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Palestinian reminisces on family’s losses, but says faith gives him hope

10 May 2018 – By Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Ramzi Sansur, 69, is too young to remember the family home in West Jerusalem where his older nine siblings were born and lived before 1948.

Sansur was born in Lebanon, shortly after his family was forced to flee their home in their limousine, on the eve of the Israeli declaration of independence on 14 May 1948. The family found a temporary haven in the country where they had summered.

Israel declared its independence 70 years ago after what Jews say was 2,000 years of longing to return to their holy land. A day later, war broke out when Arab armies rejected a U.N. partition plan and attacked the fledgling state. Palestinians call 14 May “al Naqba,” or the catastrophe, in which an estimated 250,000-300,000 Arabs living in the British mandate of Palestine were forced off their lands and homes.

Sansur, a Catholic and the former director of the Bir Zeit University Center for Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, recently toured his family’s old neighborhood. He pointed to landmarks and rattled off the names of other Palestinian Christian families who lived there as if they were his own memories, rather than the recounted memories of his parents and siblings.

Here, in a tall building with a partially rounded Bauhaus-style facade, is where his family lived. Now it is a home for senior citizens, and several new floors have been built atop the original building.

He remembers first visiting the house with his mother in 1967, when Israel gained control of East Jerusalem after the war that brought the West Bank and Gaza — which had been governed respectively by Jordan and Egypt — under Israeli control. His mother almost fainted watching the fixtures being taken out of her home, he said.

“I remember it. It was lilac,” he said.

“Our properties are the first [Israeli] settlements,” said Sansur, looking up at his family home as a light rain drizzled down on an unusually gray May spring day. “They settled in our property illegally.

“But we can’t keep lamenting. I have to live my life, but I teach my children so that each future generation can carry the flag that this land is Palestinian land. If the Jews want to live here, welcome, but as equals. You can’t just take someone else’s land.”

Down the street is a European diplomatic consulate in an ornate building once owned by his family. Just around the block, another European diplomatic consulate occupies a former Sansur family building. After the Sansur family lost these buildings in 1948, along with other commercial properties, the consulates stopped paying them rent, said Sansur. One consulate paid some rent to his uncle until the 1950’s, he said. The family also lost property in the center of the country.

The Sansur properties are among the many Palestinian-owned properties Israel took control of under its Absentees’ Property Law. The Israeli law ruled that property belonging to “absentees,” people who “were expelled, fled, or who left the country” after 29 November 1947, was to be put under the custodial control of the state of Israel.

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