In late January 1998, representatives of the Palestine Human Rights Information Center, Jerusalem Center for Women, and BADIL Resource Center visited the SUMOUD camp on behalf of the Lobby for Palestinian Women’s Rights in Jerusalem. Approximately 45 Palestinian families were found living in the camp which was established on an empty plot of Waqf land in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Siwanne in August 1997. Camp residents, after six months of struggle for holding out, raised the following:
Most of the families have replaced their tents with wooden shacks for better protection from the cold of winter. Construction of a shack costs approximately 4,000 NIS (US $1,100), and expenses were covered by each family individually. Although the shacks have slightly improved living conditions, they do not provide complete protection from the harsh weather conditions. Those who have remained in tents complain about floors leaking water and the dampness which destroys all their belongings.
Fire destroys dwellings at SUMOUD Camp
On Wednesday, 7 January 1998, at approximately 10:00 p.m., one of the tents and the adjacent shack caught fire. Its inhabitants, the Abu Sara family (Awad Abu Sara, 41 years old, his wife Mouna Abu Sara 32 years old, and their nine children) were lucky to remain without major injuries. One of the children had smelled the smoke and alarmed the sleeping family. When the Jerusalem fire department arrived, nothing could be done to save the family's home. The mother and one of the children were briefly hospitalized for treatment of shock and smoke inhalation. The family had joined the camp, because they lack the financial means to rent an apartment at the expensive rate common in Jerusalem.
The above incident was the second fire incident in the camp. The first fire had destroyed the tent of Munjed and Maher Basheiti, and as a result the entire family decided to leave the camp. On 4 March 1998, the home of Muhammed al-Ja'bari, aged 65, who has been living in the camp with his family since the Municipality stopped paying his retirement pension, was demolished under the pretext of being built without an Israeli building permit.
Concern for women and children at SUMOUD Camp
Among the residents of SUMOUD Camp are more than 250 children living under conditions which strongly impede their development. Their mothers repeatedly emphasize that their "children are those who pay the heaviest price for living in the camp." Children suffer from flu and diarrhea, from the crowding in the tents and from the absence of play facilities outside where they are forced to spend most of their time. Crowding and boredom result in violent and aggressive behaviors. Mothers fear about the physical and psychological health of their children, and about possible long-term effects of camp life.
Women, who spend more time than men inside the tents, suffer especially from the cold and the damp. They complain about the lack of infrastructure required to run a usual household: the shortage of water and the large distance between some of the tents and the water source, the lack of electricity, and the permanent feeling of uncertainty caused by the threats of various Israeli authorities to eliminate the camp.
Sumoud Camp residents determined to stay to protect residency rights
Despite the harsh conditions, the camp residents are determined to stay and to endure the hardship so as to protect their right to live in the city. Their demands have remained unchanged:
- A place to live in Jerusalem for a reasonable rent which suits their economic situation.
- To live without the permanent threat of ID card confiscation, the loss of social welfare (Israeli National Insurance), and to have access to their right to state health insurance.
In the meantime, the families demand the improvement of camp conditions to guarantee their safety and health; protection from fire and bad weather conditions, supply of water, electricity, a kindergarten, health services, transportation from and to the camp, etc.