50 years of occupation

2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli occupation and for Palestinian refugees life seems to barely go on.

2017 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Israeli occupation and a century after the Balfour Declaration (1917), which is said to laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, Palestinian refugees continue to grow with every generation and basic services are saturated in the 19 camps run by the UN where about 200,000 people live and call home.

Fabiola Ortiz, IPS News Agency correspondent did a piece following the situation in the camps. “Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS.

He was born and raised in the Aida camp, which is 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and is bordered by the 721km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank. It was founded in 1950 and its first inhabitants came form 17 destroyed villages from western Jerusalem and Hebron. They were destroyed during the creation of Israel in 1948 which Palestinians call "nakba," meaning catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza.

"Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” he remarks. At the entrance of the camp there's a tall gate with a key top which symbolizes this claim of return.  

Currently, 5,000 people live in this camp and 3,000 of them are children, according to registers form the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). These people face serious challenges like overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to incursions by the Israeli army.

Families in this camp face energy shortages and spotty water provision on the daily basis. Almost all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but infrastructure is old and in poor conditions, reports the UN. Today, water is provided for two days every other week after an agreement made with the Palestinian  Water Authority.

Scott Anderson, the director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, says the Palestinian economy is stagnant because of the occupation and Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

For example, Aida camp is near two Israeli settlements, Har Homa and Gilo, considered illegal by the international community. “Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Since the Second Intifada or Al Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising which began in 2000, Aida has been a hotspot for violence, as military operations take place. Also, there is an increasing number of injuries due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015 there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries, 44 arrests and one fatality (with the death of one minor).

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

Despite the belief of coexistence being impossible among Jews and Palestinians, some like Munther Amira, remain optimistic. “Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the National Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting is a way of bringing pressure to reach an agreement. 

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.


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