Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#Fadel_Island : Meet Palestine’s Forgotten Refugees in Nile Delta

The first time I heard about Fadel Island village for the first time in my life was only last week, exactly a week ago.

TV Journalist Kareem Farid told me about this forgotten hidden place in Sharkia where there is a small village of Palestinian refugees who came to Egypt in 1948 from the Nakba staying there since then. He told me that the village with a population of 3,000 refugees at least is extremely poor and needs help. 

He also warned me that I would not find its place on the map and he was right as I could not find any official existence for the village in any Egyptian map or Google map or GPS.
My only geographical lead is that it is near Abu Kabeer town and it is known there as the Arab village. I asked everybody about it in Sharkia from members of big families there to reporters of major Egyptian newspapers to labour activists who know everybody. No one knew that this village existed at all let alone there was a Palestinian refugee community there.
In an online search, there were very few mentions of the place and its history. There was a report for Al-Monitor about Palestinian refugees in Egypt that led me to a documentary produced earlier this year by Al Mayadeen TV channel that featured that place with no existence on the map. 

The documentary “The Forgotten Ones” was the first media exposure to this small community. Other than that the only mentions I could find were a couple of mentions on the official website of the Palestinian embassy in Cairo about how the embassy is helping the village as much as it can.

Of course, now you will find its name mentioned frequently during this week thanks to the ONTV show last Friday about itThanks to Kareem Farid and Ahmed Baqawi” and hopefully it will gain more and more attention as it should.
Last Friday I went there with my friend Maya from Ahram Online and Palestinian activist Ahmed Baqawi. He already told the people there would be guests visiting the small village. It would take three hours on Friday morning to reach our destination from Downtown Cairo.
When we reached our destination I found in front of me an extremely poor real Nile Delta village that is not different from any other village in the Nile Delta except most of its people got Palestinian travel documents issued from Mogamma El Tahrir as Palestinian refugees.
The village is encircled by that mud wall around it, you feel that you are entering a maze till you are really inside. The people told me that they made this wall for protection a long time ago.

Most of the houses here are made of mud with the straw roof while the roads are extremely narrow. There are a couple of houses though built with cement and new ones under construction with red bricks.


The story of the village is better known from the elderly who witnessed the Nakba itself. I met 3 of the remaining elderly who came from Beersheba on camels.

 Originally from one big clan in Beersheba about 6 brothers and their extended families from Bedouins.
MR. Salman “born in the 1930s,” told us how his clan used to farm watermelon in Beersheba when they had to leave due to the war. 

The clan came thinking at first that this was a temporary situation. They built shelters and huts from straw at first then when days and months passed they began to build mud Nile Delta homes.

According to MRS. Nafela “born in the 1920s” The trip from BeerSheeba to Fadel Island took about 15 days. 
Riding camels and setting camps all the way till they get to this spot from 65. She was only a bride and came with her husband and his family leaving her mother in Beersheba.


I knew that the elderly who ruled the community in the village rejected the idea of marrying Egyptians hoping one day that they would return back to Palestine. Only for two decades, the Palestinians in the villages were allowed to marry Egyptians.
Despite their ancestors starting as farmers in this area, the people now in Fadel Island work in plastic recycling. They bring garbage and take plastic to recycle it through melting if I understand correctly. The children work in this process.

We met the mayor Mohamed El Nahamawly at a guest room opened by the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo a couple of years ago. 

Mayor El Nahamawly is the grandson of the man who led the people to this place. He inherited the position from his father. 

In a Nile Delta accent, he explained to us that despite the people there are originally from Palestine they are typical Egyptian villages. 

We knew that they got this traditional reconciliation system like in Bedouin communities to solve their problems away from the legal system.
 The meeting was like a scene taken from a Tawfik El Hakim novel about Nile Delta mayors. 


He claimed at first that they did not have any problems in the village and that the embassy was helping them but later he spoke about the problems. 

The village does not have a sewage system still he claimed that all the other neighbouring villages had the same problem. They have had electricity since 1982. The other problem they have is the lack of health care.

The people in the village can not have a clinic despite the Ministry of health being ready to fund the clinic and to operate it as well because a clinic needs land. 

Palestinians can not own land in Egypt yet they can own buildings. From what I see the children in the village need medical care ASAP.
Already the Children work in garbage and plastic recycling and you can imagine what they are facing. I saw that beautiful baby girl over the shoulders of her brother with inflammation in her eyelid.


I saw another small shy boy who approached me asking to be photographed quietly with a cleft lip. He told me in a very low voice that his name was Ali.

The people are poor there and can not afford to be treated as foreigners in Egyptian hospitals. They can not pay in foreign currency. 

There are NGOs that can help them a lot as refugees.
I forgot to tell you that despite knowing that the illiteracy classroom opened by the embassy is not that functional in advance we found a teacher there wearing a Palestinian scarf. 

Also, Abu Mazen and Yasser Arafat posters were hung in the classroom.


Mr Mohamed Abdel Hamid is a teacher who works in an elementary school in Gazira Al Abazaya. This is the nearest school to the village and it is one kilometre away.
Education is not a priority in the village, only  30% of the people there are educated while the rest depend on work. Having large families contribute a lot to this problem, I met a man who has 69 grandchildren alone !! 

Already another man told me that big families mean some kids learn while other kids work and that having working kids eases the economic woes now !!!!!! 

By the way, now Palestinians have to pay LE 110 for each travel document which is actually their ID in Egypt, for some big families, it is hard to issue travel documents for 16 kids !!

Back to education woes, Mr Abdel Hamid told us about other problems facing the Palestinian refugees who learn in Egyptian schools and how 2 monthly red tape procedures as well as presenting security approvals to the Ministry of Education make the Palestinian students miss the books distributed in the schools.
Another problem that alarms the Palestinians in the rural village is the future of the food supplies.

According to the new system adopted by the Ministry of Supply in Egypt subsidized food including bread will be distributed by the Egyptian National ID, it is unclear what their fate will be.

Just a background from 1948 to 1977 Palestinian refugees were treated like Egyptians. They did not have camps here like in Syria or Lebanon. In the 1950s President Nasser issued a decision to treat Palestinians like Egyptians. 

From what I understood that decision made the UNRWA unneeded in Egypt. Still in 1977 when President Sadat began moving forward in the Peace Process and the PLO began attacking him to the end of that jazz led him to issue presidential decree No.48&47 to treat Palestinians like foreigners. 

From there, things become much tougher for Palestinians, especially for those forgotten in poor areas like Fadel Island.
There are two documented immigration trips of Palestinian refugees in Egypt. 

The first one was in 1948 and most of the Palestinians there came from Beersheba and Jaffa. They were only 1800 that came. That wave settled down mainly in Sharkia governorate and its different villages and cities like Fadel Island, Bebilis, Zagzig and Fakous. 

According to Mr Abu Olan, there are not less than 20,000 Palestinian refugees alone in Sharkia. The elderly came to Sharkia because it was near Sinai and it was a temporary thing.
The second wave of refugees came to Egypt in 1967 mainly from Gaza and most of them settled down in Al Arish. There are also small communities of 1967 refugees in areas like Banha in Qalubiya and in Aim Shams, Al Mataria and Al Wali in Cairo.
Here is a photo gallery of the village. I know I had to take more photos.

I will upload a couple of video clips I shot there later.
If You are interested in helping Fadel Island, Egyptian and Palestinian activists are preparing for a convoy of aid to the village mainly to help the kids there. Personally, I believe there are lots of NGOs that can help the village and its people. At least it will lift the burden on the Egyptian government. 
By the way, Fadel Island is now on the map, check the Google map below that post.


  1. Zeinobia

    Egypt and Egyptians have always helped the oppressed and indeed many Armenians ended in Egypt following the Armenian Genocide (and indeed the press in Egypt back then coined the term madhbahat el-arman which now is called fana' el-arman or the Armenian Genocide) and they were a great asset to Egypt and also many Greeks ended in Alexandria in the 1920's following the Greek Genocide where the criminal Turks killed close to 2M Greeks in Turkey and many of them fled to Alexandria and they indeed were a great asset to Egypt and the economy of Egypt

    And yes many Palestinians fled to Egypt in 1948 and the most famous of them was Edward Said who attended the then famous Victoria School in Alexandria

    And many Jews that fled Nazi Germany ended in Egypt and they were welcomed with open arms

    Now it seems that tolerance and helping the oppressed is a thing of the past and Egyptians are busy, as in the case of the likes of the despicable so called Sheikh Abd Allah Badr, hating other Egyptians and in the case of this despicable character his hate of the Copts and secularists

  2. Why don't the refugees from Gaza go back, now it is no longer occypied?

    1. They are not from Gaza , they are from Beersheba

  3. Since they have been living on mainland Egypt for exactly 65 years today in such a miserable condition, the Egyptian government as being belonging to the human species are obliged to present them basic human needs as they are also belonging to the human race. However, they are no better than many other Egyptian villages and citizens requesting similar demands.

    Also, if they haven't attempted to return back, shouldn't they drop their right to return, and live as Egyptians? The mushrooming of services in that village will render the place as a de facto refugee camp, but if they are awarded full Egyptian citizenship I don't think there will be a problem.

    Their presence will not pose a geopolitical threat by any mean neither will they contaminate the "authentic" Egyptian gene pool!

    1. Well I am afraid that it is not because they are Palestinians they suffer in Egypt only , there are thousands of Egyptian villages especially in Upper Egypt that suffer even more from poverty , it has to do with the fact that the centralized government in Cairo do not really care for anything outside main cities in the country. It is double bill thing they have to pay for

    2. It's more likely because Egypt is a failed state in process, and has been for decades. Sadat was murdered for trying to do something about that, and his killers are now running the country. And it's all America's fault.

  4. Z: you did an excellent job reporting this with wonderful photos and we thank you profusely. I suppose that was a photo of you showing the children the camera images of themselves.

    Bravo for your work.

    1. Actually it is my friend Maya from Ahram Online , a video journalist who did amazing video report about the Island :)

  5. Thank you Zeinobia for an excellent article and photographs. I hope you can upload the videos later. For those who have asked: Israel does not allow a right of return for the Palestinians.

  6. Zeinobia,
    I am just bumping this post. It is very important. I hope you are keeping good backups of the multimedia material as links are now broken. I suggest you make a podcast about the topic of this post.


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