GEZIRA FADEL, Egypt — About 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of Cairo and about two hours away is the village of Gezira Fadel in Sharqiya governorate. Gezira Fadel is the last village inhabited by Palestinians who have taken refuge in Egypt after being displaced from their villages in Palestine that were occupied by Israel in 1948.
The village’s streets are not paved, and to travel the village’s 2-meter-wide (6.5-foot-wide] main street, one has to get on a tuk-tuk, the most popular means of transportation in popular Egyptian areas.
Al-Monitor reached the mayor’s headquarters in the center of the village. Mayor Eid al-Namuli said that his family makes up the majority of the village’s population of 5,000 inhabitants.
Namuli explained that the residents are all from the Namuli tribe, which was originally affiliated with the Abu Hassoun tribe that emigrated from the city of Beersheba in Palestine in 1948 and settled in Sharqiya governorate.
He said, “The village is 500 acres. It was founded by my father, Sheikh Naseer Namuli, right after he migrated here in 1948. It is administratively affiliated with the city of Abu Kabir in Sharqiya governorate. We have a customary council composed of seven people to resolve disputes among the residents and between our village and nearby Egyptian villages.”
Namuli, who was chosen by the village’s elderly to serve as mayor after his father and brother passed away in 2014, noted that the villagers hold on dearly to their Palestinian customs and traditions even 68 years after leaving Beersheba, not to mention that 95% of the time, men marry women from within the same tribe.
According to Namuli, almost 50% of the population is educated and only 1% of the male population has received Egyptian nationality after marrying Egyptian women. The majority of the villagers do not have Egyptian nationality, so as to preserve their right to return to Palestine and to keep their identity from melting into the Egyptian community.
The villagers have taken up many professions, such as trade, agriculture, recycling, selling groceries and repairing cars.
Hussein Namuli, 28, a father of five and the spokesman for the village’s youth, who also has a diploma in trade, told Al-Monitor that he sells clothes in the markets of Sharqiya governorate and makes about 150-250 Egyptian pounds ($8-$14) a day.
He noted that villagers make good money but face many problems, saying, “Yes, we are taught in public schools, but we need over four months to complete the procedures of enrolling our children in schools since we do not hold Egyptian nationality and in the absence of schools inside the village. Genetic diseases are also very common such as cleft palate because we only marry women from our village, who are also our relatives.”
According to tribal customs, young men and women often marry at an early age, sometimes when they are only 15 years old.
Palestinian refugees in the village face other issues, such as their inability to travel outside Egypt because they have an Egyptian travel document that prevents them from traveling abroad. The Egyptian authorities issued these documents to the Palestinian refugees who arrived to Egypt in 1948, and then again in 1967. But some Arab countries do not recognize these travel documents, which are not considered passports, thus preventing some Palestinians from traveling.
In this context, Sayed Mohammad, a 27-year-old villager, pointed out that he has tried to travel several times, but failed to obtain Egyptian permission to travel or a permit from the country he was willing to visit.
He said, “If you ask someone about the situation in our village, they would tell you that the economic business was rather good and we practice trade like our Egyptian brothers. However, our main issue is our inability to travel; we cannot even go on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.”
Speaking to Al-Monitor, former Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt Barakat al-Farra said that the village is a true example of how Palestinians are still attached to Palestine, which shows in how they teach their children about their origins as well as how they insist on improving their living conditions where they currently live.
He attributed the difficult situation of the village due to the lack of infrastructure and to the Egyptian situation as a whole, which is currently suffering under economic and living problems. He said, “It is not easy, and the issue is not only the lack of money, but rather the need to raise awareness among villagers and urge them to turn their attention more toward education, which represents a major factor in overcoming harsh conditions in general.”
Farra noted that he founded in August 2015 the Palestinian-Egyptian Friendship Foundation, which mainly works on improving the village’s living conditions. The foundation, which is based in the Maadi district of Cairo, offers medical and living assistance to the residents of the village.
Palestinian refugees in Gezira Fadel still dream about returning to Beersheba, south of Palestine, which they were forced to leave in 1948, although they have come to identify with their Egyptian surroundings after living there for more than 68 years.