In 2005, not long after the death of his mother in Tunisia, Ayman knelt down next to her bed surrounded by her possessions and noticed a piece of paper on top of a box of unsorted items. It read: "According to the representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation [PLO] in the Syrian Arab Republic, – Damascus office, – the child Ayman Abd Al-Rahman Al-Derawi son of Aisha, born in Beirut, Lebanon, on 11-6-1982, and his parents are among the martyrs who were killed during the Zionist invasion of Lebanon."
With mixed emotions, Ayman rushed to his father for answers, but his line of questioning alarmed his dad who was surprised that his son had discovered that he had, indeed, been adopted. Seeing the upset on his father's face, Ayman vowed not to dig up the past as long his father was alive.
In 2016, four years after his father's death, Ayman left Tunisia for Lebanon in search of his relatives.
Ayman Bin Hadi, born Al-Derawi, is now 38 years old. He was raised by his Tunisian parents – Abdel Qader Bin Hadi and Samira Bin Abd Al-Salam – almost since birth after his Palestinian refugee parents were killed during the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut in 1982.
Once in Lebanon, he visited the mass graves where his parents are buried, and for the first time, he spoke to his birth mum and dad. He told them that his adoptive parents were very kind-hearted and generous and never allowed him to scope to question whether he was their son, but now he wished he had met and spoken to his biological mum and dad.
During his visit to Lebanon, Ayman was able to track down relatives who explained he survived the massacre because his mother had hidden him in a container, where he was found by a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) who took him along with other orphaned children to Syria. According to documents, he stayed there only three months before he was adopted and taken to Sousse in Tunisia.
He also discovered he had a half-sister, from his father, living in Gaza where his father had previously lived, been married, and had a child before moving to Lebanon. Due to Israel's siege on Gaza, Ayman had no way of meeting his 50-year-old Huda who lives in Nuseirat refugee camp with her nine children.
The pair hope to carry out DNA tests to confirm their blood relations.
"I have always felt so passionate about the Palestinian cause and nostalgic about the Palestinian people," Ayman tells me, "but I have never expected or even thought that I am Palestinian."
"When I discovered my Palestinian origins and especially that my roots were from the Gaza Strip, I was overwhelmed with pride and a feeling of steadfastness," he adds.
Ayman recently received his Palestinian passport from the Palestinian Embassy in Tunisia after contacting the Palestinian Authority (PA) office in Ramallah. "I've achieved one of my goals but I still know nothing about the family of my slain mother nor have I manage to meet my only sister in Gaza."
"The massacre ended and we are paying the price while the enemy is still free and acts above the law."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.