I Grew Up in a Palestinian Refugee Camp
I've seen it all: bombings, shootings, arrests. I still don't feel safe.
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During the Nakba in 1948, when there was a mass exodus of Palestinians expelled from their own houses and lands in the place that right now is called Israel, around 3,000 people built tents in my neighborhood on the borders of Al-Bireh. My family are natives of the city and have been living in the same place for decades. Over time, as the camp grew and became more rooted, we found ourselves surrounded by crowded concrete buildings populated by more than 10,000 people, with my house in the middle. We found ourselves as a family living in the extreme conditions of our neighbors, plagued by overcrowding and inadequate sewerage and water networks.
Despite the change, my family has always been welcoming to our refugee neighbors. The crowded conditions haven’t dampened the inhabitants’ genuine caring and natural bonding, which have made them resilient and steadfast. I have been told many stories about my grandmother. She was the godmother for the camp, who opened her house to those who needed help and defended her young neighbors from Israeli military attacks with her special weapon: her slippers.
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My Homeland Is an Open Sky Prison
I lived through the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. I was five years old when it started. I remember the sounds of bombings, shooting, arrests, and Israeli tanks and troops in the middle of the night. I remember the shouting and wailing of mothers for the lost lives of loved ones. I witnessed my dad being arrested by Israeli soldiers. I wondered at the time where they were taking him, and if they would take me as well. Later, my mom calmed me down and told me he’d come back. After a week he did, with tears in his eyes. I didn't know what happened and no one told me.
Now I am 26 years old, and I still don't feel safe. The regular midnight raids on the camp scare me. Since childhood, my worst nightmare is a tank demolishing my family house over our heads, the way I see happening to our neighbors. Living an everyday life is a dream to me. I ran to Ramallah to find a decent job where I can fulfill my dreams, but the brutal reality keeps chasing me because big cities are not far from political events. Settling down seems impossible when one day you have a job and the next you don't.
The Wall Divides
When I want to travel from one city to another through military checkpoints, young soldiers no older than 19 point their guns at us, ready for any ambiguous move to give them a reason to open fire. I have to carry all my identification documents with me every time I leave the house, even for a short trip. Usually, the drive from Al-Bireh to Nablus takes an hour. Sometimes, we have to roam for six hours to reach my relatives' house in Nablus, crossing one checkpoint after another.
Having my belongings searched by soldiers, or even being given a full-body security scan, has stripped my feeling of safety and personal privacy. In my short lifetime, I have seen the wall built around Palestinian cities and villages, disconnecting them from relatives and friends, and zoning them into fragmented IDs. To me it is an apartheid wall, segregating people from each other based on identity and race. I live one hour away from the sea but can't reach it because I need a permit from Israel.
I have never been to the beach.
How do I see the world? Through the eyes of my foreign friends who tell me stories about their countries, cultures and lives without borders. It confuses me. I don't know if it makes me happy or sad to hear how easy life is supposed to be. I am overwhelmed by the fact that the world is moving and I am standing still, gathering my shattered, sabotaged dreams.
It is depressing to live in a reality where human needs are only measured by what you do today, not what you aspire to achieve tomorrow. In the end, my only consolation is hope.