West Bank town has `family reunion' in US

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``It is in our blood to come here,'' says Fuad Mogannam. ``We say that when a baby is born from Ramallah, the first word he says is `America.''' About 25,000 Palestinians from the West Bank town of Ramallah live in the United States - all, it is said, the descendants of seven brothers who founded the town 400 years ago. Mr. Mogannam has lived in the San Francisco area for 40 years.

Ramallans began coming to the US early this century. These early immigrants, all Christians, usually left families back home and alternated working here for several years with returning home for brief periods. After Israel's occupation of the West Bank, immigration increased markedly. The tendency now is to stay here permanently, but not to relinquish ties to home.

The American Federation of Ramallah Palestine, formed in 1958, provides economic help for those still in Ramallah. The federation has an annual convention in the US - ``basically a family reunion,'' says Essa Sackllah, a Houston restaurateur.

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There is some argument within the federation over whether the emphasis should be primarily social or political. Older folks stress the social, while younger people, according to Mr. Sackllah, argue that the word ``Palestine'' in the name of the organization automatically makes it political. This is a controversy that goes to the heart of the Palestinian identity problem in this country: whether one can be a Palestinian at all without being political.

Deir Dibwan, a small Muslim village five miles outside Ramallah, is also heavily represented in this country. Of Deir Dibwan's 7,000 to 8,000 citizens nearly half are estimated to be living in the US. So many of the town's natives are American citizens who still own property there and return there periodically to live that the town is jokingly called ``West Bank, USA.''

An observer might be tempted to say that Americans from Ramallah tend to be more assimilated and less inclined to return to their homeland, while Deir Dibwan's natives seem less integrated in American society and more likely to return home. But any such generalization would undoubtedly be challenged - by Ramallans who would insist they are more Palestinian than that and by Deir Dibwanians who would insist they are more American than that. It's the old Palestinian American identity problem again.

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