Memorials take many forms - some are grand and iconic like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC while others exude power through their very simplicity. During my trip Gaza last month, I noticed a series of colorful concrete benches placed along the beachfront as we traveled north along the coast from Rafah to Gaza City. My AFSC colleague Ali Albari noted the Arabic words on the backs of each bench, pointing out that each one bore the name of a Palestinian city or town that was forcibly depopulated by Zionist militias in 1948/49.
Most do not know that the majority almost 2,000,000 residents of Gaza are in fact refugees - Palestinians who had originally lived in the central and northern regions of the country. After their dispossession they were herded into refugee camps in Gaza, fully expecting to return to their homes after the armistice. Now, almost seventy years later, they are still waiting.
But they have not forgotten. It's not difficult to look at these simple seaside benches and grasp their sacred significance to the refugees of Gaza. I we drove by, I noticed that some sat empty, while others had only one person sitting upon it gazing out to sea, and still others were filled with friends, family and children playing around them. Unlike most memorials, which commemorate that which was lost and never to be found, I have no doubt that those who sit and congregate around these benches do not consider their original homes to be lost - and most certainly expect that they will one day return.
(Thanks to Ali Albari for translating).