Badi Dakhlallah remembers fleeing his home in the village of Al-’Al at the age of eight, when the Israelis attacked the Golan in 1967.
“My father wasn’t around because of his work, and so I had to escape the shelling of the war carrying my two-year-old sister in my arms, while my mother carried my other sister. And we took turns also carrying my disabled brother. We went on foot, taking rests in caves and fields, all the while absolutely terrified by the sounds of shelling and explosions. We took a path through the Yarmouk Valley, crossing the Jordan River and continuing on until we reached the city of Irbid in Jordan. We stayed there for a few days before going back to Syria to settle in Daraa, as it was quite close to the Jordanian border.”
In Daraa, the refugees had to stay in schools and youth centers, and the government provided aid for them. The effects of the war went further than the large numbers of dead and wounded, the disappeared and the refugees. It settled deep into the hearts of all who had lived it.
“It pained me that I had left everything beautiful behind, heading toward an unknown fate,” says Badi. “I still remember the sounds of the airplanes and the screams of women and children.
“This suffering,” he continues, “produced a generation haunted by injustice and oppression, whose perspective on life and people is different from others. When I grew up I reached the conviction that to die defending one’s land is much better than to have to leave it during war, and if I knew this at the time I would have never left my land.”
The refugees ended up in a number of different provinces in Syria, depending on the location of their villages and areas. Those from the northern sector in the Province of Quneitra headed to the Damascus countryside, while those from the southern sector, or what is known as Zawiya Gharbiya, ended up in Daraa.
“A number of refugees had to begin working,” said Badi, “so that they could support their families. Those who had degrees found jobs in the public sector, while the famers who had no professional skills had to work in construction or as other sorts of day-laborers.”
Badi’s family remained living in a school for two months, suffering from the poor facilities and crowded and noisy conditions. Afterwards, they moved to Damascus, staying for six months in the Al-Zahira neighborhood along with many other refugees, in an unfinished house with no doors or windows, and without basic infrastructure for water or electricity. They had to rely on the residents who lived in neighboring areas to fill up their gallon-bottles of water, and were forced to use a nearby hemp grove as a makeshift bathroom. The family then moved to the Tadamon neighborhood and rented a small residential room where mother, father and six children had to reside for about eighteen months. Others had to share a single room with several families in order to afford the rent..
Those who had been displaced started to feel that their return might take longer than any of them had anticipated and started preparing for this to be their new reality. They began trying to improve their living conditions. Some bought land on the outskirts of Damascus as it was relatively cheap, building houses in order to cover the cost of rent and farming the land. This is exactly what Badi’s father did, buying land in the Black Rock area where he built a house with facilities. The family settled in their new house and the children went back to school, slowly resuming their normal lives.
Badi lived in the Black Rock neighborhood until 2012, when he began moving around between several areas on the outskirts of Damascus, spending time in Yarmouk Camp, Khan al-Shaykh, Jadida Artouz and Adra al-Amaliya.
Most of Black Rock’s inhabitants had been displaced from the villages and towns of the Golan, and had suffered the same conditions and also shared the same customs and traditions, though Badi was very aware of the difference between village and city life.
“Life in the village was more open and simple,” says Badi, “in terms of what we ate, how we dressed, what we wanted out of life. People had more leisure time, unlike the people in the cities, who have to work long hours just to be able to live.”
Badi worked as a business accountant in the private sector, preferring that to a public-sector job, which paid low wages. He had ambitions to improve his living conditions, his only prerequisite for any job was to be treated with respect and consideration. Badi described the way some people used the word “displaced” in a pejorative manner, like a curse, as though those who had been forced to flee were not quite human, even though they had cost the people of Damascus nothing. They had not forced them out of their homes or stolen their jobs. As he grew older, Badi was able to overcome this stigma and build relationships and friendships with various people from different backgrounds.