Refugees use Facebook to keep scattered families connected
Refugees use Facebook to keep scattered families connected, despite long distances and hostile borders. Among the Palestinian refugees living in camps along the Lebanon border, social media connects far-flung relatives and friends.
As Jewish forces advanced on their village during the war that surrounded Israel's creation in 1948, the Palestinian Faour family piled children and belongings into donkey carts and fled, hoping to return home when the fighting stopped.Skip to next paragraph
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Only some of them got back, and the family is still divided. Some are in the Lebanese city of Sidon as stateless refugees. Others are 80 kilometers (50 miles) away as Israeli citizens in their village of Shaab, across a fenced and hostile border.
Granddaughter Mona Maarouf, 26, still considers Shaab home, even though she has spent her life in Sidon, has never visited her ancestral village and maybe never will. She knew she had relatives there but knew nothing about them.
Then she joined Facebook.
Now she tracks who has died in the village, and her cousins in Israel weigh in on her marriage prospects. "I didn't think anyone knew anything about me," she says. "Then I saw that they knew everything."
Social media have produced a boom in communications between Palestinians in Israel and the Arab world, once connected only through rare letters carried by intermediaries or the International Red Cross. Younger exiles like Maarouf are tracking down and getting to know relatives separated for decades.
Many Palestinians say they now know more about their extended families than at any time since the birth of Israel, an event Palestinians mourn every May 15 as the "Nakba," or catastrophe.
Mostly they stick to swapping family photos and news, worrying that political talk could draw attention from intelligence agencies. Some, however, say stronger ties will bolster the Palestinian demand that some 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N. return to their villages, a demand that Israel rejects, saying it would destroy the Jewish state.
"Now we can communicate with all our family," said Maarouf's aunt, Taghreed Eissa, who also has spent her life as a refugee in this Mediterranean city. "That makes it impossible for the new generation to forget the Palestinian cause."
"What happened to the Palestinians is what happened to the Jews before: They were dispersed throughout the world," said Ali Khatib, 67, a Shaab man with relatives in Syria, Denmark, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
Khatib's family, too, was split by Israel's creation: his father became an Israeli citizen, while his uncle became a refugee in Lebanon. They lost touch. Then recently his son asked him about a man in Lebanon named Hisham Khatib whom he had just met online.