Page 3       Visiting a Refugee Camp

Now, that raises the issue of the Palestinians who left in 1948.  It is hard to get a firm count on the number of refugees. The best estimates I have seen suggest that three-quarters of a million became refugees in 1948 and as many as half a million more in 1967.  A 2005 estimate by the UN said that at that time they had multiplied to nearly four and a half million.  In the Gaza strip about one and a half million are in extremely crowded refugee camps. Gaza seemed too dangerous to visit this summer, but we visited a refugee camp at just south of Bethlehem, Dheisheh Camp.

Camp wall with UN sign insidenarrow lane in Dheishah refugee camp
narrow lane in Dheishah camp (2)

It is tight, crowded, little open space or room to move.  There are 11000 people in less than one square kilometer, according to a web site about it.    The UN presence is very obvious, if sort of basic -we couldn't help noticing UN garbage collectors taking trash to UN dumpsters. 

Old station wagon with "UN" painted on itMan pushing  garbage cart labeled "UN"overflowing garbage dumpster labeled "UN"

The children, like children everywhere, are adorable.  There is a very small storefront operated as a sort of community center, by IBDAA - which in Arabic means, "to create something out of nothing,"  is a grassroots organization that provides educational, social, and cultural programs for the children, youth and women of Dheisheh refugee camp.  They have managed to find a computer room and a place outside the camp, for example, for children's athletic teams.

young children look wide-eyed at touristsOffice of IBDAA in storefront on right

This little storefront has photos of what the camp used to be like - in the early days there were tents, then tiny pillbox houses where there was an extended family, sometimes 10 or 15 people, in a room. 

There are photos of Palestine before 1948, pruning olive trees, family groups.

early refugee camp, tents and small hutsOld photo of Palestinian family

 o0ld photo, family climbing on olive tree
Palestinian poster of tent, brightly drawn

The Palestinians have many posters - this one says "Fifty years under the tent." They paint the walls of the camp with pictures of "home."

Painting on wall, old Palestine sceneWall mural, captyion is "To not forget" in English and Arabic

The things we heard here were of considerable interest.  One of the refugees said, "Living in a refugee camp under Israeli control is heaven compared to the camps in the Arab countries."    In Gaza under Egyptian control, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, often the residents are not allowed out of the camps. While that was true for some years after 1967 here, and there were often curfews that lasted for weeks or months when people were not allowed out of their tiny houses even to go to the outhouse - there are horrible stories of people shot for curfew violations - the gates were eventually opened, and there are now many permanently open entrances to the camp.  IF they can get a job or money, residents who can afford it can go live elsewhere - but few can afford it, and even some who do prefer to stay with the people from their original village. There is a strong feeling that -if I stay in the camp- I may eventually get my home back or payment; if I leave the camp I may well no longer get what little UN or international sympathy I have now.

Our guide in the camp - a worker for IBDAA - was a college student, studying in Italy and home for the summer. 
Back of blue T-shirt with IBDAA logo.
The schools in the camp are limited, overcrowded, and underfunded. Of course right now all of Palestine has a real education problem.  After Hamas did well in the last Palestinian election, the US and Israel did their best to cut off all funding to the Palestinian government. The school teachers in Palestine hadn't been paid for several months, when we were there.

I think one place that all our religions agree is that we need homes for all these refugees, we need jobs, we need education. 


Ordman Net Home
Israel/Palestine Info Home

Page 1: Introduction
Page 2:  Kfar Shalem
Page 3: Duheisha Refugee Camp
Next>  Page 4:  Universities
Page 5: The Wall / Security Barrier
Page 6:  Bethlehem
Page 7:  Efrat
Page 8: Hebron
(More to come)