Opinion: As a Palestinian born in West Jersusalem, I’ve experienced ethnic cleansing twice – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Posted By on June 28, 2022

Khoury is a retired civil engineer and lives in Escondido.

The youngest of five siblings, I was born in the Musrara District of West Jerusalem in August 1946. My father, an Episcopalian, and my mother, a Greek Orthodox, both Jerusalemites, proudly traced their families in Jerusalem back at least 600 years. My father was a prominent lawyer who practiced in Jerusalem.

In late April 1948, while my eldest sister was playing with her girlfriend in the neighborhood, the Zionist Irgun Gang threw a bomb that resulted in her friends death. My sisters trauma prompted my father to take the family away from West Jerusalem (the site of mass slayings at Deir Yasin and Tantura) because of Zionist gangs (Haganah, Stern and Irgun). Expecting to return in a couple of weeks, he left his home and office intact. Then on May 15, 1948, the Nakba (catastrophe) took place when the Israelis occupied 78 percent of Palestine including West Jerusalem, where they forcibly expelled about 850,000 Palestinians to declare Israeli independence.

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My family, like many other Palestinian families, were prevented from returning to its home. It was my first ethnic cleansing incident. My father died in 1956, heartbroken and still carrying the keys to his office and home in West Jerusalem.

Imagine people coming to your home with drawn M-16 rifles and kicking you and your family out, claiming that 2,000 years ago God promised it to them as if God is in the real estate business. They demand that you leave immediately and take nothing with you or you would die. What would you do? If you are residing in your home right now, would you ever allow anyone to come and steal it from you?

In 1965, I graduated from high school and went to study at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Initially, I started in the pre-medics program with the dream of becoming a doctor, to join two siblings studying medicine and to build a family practice and a hospital in East Jerusalem. However, in June 1967, the Israeli forces attacked and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. This occupation severed me from my family and dictated a change of plans, I went from studying medicine to studying engineering. As an honor list student, I obtained a scholarship from the engineering school.

After its occupation of the West Bank, Israel conducted a count of residents in the West Bank. Against international laws, it declared all those outside as absentees who could never return. Israels motives then and now were to ethnically cleanse the land and confiscate properties of those not residing there by using the Absentee Property Law decreed in 1950. Homes and properties of all those absent were declared Israeli property.

As with many Palestinian families, I and a couple of my siblings were not counted because we were studying in Lebanon. We could not return to the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem, even to visit my mother, other siblings or extended family members. We could not enjoy, attend or pay condolences. We missed weddings, baby deliveries and deaths. I was not even able to visit my fathers grave to pray for his soul. The Israeli occupiers would not even allow us to bury our loved ones in Jerusalem. Many of our relatives who died outside, such as my mother, my uncles and brother-in-law, and other family members rest in temporary mausoleums in Jordan. More than anything, we want to bury my mother next to my father, where she always wished and wanted.

Upon graduating from the American University in Beirut, I moved to the U.S. to pursue a masters degree in engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Following that, I worked in the Middle East for 13 years, where I could see my mother, siblings, cousins and friends but only if we agreed to meet in Spain, Greece or Jordan. Imagine yourself as a San Diegan only allowed to see your mother or siblings from Riverside if everyone flies to London.

During that period, my brother, a surgeon, became a U.S. citizen and was able to sponsor me, and I returned to California as an immigrant.

I became a U.S. citizen about 30 years after my second ethnic cleansing and once I had an American passport, after hours of search and interrogation by Israeli authorities, I finally visited my family in Jerusalem, allowed only as a tourist.

I shall never forget what happened to me, and its hard to forgive those responsible for our endless suffering. I have many grandchildren in San Diego, and we yearn for the freedom to visit our beloved Palestine. We shall not forget.

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Opinion: As a Palestinian born in West Jersusalem, I've experienced ethnic cleansing twice - The San Diego Union-Tribune

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