'Looking across his oranges grove, on top of one of Gaza’s highest hills, Abu Othman lays claim to the best view of Gaza, both its past and its present.
Smiling, he points his stick east, across the barrier wall towards Israel, and traces where as a boy, before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, he rode his horse to visit the Arab villages of Burayr and Huj, then on the hills nearby then traces the line along which a caravan of camels used to travel, transporting supplies from Cairo, passing near the Gaza district villages and on to Jaffa.
Here was the old railway line connecting Cairo to Aleppo, the same line that brought Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, to Gaza in 1921, when Churchill told the Palestinians, living by then under British rule, that they must accept a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as set out by the Balfour Declaration of 1917. In his declaration, Sir Arthur Balfour, the foreign secretary, had also promised to protect rights of Palestinians who lived here.
But during the 1948 war, Britain did nothing to protect inhabitants of 200 Arab villages whose people were expelled by Israeli forces or fled in terror towards Gaza City, seeking safety behind Egyptian lines, nor to protect the other 500,000 refugees who fled elsewhere. Now mukhtar (elder) of a Gaza village called Bayt Hanoun, Abu Othman saw the 1948 refugees arrive in Gaza and recalls the stories of expulsion, massacres and barrel bombings that sped their flight.
No longer smiling, he now traces lines that mark out Gaza’s present. Extending a gnarled finger west towards the Mediterranean Sea, he swings northeast and south following the the barrier wall – sometimes electrified fence – that encloses the coastal strip, with the Erez checkpoint, its caged walkways, gates and gantries sprawled just below us, locking in Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants – among them 1.3 million refugees – both the old who arrived in 1948 and their descendants.'
Read more: Israel at 70: Why Gaza's refugees and their descendants will never forget their violent expulsion
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