By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
REPORTING FROM THE AIDA REFUGEE CAMP ON THE WEST BANK (ANS) -- If anger and despair were perfumes, the aroma in the West Bank's Aida Refugee Camp would be overwhelming.
A large key above Camp Aida symbolizes the homes lost by Palestinian refugees in the dispossession
Established in 1950, Aida Camp is located in the northern part of Bethlehem on an area of 0.71 square kilometers. The camp hosts as many as 6,000 refugees from 17 demolished villages from the northwestern area of Jerusalem and south of Hebron (www.key1948.org/about-us/history-of-aida-youth-center
A camp sentiment
Murals and slogans in and around the camp exude anger, sadness and more.
As I entered the facility with a couple of friends, I felt as if I was stepping into a different world.
A few minutes later, I was introduced to Akram Warah, 46, a (former) civil engineer with six children. A second generation camp resident, Warah said he was born there.
Warah said in 1948 his parents were forced at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers to leave Deiraban and come to Bethlehem.
I asked Warah his feelings about what his parents suffered and how he has continued to endure the consequences. He said that throwing people out of their homes is “a crime against humanity.”
Warah doesn't have an easy life. His training as a civil engineer doesn't help him, as there are no jobs in Bethlehem.
Sources say the unemployment rate is 43 per cent, and affected by the inaccessibility of the Israeli labor market.
There’s a controversial wall around the city, and all Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory require an Israeli-issued permit to enter Israel.
While Israel credits the barrier for the cessation of suicide bombings (with officials saying that some of the last bombers came from Bethlehem), Palestinians have a different take. They say the structure “strangles” the city.
A camp mural
Warah ekes out a slim living by making and selling Palestinian jewelry. He has a three room house in the camp, and his children attend a U.N. school.
He said there is no place in the camp for kids to play (a common refrain I also heard a number of years ago when visiting another refugee camp in Bethlehem), and they play on the road. I knew. I'd just seen some a few minutes earlier.
Warah supplements his income by working (the maximum allowed) three months annually for the U.N. He makes $400.00 a month doing that, or $1200 annually.
Warah said he would like to tell Americans how the Israelis “threw us out of our village and how we're not alive.”
I asked Warah what he sees ahead. While he “hopes” things will change, he wasn't very optimistic, saying “I see a dark future.”
Warah's son Ameen, 19, was at the shop with his dad. He is studying mechanical engineering at the nearby town of Hebron. He described life in the camp as being like “a bird in a cage.” He said camp residents are not free either in or outside Palestine. He'd just like to go back to the land he feels was stolen from his grandparents.
Also in Warah's shop was another camp resident, Mohamad Abusrour, 45. He was also born in the camp, but his parents were from Beit Natif. His story was similar to Warah's. The Israeli soldiers came to his parents' village and forced them to leave.
Abusrour is married with two wives. He is father to seven children with his first wife, and his second wife is pregnant with their first. When I asked him about his increasing family he said, “What else can I do at night?”
He said he's unemployed with just a few “odd jobs,” and the UN “is no help” when it only gives him three months work a year.
Abusrour said he and his family live on a regular diet of pita, hummus and olive oil, and meat is a once a week luxury.
Abusrour was blunt when I asked him what he'd like to tell Americans about his situation in the camp. “Americans know everything about the situation in the camp, but they ignore it.”
He called American policy in the area “very bad,” adding “Americans should pay attention to people. America should be even handed between Palestine and Israel.”
Put aside for a moment what you feel about the Middle Eastern conflict, and who’s right and wrong.
These men I interviewed (along with thousands of others) aren’t just collateral damage. They’re innocent victims caught in the middle of an unwinnable situation. While we pray for peace in this troubled region, let’s remember them as well. It’s the right thing to do.