These Palestinian Authors Share Stories Of Life After The 1948 Nakba

10 min read
Illustration by Gida Hamam Homad, from 48 Stories of Exile from Palestine

With the global eye on Palestine, MOJEH reviews new literary releases that centre human experiences and shed light on the longstanding repercussions of the 1948 Nakba


48 Stories Of Exile From Palestine

Compiled by Dubai- based Deema Al Alami, 48 Stories of Exile from Palestine chronicles the stories of Palestinians uprooted from their homes in 1948, narrated by their descendants

A young Palestinian woman named Noor is pregnant, and prays to name her baby girl Yafa, after the small seaside city in Palestine, so that her child never forgets her roots. Noor’s grandparents were uprooted from Yafa to Egypt after the 1948 Nakba, which saw the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes, and their story, featured in the following excerpt, is documented in 48 Stories of Exile from Palestine — a new book conceptualised by Palestinian-Iraqi literary maven Deema Al Alami.

“The inspiration behind this project was a deep-seated yearning to humanise the Palestinian experience, transcending the statistics and headlines pervasive in mainstream media,” Deema tells MOJEH. “Palestinians often find themselves reduced to mere numbers, devoid of individual narratives — a portrayal both misleading and unjust.”

A former teacher and vice president at GEMS Education in the UAE, Deema understands how reading can shape values and perceptions, foster reflection and instil a sense of belonging among readers. After the birth of her first son seven years ago, she established her Instagram account, curating recommendations for children’s books and providing tips for parents on how to nurture readers. She then transitioned into the role of an author, co-writing two Arabic children’s books — one focusing on body safety, and the other centred on Palestine.

48 Stories of Exile from Palestine launched six months after the October 7 2023 attacks which prompted an unprecedented invasion of Gaza and resulted in the tragic killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Though it may seem particularly topical due to the current crisis, the accounts within the book are all rooted in the 1948 Nakba, which marked a pivotal point within Palestinian ancestries. “It’s important to recognise that history cannot be selectively defined,” says Deema. “Palestine was not a barren land; it was a thriving community with vibrant agriculture, bustling trade, esteemed universities and much more.” Her own family’s oral history has been passed down from her grandfather, who was forcibly exiled from his Jerusalem home during the Nakba. “Revisiting the Nakba is essential because it sheds light on the plight of the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, who were violently uprooted from their homes, livelihoods, aspirations and families,” says Deema.

The process of putting the book together was emotionally taxing, since each story resonated with her own family’s experience of exile. But this personal, emotional investment is what fuelled Deema’s determination to reclaim Palestinian narratives from marginalisation and erasure.

Alongside five other editors, she conducted interviews, reviewed written submissions and listened to the anecdotes of fellow Palestinians sharing their families’ stories. It took just over four months to compile the book, before sending it off for printing. Though Palestinians have long been victims of oppression and violence at the hand of the occupation, Deema felt propelled by a heightened sense of urgency when the crisis started escalating in October. “It was crucial to provide people with the opportunity to make informed decisions amid the ongoing genocide,” she says. “Palestinians are facing a formidable propaganda machine, and I firmly believe that each of us has a role to play in spreading the truth.”

Deema was also driven by a feeling of survivor’s guilt. “As Palestinians in the diaspora, many of us grapple with a persistent sense that we’re never doing enough for our ancestors’ land and people,” she explains. It was important for her to give back to those in dire need of aid, so she partnered with the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) to sell the book and use the sales money to support amputee and orphaned children in Gaza. In less than 72 hours of launching, the PCRF sold more than 1,400 copies.

Social media has been phenomenally helpful in raising awareness and promoting solidarity throughout the crisis, and also in helping spread the word about Deema’s new book. However, she points out that Instagram alone cannot illuminate the depth and layers of family histories that have been impacted by displacement, loss and grief since 1948. The narratives in 48 Stories of Exile from Palestine uncover these detailed intricacies of the human experience. “They chronicle the love stories disrupted by exile, the career paths altered, the friendships severed and the families torn apart — rarely to be reunited,” explains Deema.

“By centring the human aspect, this book challenges readers to recognise that behind every statistic about Palestinians, there lies a real story of a father, mother, daughter, sister, brother, cousin or lover. At a time when much of the Palestine-related content on social media may focus on the political aspects, a tangible book offers a unique dimension and depth to storytelling. It provides a visceral connection to the lived experiences of Palestinians, transcending the limitations of digital platforms to evoke empathy, understanding, and solidarity.” Shop now


Before The Queen Falls Asleep

Before the Queen Falls Asleep by Huzama Habayeb is a fictional tale about an eldest daughter treated like a son, responsible for supporting her family as they navigate the trials of displacement

Before the Queen Falls Asleep was first published by Palestinian novelist, columnist and poet Huzama Habayeb in Arabic more than a decade ago. This spring it was released for the first time in English, making the story — which in many ways, mirrors the author’s own upbringing — accessible to a wider audience.

The novel opens with pages full of teary airport farewells, written from the present-day point of view of single mother Jihad, who can’t bear to be parted from her daughter Maleka as she sets off for university. The rest of the novel is formatted as a series of bedtime stories to Maleka, whom she addresses as ‘Queen’ — the English translation of her name.

Jihad has never stepped foot on Palestinian soil, and an unshakeable sense of unbelonging permeates her existence as she and her family are uprooted from Kuwait to Jordan during the Gulf War. Her father’s generation was the first one following the 1948 Nakba, and had “dreaming predications of a noble, pure, genius and ethical revolution.” Yet the optimistic fervour for a free Palestine soon turns into a wishful uncertainty, and this shift in mentalities is reflected in a chapter dedicated to the names of Jihad’s loved ones. Names symbolising courage, strength, bravery and revolution soon dip out of trend, and are replaced with those associated with prayer and patience.

Jihad carries her own name, which is a typically masculine one translating to ‘struggle’, as a burden: “I am Jihad — I am a struggle I did not choose; the jihad I did not ask for,” writes Huzama. The name was the choice of Jihad’s father, who ultimately passes off his responsibilities as man of the house to her. At one point, her income is more than twice the amount of his, and after moving to Jordan she financially supports her entire family.

Through chapters bursting with descriptive recollections, Huzama imagines incessant household chaos, with seemingly infinite mouths to feed and a constant counting of cash — which Jihad’s female relatives take great care to hide, in places like their undergarments and food storage jars. Genuine Adidas trainers are a luxury, and her father carries a knockoff Samsonite briefcase. No doubt familiar with these circumstances, Huzama expertly narrates everyday occurrences surrounding the hardships of displacement, often in paragraph-long metaphors. While recounting her life, Jihad weaves in detailed stories of her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins, but procrastinates about telling her own love story — and the circumstances surrounding Maleka’s conception — until the very end of the novel. When recounting her tumultuous marriage and admittedly unwanted pregnancy, she tells Maleka: “As your life shackled me, I somehow became free.” Only upon its completion will readers fully empathise with the deep sense of love, longing and almost obsessive attachment Jihad feels towards her daughter, who provides her with the ultimate liberation and most secure sense of ‘home’. Shop now


The Moon That Turns You Back

An incredibly moving collection of poetry, The Moon that Turns You Back by Hala Alyan dissects the internal dilemmas and endless identity crisis caused by generations of exile

“There are griefs that hold like teapots,” writes Hala Alyan in her new book of poems, The Moon That Turns You Back. Through pages of insight into the mind of one of this generation’s most prolific Palestinian authors, the poetry encapsulates the myriad emotions of a woman witnessing the massacring of her people from the other side of the world, through screens and social media.

A Brooklyn-based professor, clinical psychologist and award- winning author of novels like Salt Houses and The Arsonists’ City, Hala is known for blending narratives of the past with those of the present through intergenerational stories that expose the impact of the occupation. In a similar way, her new poems span the generations of one Palestinian family scattered across Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel, Dubai and the United States, forever exiled from their homeland yet unable to relinquish it from their hearts.

Intimate, political and laced with both reflection and rage, Hala’s poems demonstrate a sense of fragmentation of identity as a result of being American with Palestinian heritage. Her poems cite Fairuz songs and Al Jazeera, alongside small-town American cities and Kmart. Memories and dreams discuss displacement in both blatant and abstract ways, and grief over a miscarriage is a recurring theme — one poem is even titled The Uterus Speaks.

Hala delves into trauma through diverse and experimental poetry formats. Many capture the distressing duality between despair over news emerging from Palestine, and continuing on with day-to-day life in the diaspora. “There’s a leak in the bathroom and I get it fixed in thirty minutes flat. I stop jogging when I’m tired. Nothing can justify why I’m alive. Why there’s still a June. Why I wake and wake and the earth doesn’t shake,” she writes.

Hala disrupts ongoing observations of violence and death with mundane candour, writing: “When the warplanes come, I pluck them from the blue sky like Tic Tacs.” She describes a paralysing sense of helplessness, as the cycle of war endlessly churns on: “The screens will spoil my eyesight. After all that Lasik. After all that shelling. A mother walks her child over rubble. Prays the young will forget.” Hala writes from the perspective of a young Palestinian woman who cannot, and will not forget the injustices that continue to befall her people — but while her words swirl around an abyss of disillusionment, they never succumb to absolute rock-bottom. “I’m here to tell you the tide will never stop coming in. I’m here to tell you whatever you build will be ruined, so make it beautiful,” writes Hala.

An outpouring of poetry from an unresting heart that is constantly uprooted, The Moon That Turns You Back is simultaneously turbulent and transformative. At the end of one page, Hala ponders: “Was the grief worth the poem? No, but you don’t interrogate a weed for what it does with wreckage. For what it’s done to get here.” Shop now

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  • Words by Hafsa Lodi