The Miserables in East Jerusalem
Palestine, Local, 10/31/1997
They wanted it to be the "Steadfastness Camp" but many believe it has turned out to be the " Camp of the Miserable." At least 500 Palestinians are currently living as refugees in their own city of Jerusalem after Israel threatened to confiscate their Jerusalem identity cards. The camp, built some 100 days ago on land run by the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem, has become home for dozens of Palestinians who were on the verge of losing their identity cards because of a number of reasons, not all politically-linked to the Israeli government but to fellow Palestinians.
A number of Palestinians on Friday said that they were forced to leave their homes in East Jerusalem because their landlords had asked for extra rental fees. "Our income is limited and we could not pay the rise they demand. We either had to leave Jerusalem and live in the West Bank and hence loose our identity card or move in to the camp in East Jerusalem waiting for a better solution," said Um Mahmoud, a mother of seven in her early forties.
Sabah Bassam Alloush is a mother of seven, one boy and six girls. Her husband was seriously wounded in a car accident some two years ago and since then has been paralyzed in his bed. She said she has an Israeli identity card as a resident of East Jerusalem but her husband is from the West Bank. None of her seven children was accorded a Jerusalem identity card and so far, their children are without identification papers. She said she decided to move into the camp in East Jerusalem hoping that the Israeli government at last approves her application for a family reunification.
Walking through the camp, one would immediately remember the refugee camps the UNRWA had set to the Palestinians who were kicked out of their homeland in 1948, right after the proclamation of the Israel. Bare-footed children would walk between tents, playing with sand and pieces of wood that was brought for tent installation. Youths would pull little carts full of sand and stones into newly-built tents to prepare the ground before blankets are stretched on the ground. A little boy of three years old sat at the entrance to the tent licking a piece of lemon in his hand. Another one, a neighbor living next tent held a bunch of black grapes. None of them seemed to understand what was going on in the surrounding. For them, this is the place where they live and they hardly remember how their original house which they only left three months ago looked like.
Over the past two months, Palestinians living in this camp have suffered the worst, even from nature. In the beginning, it was too hot for them, living in tents and without proper facilities.They were vulnerable to snakes and scorpions. Says Khadijeh Idkeidek: "We do not live in tents but on beds of scorpions and snakes. Our food is now mixed with sand."
The suffering of the people in the camp had also taken economic, psychological and social directions. Many had been disconnected from their families. Others had lost their place of work, while some had never worked before either. Life of their children was disrupted too. They could not go to schools and did not have proper atmosphere to study once they find a school to learn at. Lately the camp management, headed by Azmi Abu Saud, head of the Human Rights and Social Services Department at the Orient House in Jerusalem, managed to get a bus that collects the students every day to and back from their schools. A kindergarten was opened in the camp to care for the remaining children.
But hope seems to remain the name of the game in this camp. "We are full of hopes despite all the hardships we face," says Mohammed Abed Ali, 36, who has been living in the camp for two months after he was forced out of his rented house in Al-Ram, a northern neighborhood of Jerusalem, because he failed to pay five-month rent for his flat. He says he was jobless and was looking for a job while waiting for his family reunification permit to come out. Neither the permit came nor the job was made available. The landlord kicked him out of the house and Mohammed had no option but to retire to this makeshift refugee camp in the heart of East Jerusalem.
Iman Malhi is less optimistic. She admits she is living in a state of despair. "There were many days when we had nothing to feed our children with," she said. In the camp, there are at least eight Palestinian families that are living well below the line of poverty.
The man in charge of this camp, Azmi Abu Saud, believes the camp has already acquired its legitimacy and that to dismantle it means solving the problems of every refugee there. He said two dunums of land were added up to the camp area and social and medical services had been obtained from Al Maqassed and the Red Crescent hospitals in the city. A sewage system is being worked on these days but until the necessary infrastructure is ready, residents of the camp still have to use primitive wooden toilets.
Sheikh Mohammed Qusta who has been living in East Jerusalem's old city until three months ago, said the people of the camp do not need financial aide as much as they need a political support that would put pressure on the Israeli government to stop its anti-Arab measures and to cease its efforts to Judaize the Holy City.
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