There are regrettably far too many lives falling apart within the span of a few hours. Attempts to quell displacement lack serious backing. Prevention methods begin and end with lengthy negotiations that only prolong the refugee status of countless individuals praying for a solution. Material sustenance in the form of packaged food and water is invaluable, but doesn’t mend internal wounds. People who are maliciously uprooted retain scars that can’t be seen by the naked eye. We must realize that displacement is being allowed to become a common phenomenon, even though it takes place in different contexts, with different people, for different reasons.
The intractable deadlock between the Palestinians and Israelis sheds light on a glaring example of widespread expulsions. We’ve watched protests on TV with activists condemning the displacement of Palestinian men, women, and children who are forced to turn away from their homes after barely escaping a barrage of cataclysmic air raids. A reading of The Lemon Tree (Bloomsbury, 2007) by Sandy Tolan drew my attention to other deeply rooted values fueling this vicious cycle of mutual hostility. In Tolan’s factual account, the Khairi (Palestinian Arabs) and Eshkenazi (Israeli Jews) families both reflect on heart-wrenching details from their past. The Khairis and Eshkenazis share similar histories because they were both unwanted at a certain point in time, and because they both faced the inevitable decision of leaving their homes behind. Dalia Eshkenazi learns that her beautiful new home in Al-Ramla, located in what is now central Israel, once belonged to Bashir Khairi and his family. She befriended Bashir and understood his plight. She could not, however, accept his aspersions against Jewish settlers. She claimed that Zion historically belongs to her people who, during WWII, were on the brink of annihilation and had nowhere else to go. Tolan’s reportage shows that Dalia and Bashir are haunted with images of unforgiving violence, but they seem equally afraid of the gaping hole that will grow in their hearts without having a country they can call their own. Maybe that is why the controversy between the Jewish and Palestinian people has grown into an entangled web of chaos. Both opposing sides know they deserve a home, and yet neither side can fully enjoy such comfort.
And there’s Iraq, a country that has grappled with ongoing strife and is currently embroiled in a raging humanitarian crisis. The Islamic State (formerly ISIS, now IS), a radical Sunni militant organization, is wreaking havoc by seizing towns that once belonged to various minority communities. The insurgency aims to build an Islamic caliphate comprised of newly occupied territories. Aside from pursuing blatant political motives, the militant organization is imposing strict and grossly manipulated Islamic ideologies on Christian and Yazidi ethnic groups in order to justify its ruthless incursion. The Christian and Yazidi people are left to choose between conversion and death. Thousands of Christians have fled their homes. IS militants killed at least 500 Yazidis over the past few weeks. Hundreds of Christians and Yazidis in Iraq are wandering through mountains and along roadsides as refugees. They are left to endure the painful reality of becoming alienated from a world that was once an essential part of their identity.
I think back to another point in history. The year 1947 saw the birth of one nation and the separation of another, when the northern, predominantly Muslim sections of India became the nation of Pakistan, while the southern and majority Hindu section became the Republic of India.The partition between Pakistan and India is a historic turning point that remains a critical topic of debate. Some see it as a necessary undertaking for Muslims in India to seek refuge within the safety of their own country. Others describe it as a controversial development that removed civilians from homes that gave them structure, comfort, and security. The new division reportedly created 14 million refugees, as Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan found themselves on the wrong side of the border. Hundreds of thousands of people died while migrating to their respective territories.
Guneeta Singh Bhalla, a former Physicist Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, founded a project called the 1947 Partition Archive. She was inspired to document oral histories of individuals affected by the partition after hearing her own family’s disconcerting musings about narrowly escaping Pakistan and being reunited with relatives at refugee camps in India. Bhalla rightfully believes that the memories of other survivors should be respected, understood, and preserved. She has trained volunteers to compile detailed recollections that are typically not given the justice they are warranted, especially in textbook assessments that provide narrow academic interpretations of the partition’s intricate history. One account is about a boy named Ali Shan who was born in Ludhiana, India. He was six-years-old when his mother and brother were killed. A Sikh or Hindu stranger rescued Ali and brought him safely to his uncle, who then took him to Pakistan. Another story describes the heroic feat of a Muslim man who saved a Hindu passenger from a mob by hiding him in the first class compartment of a train. Muslims and Hindus share bitter memories of partition’s trauma. Unimaginable violence and painstaking goodbyes discolored the lives of many people who were left with limited options.
In the globalized world we live in today, one might assume that settling into new countries and neighborhoods would be a naturally fluid process. But at the end of the day, a home is more than a room or house filled with furniture. A home represents kinship, a city, country, or place that generates an emotional bond that is hard to replicate elsewhere. Cherished moments grow with time and exude an air of familiarity that feels warmly reassuring. Displacement can come in the form of brutal expulsions that reek of genocide or politically maneuvered land divisions. Either way, lives are dismantled when people are physically uprooted from their homes. Some people move at their own pace when adapting to a new home. Others move through their lives trying to rediscover home again, but to no avail. As Dante once wrote in Paradiso, “You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first.”
Follow Anam on Twitter @anamk10
India, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria