Palestinian Refugees - A Personal story
( Afif Ghatashe , al-Fawwar Camp, West Bank)

I want to tell a story which happened 50 years ago. In February 1958, a child was born in Beit Jibreen Village, a Palestinian village 26 km north-west of Hebron. He was the first child born to his parents. Some months later, the war between Israel and the Arab states began. In the 1948 war, the village was attacked by Zionist military units and bombed by Israeli aircraft. By that time, Beit Jibreen already hosted many refugees from neighboring villages. The fighting and bombing frightened the people. they escaped the fighting and sought shelter in the surrounding hills. The family of the child found protection in a cave 5 km east of the village. they had left everything in their home, hoping to return after a few days when the attack would be over.

The Israelis, however, did not allow them to return. several men of Beit Jibreen were killed when they tried to go back. The father of the child, then 24 years old, and his uncle returned to the village together so as to bring weat, food, clothing and other necessary items. But the Israeli units had mined the village paths, and the two men stepped on mine just in front of their house. the mine exploded, walls of their house collapsed, and the two men died. the child was eight months old when his father was killed and he became an orphan. at that time, his family lost the hope to return home. They joined a refugee camp located 8 km south of Hebron. this child is me and this is my story.

In this camp, we lived in tent. Life was difficult then. In winter, the snow and wind would often make the tent fall down on our heads. looking back on my childhood, I remember the worn-out clothes, and the struggle with hunger, illness, and pain . I remember the time in elementary school, when the class was a tent, and the rain water would flow beneath our feet.

But time went on, and eight years later, in 1956, UNRWA constructed shelters for the refugee families in the camp. Each family with up to six members received a room of 3x4m, larger families received two rooms. This was the space available for everything, for sleeping, eating, and living. These shelters were constructed by UNRWA as a temporary and short term solution - until the refugee problem would be resolved and the refugees would return home to their lands.

When I was a child, I dreamed of visiting my father's grave to put a rose on it. However, I was prevented from doing so by the Israeli border. In 1967, Israeli also occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the area of my camp. but again, I couldn't visit my father's grave, because Israel had destroyed our village and put a fence around the site. Rather. Iwas arrested by the soldiers of the Israeli occupation in 1969 and kept under administrative detention for one year.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel has done nothing to solve the refugees problem. It did not allow us to return to our village and to our lands. Rather Israel began to build settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It encouraged Israelis to live there and provided all necessary facilities to the settlers. It took hold of our resource and strangled us. Thus, for example, Israel reduced the amount of water flowing to the Palestinian cities, villages and camps so that their inhabitants have to make do with half of the quantity needed. It did not develop or maintain our infrastructure, but left it to collapse. Israel's military government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not respect our human rights. People were arrested without charge, tortured and detained for unlimited period in prisons not suitable for human beings/

We refugees kept waiting for a long time. Nothing was changing and the shelters which UNRWA had built began to break. The refugees therefore began to build new homes, but the land available for these houses was very small. there fore, the refugee camps became very crowded, the houses almost touching each other, leaving little space for light and ventilation. Today, for example, in Aida and Azza Camp, 20 persons are living in 100 m2, streets and paths included. Thus, refugees always compare their lives now with their lives in the past, when they had large village lands. the inhabitants of ' Aida Camp, for example, come from Beit Natif village(where not one dunum was jewish owned).'Azza Camp refugees originated from Beit Jibreen. The village was built on 287 dunums and its residents own 56,185 dunums of agricultural land. (where jewish land ownership in this area was 1008 dunums only).

When the Intifada the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, began in 1987, the military government increased its violence against the people. Large numbers, including old and children, were arrested, the soldiers of the occupation shot indiscriminatingly at every Palestinian. Refugee camps were a special; target of the occupation. Soldiers set up fences around them and closed the access roads. schools were closed and curfews were imposed for long consecutive periods, and - usually far from the lenses of the journalists' cameras - youth were beaten and their bones broken.

In the meantime, my grandparents have passed away. My family remains scattered prior to 1967, only one of my for uncles had remained in our refugee camp in al-Fawwar. One uncle used to work in Saudia Arabia, one lived in Amman, and a third studied at Cairo University. As they were not in the country during the 1967 war , they have never been allowed to return to Palestine by the Israeli occupation. I married in 1972, my wife and I hove four children, three sons and one daughter. We remain living in al-Fawwar Camp hoping that at least our children will live to see a just solution to the refugee question and will be able to return to Beit Jibreen.