Poverty sparks fresh Palestinian fury

Many stone-throwing youngsters who clashed with Israeli police recently, and who launched knife attacks on Israelis, come from the refugee camps.
Many stone-throwing youngsters who clashed with Israeli police recently, and who launched knife attacks on Israelis, come from the refugee camps.PHOTO: REUTERS

Youth born into refugee camps grow up knowing nothing but violence, unrest

BETHLEHEM • Nearly 30 years ago, Mr Hisham and his brothers - natives of the Dheisheh Palestinian refugee camp south of Bethlehem - lobbed stones at soldiers in the first uprising against Israel's occupation.

Now, the 51-year-old sees his sons doing the same.

"How can I tell them not to go there?" he asked of the clashes that take place at the foot of the Israeli-built wall encircling Bethlehem.

As Israel and the Palestinians grapple with another wave of deadly violence - amid fears it heralds a third Palestinian uprising, or intifada - camps like Dheisheh are feeding the unrest.

The sprawling refugee camps are populated with Palestinians and their descendants, uprooted when Israel was created in 1948.

The increasing futility of their hopes of returning to their homes, as more and more Israeli settlements are built on occupied land, has made these camps the kindling that ignites Palestinian unrest.

Many of the stone-throwing youngsters who have clashed with Israeli police in recent weeks, and those who launched knife attacks on Israelis, come from the camps.

"The struggle is always born in the camps," Mr Mahmoud Fannoun, leader of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said.

"Because it is the refugees who carry the Palestinian cause in their flesh," he added.

Many of the 62 Palestinians killed in the recent violence were shot in such protests. Others were shot dead while carrying out knife attacks. Nine Israelis have been killed.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates that of some five million Palestinian refugees, a third live in 58 official camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Several of the camps have gained notoriety, such as Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, where hundreds of Palestinians were massacred by the Israeli-backed Christian Phalangist militia in 1982.

The first intifada erupted in 1987 in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Jenin camp in the West Bank provided many suicide bombers in the second intifada, which broke out in 2000. These temporary homes have turned into seething, poverty-stricken cities.

Mr Mohammed, 21, his hair carefully styled and slick with gel, has known nothing else and feels he has "nothing to lose".

He works part-time at a petrol station near Aida in the West Bank, an overcrowded camp of some 5,000 people, while studying.

"We grew up in UN schools. In our houses, there are power cuts all the time. We can't find jobs. We can't even dream of going to Jerusalem," he said. Jerusalem is less than 10km away.

"We see the wall everywhere. All our families have martyrs, the injured and prisoners," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Poverty sparks fresh Palestinian fury'. Print Edition | Subscribe