2018 marks the 70th anniversary for the partition of Israel and Palestine. In 1948, large parts of the Western Bank were handed over to the newly established state of Israel and as a consequence it left hundreds of thousands Palestinians on the run. This also resulted in the construction of several refugee camps in Gaza, Syria, Jordan Libya and on the Western Bank – many of these camps still exist today.
One of these camps, Balata, is located in the city of Nablus on the Western Bank. Originally, the camp was supposed to provide shelter for no more than 5000 people. However, during the last 70 years, Balata’s population has skyrocketed. It now counts more than 17.000 people and this makes Balata the most populated camp on the Western Bank by far. The camp was at first set up as a temporary shelter, but during the years permanent concrete buildings have been erected. This has made the camp which measures just about 0.25 square kilometres even more cramped.
The third generation of refugees are now growing up in Balata. Many of them dream about one day being able to see their grandparents’ homeland in Jaffa. However, President Donald Trump’s recent declaration, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol, has caused renewed unrest in Palestine, which decreases the possibilities for future peace negotiations. In addition, last week Trump said that he wishes to cut the USA’s support to the UN’s refugee camps in Palestine by half – among them the Balata camp. The residents in Balata must yet again admit to facing an uncertain future. They cannot travel back to their native countries and the prospect of staying seems ever more uncertain.
Ayham Hashash, 27 years.
“My memory, unfortunately, works extremely well – that is perhaps my curse. I clearly recall the second Intifada and how the Israeli
forces subsequently invaded Nablus. The Balata camp is located on the outskirts of the city and therefore we were the first obstacle the soldiers had to overcome. They surrounded us and shut down the camp for more than 20 days. Many Palestinians lost their lives. This was the most horrible period in my life and I am still
traumatised by the events. However, I do
believe that we must carry on living, working, laughing, building and changing all the time. We cannot keep on feeling sorry for ourselves no matter how tough our living conditions may be.”
The Israeli forces sits on the camps water supply. The residents are giving water to put in their tanks. This also means that the Israelis can stop the water supply in the camp whenever they wish to do so.
Mahmoud Kharoub, 19 years.
“Of course we do have hopes and dreams – living without these things is impossible. But let us be honest, there is no future here in Balata. It is like a living hell. Sure, we can have days where we are relatively happy – but true happiness I will never find here. Fear is always an intrinsic part of everyday life in Balata. We are so restricted in this camp. Yes, we do study and work – but we will never progress, we will never move on from here. We live in an open prison supervised by the brutal forces of theoccupation power. I have decided that I am never going to bring a child into such a world – I do not wish for anyone to live in the world that I live in.”
Despite the major challenges facing residents, Balata camp is known for its strong civil society and has a large number of active community organizations. The UN is working actively inside the camp among other things with schools and education.
The camp is located in an area controlled by the Palestinians. However, the Israeli forces monitor the area night and day.
Several times a week, and often at night, soldiers enter the camp and line up
suspects for interrogation. Often, this leads to residents being arrested by the soldiers. It is also a well-known fact that the Israeli army uses these “nocturnal operations” as general military exercise for the soldiers. Obviously, these operations result in frequent confrontations between the residents and the soldiers. Teargas, flash grenades and flying stones are therefore a part of
everyday life in Balata.
Hanan Sawalmi, 20 years.
“My family has suffered tragic loses during the occupation. I am not quite sure what year it was but the Israelis had surrounded the camp. My mother was pregnant and she was just about to go into labour. Yet, everyone who dared to leave the camp would be shot dead immediately. We tried to get her to the hospital but the soldiers would not let her out. She gave birth to my little sister on the streets of Balata. The tiny baby girl was in such a critical condition that she passed away three months later. This event has shaped our lives in perpetuity – especially my mom has been terribly frightened of Israeli soldiers ever since that day.”
In the horizon of the camp more and more illegal Israeli settlements are growing on the hilltops. The settelements are officially declared illegal by the United Nations.
Doing the past Intifadas in 1987 and 2000 the Balata camp suffers a hard time. Many people lost their life and posters in the camp remind the time that past.
Maysam Abu Hindi, 19
“Like every other society, Balata also has its rules and norms. Here girls and women must wear a Hijab and walking the streets at night is not tolerated. However, I have decided not to wear the veil and my parents actually
respect my decision. Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that 90 % of the families here believe that wearing the Hijab should be mandatory. As a result of this, I am harassed on a daily basis by my own peers. If you add to it the harassment by the Israelis, this situation is extremely frustrating.”
60 % of the camp’s inhabitants are under the age of 25. This puts an enormous pressure on the young people who regard their future as being very uncertain due to the lack of job possibilities in Nablus and surrounding areas. The unemployment rate is over 50 % in the camp.
The camp has only one health clinic to serve the 17.000 residents plus 20.000
coming from outside.