jordan to the word Spain was accepting foreign students. [Read more...]