Saturday, August 13, 2005
Is Deheishe a Graveyard?
posted by: bethlehembloggers at 1:41 PM
Back with another guest post, this time about Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem. If you've got something to contribute, email us at bethlehembloggers@gmail.com and we just may put it up, if we've got space, because as you can see we've had so many posts lately not everything can fit. Aren't I funny That green "?" is just a gratuitous use of Blogger's new image upload feature. Looks like it works. Excellent.


Is Deheishe a Graveyard?
By Howard Taylor for the Middle East Delegation
July 31, 2005

"I was born here and I hope I will not die here", said a 40 year old resident of Deheishe, a refugee camp just outside Bethlehem. To say refugee camp might lead you to think of temporary dwellings and a cluster of UN tents. This is not the picture of Deheishe. Some cemeteries stack corpses on top of corpses as years go by and there isn't enough land to lay them side-by-side. In Deheishe, the living are stacked up one on top of the other, in cement houses piled on top of the original one story room. As families grow their apartments' stack gets taller.

Deheishe was established in 1948 as temporary housing for 3,000 refugees, each family allotted one 12 by 12 foot concrete room. Fifty-seven years later Deheishe is a warren of three and four story apartments housing about 12,000 people, 62% of whom are children. The apartments and infrastructure are incomplete, always in varying stages of building or disrepair, held together with whatever materials that can be salvaged.

Who are the refugees?

The refugees of Deheishe are displaced people, most of who were forced from their homes near West Jerusalem in 1948. In many ways, they have maintained their village identity in the camp all these years. But, the camp has never been a permanent home for them, even as the decades have passed and they remain. Many people here have ownership papers for homes and land in the villages they were forced to leave. The Israeli courts are unable or unwilling to process their claims. Two-thirds of the adults in the camp have personally experienced jail and since whole families are refused work when one member has been jailed, there is little hope for work.

Still they remain hopeful. As one man said, "All we need is a little justice - that's all."

In the midst of all of this, people here try to carry on a normal life for their families as best they can. One evening, we sat drinking tea with a family under the grape arbors that shade their porch. Viewed from outside the camp is crowded and trash is left in the streets, but inside the apartments are clean and well kept. There is a pride of place, even if this can't truly be considered their home. People here are hospitable and very happy to share what little they have.

On Friday evening, we walked over to the brand new Al Feneiq community center. The place was packed with people of all ages - a wedding in the banquet hall, children on the playground, teenagers laughing and talking; adults sharing stories, hopes and dreams. The large garden is a place for everyone to gather and children to play on grass for perhaps the first time. A few years ago when the Israeli military evacuated some land adjacent to the camp, the residents of Deheishe had hoped to expand the area of the camp to relieve some of the overcrowding. But when only a small area of the land was allotted for the camp, residents decided to use it to benefit everyone in the camp.

As wonderful as it is, the center can't erase the difficulties of living in this concrete graveyard; this patch of grass doesn't relieve the overcrowded conditions or the lack of work. It cannot bring back relatives from prison, or replace the homes and lands lost. But the center is a source of pride and a ray of hope in an otherwise dark existence. The community life here is what makes Deheishe a place to live, and not simply to survive. But how long must the people of Deheishe live in a graveyard?
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