'The more the oppression, the stronger we get'


By Miriam Tramer

BETHLEHEM — I recently had the opportunity to visit a Palestinian refugee camp near here. There I spoke with Fatima and her son, Khalid, about the conditions in the camp.

Just half an hour before my visit, there had been a clash between some youths and the army. The army had been looking for stone throwers, and 66 soldiers came into Fatima and Khalid's home looking for "boys".

Fatima said she was baking in the kitchen and saw a soldier coming through the back door with his gun and tear gas canister. "I asked, 'What are you doing?' He replied, 'Shut up and keep working'. They searched the house and turned everything over. The soldiers grabbed Khalid from where he was sleeping on his bed and tried to provoke him by taunting him."

"The more the occupation oppresses us, the stronger we get", said Fatima.

A field officer from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was there and saw everything. Because Khalid has a green card, which means he has been in prison and is therefore banned from Israel, the soldiers held him. It was only because of the intervention of the UNRWA officer that Khalid was released. The soldiers had gas bombs and threatened to use them if Khalid made a complaint.

In the house live Khalid, his parents and his six brothers (two of them with their wives) and sisters and one child and a baby. They have lived there since 1948, when they became refugees from Mughalis, near Lod.

Khalid has no work at present, and his green card, denying him the right to work in Israel, has been continually renewed. Fatima says all her sons have green cards, which makes daily survival very difficult. Her husband had worked in Israel, but when all her sons were in prison, the authorities placed him under six months' house arrest. He was then fired from his job.

"I had no money to buy bread to eat while he was on house arrest and had to sell my gold.

"I applied for a permit to go to seek work in Jordan, but I was turned back at the Allenby Bridge. I didn't want to work in Israel. I found a low-paid job in Bethlehem and then we could manage.

"My sons are like guests in the house; they are only out of prison a few months, and then they are imprisoned again."

During curfews, no-one is able to work. The water is cut off by the authorities during curfews and they must keep separate supplies. Fatima says they are about to lose their electricity supply because they cannot pay for it.

The conditions in the camp are primitive. The smell of sewage from the open drains fills the air. UNRWA supplies a medical clinic which is open for three hours a day. There is only one doctor for the 10,000 people in the camp.

There used to be a youth club, but it was closed by the Israeli Defence Force in 1982.

There are two schools — one for boys and one for girls. But they do not get a proper education because their education ceases if they are arrested.

In the face of all these difficulties, people in the camp generally stick together "like a big family". Despite efforts by the authorities to

select community representatives, no-one will accept this because it is regarded as collaboration. However, some collaborators give names of resisters to the soldiers. Their houses are then stoned by the youths and the Israelis move in with another round of repression.

Struggle takes the form of stone throwing, slogans, banners and marches.

Khalid says, "I want peace so that I can dream again".

Both Fatima and Khalid are pessimistic about the peace process. They have no faith in what the US government is doing. They believe that the Arab countries, like the Israelis, are not serious. "It is up to us and our struggle", says Fatima. "We will continue our struggle until we get our lands back, our homeland."

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