Refugee camps are designed to offer a temporary home to individuals rendered homeless by crisis or conflict, or for whom insecurity requires evacuation. Ideally, camps serve as a safe space to offer solace to the vulnerable until they can return to their homes.
For those living within the West Bank’s camps, there will likely be no return. They are permanently displaced people. Many had family members who first left modern day Israel in 1947. Since then, they have lived through several wars and incessant confrontations, witnessing few signs of progress toward finding a sustainable solution to end the land dispute that has long plagued the region.
In May and June, 2012, I worked in the West Bank’s largest refugee camp leading a peacemaking group with children. Simultaneously, I listened, asked questions, and read. I learned about the UN Resolution 197 which guarantees uprooted peoples the right to return; I spoke to people who explained that allowing this would mean the end of Israel; I read the opinion of Alan Dershowitz who accuses Palestinians of not integrating refugees in order to perpetuate anger and foster terrorism; and I learned firsthand from the children of the camps how their life experiences inform their understanding of the conflict that impacts nearly every aspect of their daily lives.
When faced with an uncertain future, humans tend to lose hope or commit themselves to an idea and work tirelessly towards its fruition. In the camps I worked in and visited, I saw a people who were tired, but hadn’t given up hope in their conception of justice, met individuals with regrets about tactics used in the past, but who ultimately wanted what would bring their people peace.
I saw firsthand how life within the camps might impede a sense of personal peace. Most camps are over-crowded with schools strained to their maximum. “Palestinians are the most paranoid people in the world,” I heard several Palestinians joke, a sentiment rooted in the distrust that develops after decades of warfare and instability. During my time in the West Bank, periodic security missions by IDF forces took terrorist and opposition suspects out of their homes in the middle of the night, further contributing to the pervasive sense of unease within the camps.
As much as meeting Israel’s settlers is critical to understanding the complicated dynamics of the West Bank’s wars, so too is meeting the land’s landless, the refugees who persist without a home.
|Murals on the walls of the Balata Refugee Camp describing the camp's history|
|Mural in a Bethlehem refugee camp|