Palestinian Refugee camps and lost land: a testimony

Mohammed Asmar
Published on Tuesday 140114
Sixty-five years ago, a young man fled his house in Haifa and never went back. This young man was my grandfather.

I was born in Askar Refugee Camp, one of many in the West Bank. These refugee camps were established by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after the 1948 war, termed the "Nakba" or catastrophe, that resulted in over 700,000 Palestinians being forced to flee their homes and live in emerging tent cities.

Today, these camps remain, with tents transforming into permanent structures over time and new generations of refugees, like myself, being born without ever having seen their homeland. Nearly 2 million Palestinians live in camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, confined to limited space and resources, as populations continue to expand with land remaining stagnant.

Homes in the camps are typically very weak and poorly built, in an attempt to quickly accommodate growing families. Electrical shortages, insufficient sewage systems, and high poverty rates all contribute to low quality of life for these communities.  Social services, including clinics, are also lacking basic necessities to tend to the camps’ residents.

For children living in camps such as Askar, the situation can be altogether catastrophic. Daily hardships are combined with exposure to severe political violence. I can still remember clearly the difficulty I had as a child in having to reach primary school, as it was located outside the camp. Each day, my classmates and I were forced to travel long distances on foot and carefully avoid the Israeli soldiers who had at the time taken siege over the surrounding areas. Children are particularly vulnerable to these intense environments and deeply affected by the violence to which they are forced to witness on a regular basis. Many have lost family members – either to martyrdom or Israeli prison – and all of us face severe restrictions on our freedom of movement.

Despite the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194, which grants Palestinians the right of return to our homeland, over 4 million refugees remain scattered throughout the occupied territories and around the world. All of us are still longing to return to our homes, and I am anxious for the day when I can see the Mediterranean horizon, taste the oranges, and smell the land of Haifa that my grandfather never was again able to.