Palestinian Refugees and the Camp of Dheisheh.
(For the Pope’s visit)
The Camp of Palestinian Refugees of Dheisheh is a few kilometers away from Bethlehem, it can be considered it’s eastern surroundings, with an uninterrupted succesion of houses along the main road from Bethlehem to Hebron. It was built on a hill in 1949 to foster Palestinian refugees of the surroundings and the western side of Jerusalem – in the Arab-Israeli War of the year before many of their villages were being destroyed - today it welcomes a little less than ten thousand people (9,624 according to the records of 1999 of the Agency of the United Nations -UNRWA), half of these are under 16 years of age. The inhabitants of today belong to the third generation of refugees. Dheisheh is the largest camp in the zone in the south of Jerusalem: the others around Bethlehem are those of Aida and Beit Jirin with inhabitants of 3,875 and 1,681 respectively.
The drama of the refugees.
The problem of Palestinian refugees is the consequence of two wars, the Arab- Israeli war of 1948 (An-Naqba) and the war of 1967 (An-Naqsa) between these 531 Arabic villages, according to the Palestinian National Authority records, were destroyed or occupied by Jews.
After the 1948 war the Commission on Conciliation of ONU believed that there were 726,000 refugees outside and 32,000 inside the armistice line. The Resolution 194 (December 1948) of the United Nations recognised for the refugees the right to return to their houses and to receive compensation. With the Six Day War in 1967 another 300,000 Palestinians ran away from the West Bank and Gaza. According to the records of UNRWA (June 1999) the total number of refugees today is 3,625,592; from this number 569,741 in the West Bank (19 camps), 798,444 in the Gaza Strip (8 camps), 1,512,742 in Jordan (13 camps of which 10 are “official”), 374,521
in Syria (10 camps), 370,144 in Lebanon (12 camps). The total number of camps, always according to the records of UNRWA, is 59. The refugees living in camps is (32.6%) and 2,445,432 outside. UNRWA has 650 schools, 8 centres of training, 12 surgeries.
The solution of the refugees’ problem is one of the most controversial themes in the peace process of the Middle East.
In Dheisheh over an area of a square kilometer are a little less than 650 dwellings on two to three levels, all in miserable conditions. Overcrowded, they have no ”privacy”. The essential services are precarious, starting with hygienic ones, the electricity is frequently cut and in summer time the water supply is very scarce. There is no productive activity, unemployment hits 60% of men capable of work, the rest are casual workers in Israel if they get permission they can reach the check point of Tantur.
The population of the camps belong to the Muslim religion, there are two mosques and two Imams.
In the camp UNRWA maintains a surgeon and a clinic (on average there are 160 consultations a day), two nurseries and two kindergartens exist beside the primary school which has 27 classes and 32 teachers, for one session in the morning and another in the afternoon. The secondary schools of the Palestinian National Authority are in Bethlehem and its surroundings. The charitable institutions, almost all of them Christian, in Bethlehem have better sanitary assistance.
There are frequent visits and intervention of NGOs; volunteers coming from western countries, the USA and even from Japan, giving their services in the field of education and social work. A whole town of the surroundings of Paris, Montataire is twinned with Dheisheh and has committed itself to renew the electrical networks of the camp.
The Cultural Centre IBDAA
The Arabic meaning for this word means “to do a marvellous thing” and IBDAA is the name of a folklore theatre group of young adults of Dheisheh formed in 1994 with the intention to show through dancing the conditions of those expelled and the resistance of the Palestinians. At the end of December of last year the group made a small tour in Italy, and on the occasion of their exhibition in Rome they participated in a public audience of Pope John Paul II.
Thanks to foreign donations, the Cultural Centre IBDAA has founded a nursery, a kindergarten and a library and a computer centre. It is the first and only organisation that takes an interest in children, male and female; the major part of those who promote it are women.
The visit of the Pope to Dheisheh
Three committees are working for the best welcome to the Pope, co-ordinated by the most important Palestinians in the camp, Mr. Abu Khalil al-Laham, who is the representative for UNRWA with whom the director of the camp, Abu Imad, will collaborate. A committee has been proposed for the welcome, one for organising the celebration, the third to look after the Mass Media relations. It is foreseen there will be a stage, that will be erected close to the school centre, along the Bethlehem-Hebron Road, both the authority and the youth will share the representation of the history of the suffering of the people of Palestine and their own cultural heritage.