Week 51 – Refugee Camps

I took a few days out from life in Bil’in to travel north, with the Jenin and Tulkarem refugee camps in mind.  Populated by Palestinians driven from their land during the 1948 Nakba, the camps have since remained a symbol of the Palestinian resistance.
Me and my brother Hamde woke up early after another sleepless night in Bil’in, in which we’d heard that another member of the Popular Committee and often leader of the chanting during our weekly protests, Abdullah Abu Rahme, had been arrested.  In fact, Hamde hadn’t slept at all.
After travelling through the many military checkpoints from Ramallah, all with Israeli flags waving proudly in the air, we arrived in Jenin.  It was in the Jenin camp that Israeli troops invaded and murdered countless Palestinians in 2002, and my friend Caoimhe, a true revolutionary I met in Gaza, lived here for two years.  I met Walid, a friend of Hamde, who had spent eleven years in jail for resisting the occupation before being released earlier this year.
All three of his brothers have been killed by Israeli occupation forces for their role in the resistance, so his mother had been through a lot.  I’m sure it wasn’t what she expected when she gave birth to four boys.  But in Palestine, these stories become the norm.  A country that has suffered under occupation for over sixty years… and counting.
After spending the night in Jenin, I took a service to Tulkarem alone, with Hamde heading back to Bil’in.  Walking around the camp, you feel the suffering.  Forget “non-violent resistance” here… martyr posters of men holding guns line the streets and the walls of peoples homes.  But when a foreign army invades a refugee camp, and the people living there in poverty choose to fight back, who are the real terrorists?
Every person I met had lost someone during the second intifada… a brother, a nephew, a son.  As for Sima Onbus, who must be the strongest woman I have ever met in my life, both her husband and brother were murdered.  She now faces the task of bringing up four sons alone.
I remember a friend of mine from Bil’in telling me that in situations of oppression, it is the poorest people whose lives are taken.  In Palestine, the words could not be truer.

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