A tour of the  Am’ari camp with Yousef (the jack-of-all-trades at the clinic) was eye-opening. Questioning and further research on the nature of the camps has been even more thought provoking. The refugee camps were started by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency after the 1948 war as a “temporary” refuge for Arab persons expelled from their homes in Israel. Sixty years ago, the grounds were covered with tents; today, walking into the camp does not change one’s view of what part of the city you’re in aside from the UNRWA gates and signs. These camps have evolved into self-contained cities with grocery stores, schools, clinics, and repair shops.

One of my first thoughts was, “why are these people still living as ‘refugees’ when it has been decades since the war, they live in normal concrete houses, and often work jobs outside of the camps?” Walking into the Bethlehem camp, we passed through an archway adorned by a huge key. This key represents the keys which fit into front doors of houses. The refugees brought the keys and still possess them from when they were driven from their homes through force or fear after 1948. Some of the houses no longer exist, some of the houses are occupied by Israeli families. Maintaining refugee status is just one more demonstration of steadfast hope and dedication to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To relenquish this status would be to give up; it would be to abdicate their right to ownership of land; it would be to give in and admit defeat. (see photo, and click on it to see LOTS more of Bethlehem)

As I’ve mentioned before, Palestinians want to live normal lives, and they do the best they can day-to-day. But the conflict is never out of mind and nearly never out of sight (of settlements). Officially maintaining refugee status, persistent peaceful protest, and simply continuing to live as normally as possible through the occupation are all ways to keep hope alive.

Key atop the UNRWA camp entrance


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