Entry to Arroub Camp (Al Arroub).
Yesterday I went to Al Arroub Camp. Remember, you take the bitter with the sweet…
In 1948 the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands began. Palestinians were driven forcibly from the homes their forefathers had built, whole villages were emptied of the Arab population. Villages that had been built of the blood, sweat, tears, life and death of the Arab people were torn forcibly from them in six days that changed the political terrain of the Middle East for ever.
Throughout the land of Palestine, the villagers who were not killed were displaced.
Al Arroub was built by the UN in 1948. It is peopled with Palestinians who were run out of their villages. Many still hold keys to homes that no longer stand, or homes that now hold three generations of Israelis, while the same three generations of Palestinians live in homes of concrete…windows opening into other windows. No space for thought, no space for breath, no space to stretch…
When things are built to be temporary, and in a crisis situation, the process of planning is different. One could say short-sighted perhaps. Starting from here; sixty years ago the standard of living was different. And, the population was lower. Life will not be held back, and even in these dire conditions, people breed.
We breed as if our lives depend upon it…because, of course, they do. In times of crisis, where you never know which of your children will survive the terrors of war, which will survive the threat of arrest or assassination, which will survive the rigors of poverty living, which will decide to stay in the country of his birth and care for you in your old age…perhaps we breed more.
Add in the value that family holds in Middle Eastern culture, and especially Moslim culture, and yes, you have rapid population growth. Arroub camp is less than one square km (roughly 1/2 an acre), and is home to around 9000 refugee families. A third generation. The camp is moving into it’s 4th generation of habitation. The buildings grow up, slowly, as families can afford to add rooms, generation stacked on generation.
Across the road you can see the settlements grow out from centers, expanding like a crab grass, taking over as much land as possible.
Arroub Camp is in Area C, the area controlled by the Israeli government. According to the Oslo agreement, Area C was supposed to be in the control of the Palestinians by now. However, since the second intifada, all roads into, or out of, Arroub have been closed, except for one. And this one is guarded by Israeli soldiers. No one can come or go without the permission of the soldiers.
Many are unemployed, but most of those who have work are employed outside the camp in near-by Hebron (Al-Khalil), Bethlehem, or another municipality. Every day in the camp children, workers, students, were forced to recognize the authority of the very soldiers who’s families live in the homes the refugees families built centuries ago.
In the camp, children play in streets that run with dirty water. There are no parks, no playgrounds, there is no open space that is safe for the children to play in. Until this year, there were no schools in Arroub Camp. The children had to be bussed to the surrounding municipalities daily to attend school.
Inside the “popular office” – the office of the popular representative of the refugees who live in the camp, and serves as interface between the refugees and the UN – I’m sure there is a better English translation for this, but it’s how it was explained to me – there are murals. Each one has a story.
Keys Without Locks - each pad (leaf) of the cactus is a Palestnian city that has been lost.
One is stark black and red, and has the names of the martyrs of the camp. (A word about martyrs, before reactivity sets in…martyrs may have been killed in a confrontation with the Israeli army, may have died in custody in Israeli prison, may have been killed defending one of the villages, may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have yet to hear a story of a martyr who was a suicide bomber…perhaps I could use the word Hero instead, and sidestep the whole discussion…)
Another is a painting of doorways, keys, desert…and the names of all the villages that the refugees come from. Village names that have been erased from every map, from every street sign…but the names live on in memory. Only keys remain…keys that have no lock. Keys that remain a symbol of life stolen, promises broken, and sixty years of temporary.
Onto the sweet; what there is to be savored. An amazing women’s center has sprung up in Arroub that houses a day care and many programs that encourage womens’ independence; financial, cultural, personal, individual. There is a computer lab, and a craft room, as well as a day care and kindergarten on premise. There is a small playground in the back yard…a sand pit, really, with a few toys, but a place for the children to be outside and not directly on the street.
And the popular office is building a park, with a swimming pool, gardens.
The funds are a struggle, and the political situation with Hamas has strained things further. Many international funders are wary of putting finds into projects with things feeling as precarious as they are.
I hope to find funds to help the women’s center. And I have faith that as Abu Mohammed, the head of the popular center, believes, the park will be finished within the year.