The past week has been filled with deep contemplation as to whether or not to write about my experience at the refugee camp in Jenin – mainly because it feels like every time I visit a new place, I return with only sad stories to tell. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that despite the hardships (this word seems like a vast understatement) that the people of Jenin Refugee Camp have undergone, the residents of the camp represent a unique glimpse into the power of human resilience.
Upon entering the camp the first image you see is a large horse – a very artistic entrance into a seemingly grim place. But like many images here, what you see is not necessarily all there is to the story. As I came to learn, the horse is made up of scraps and pieces of cars that were blown up when the Israeli army invaded in 2002. And when you look at the right side of the horse, you are able to make out a sign that reads “ambulance” indicating that no vehicles were off limit.
As we continued our trek into the camp, I suddenly became staunchly aware of my own preconceived notions of what a refugee camp looks like. I imagined tents pitched everywhere, gates surrounding the compound, kids running around in scrapping clothing – basically everything you typically see on television depicting the worst conditions possible. But this camp was certainly not that. The compound where the camp is located is filled with buildings that at first glance resemble those found around the rest of the city, except they are all of almost the same identical design and are one of two colors: white or cream. The white buildings represent the buildings that have been in place since the camp was first built in 1953 while the cream buildings represent the buildings that were rebuilt after they were destroyed in 2002. The majority of buildings found in the camp are cream.
We were welcomed almost immediately by the Popular Committee for Services for Jenin Camp whom offered us warm drinks and a private showing of “Jenin Jenin,” a documentary capturing the events and testimonials of the Battle of Jenin in 2002. Although we were not able to watch the full documentary, we watched enough to see gruesome pictures of Palestinians that were caught in the cross- fire of the battle. These haunting images, which reflect real life, were the ultimate testimonial of the death and complete destruction that the camp endured only seven years ago. Moreover, the children that were present during the battle and able to survive, were severely traumatized and as the pictures they began to draw started to reflect the violent experience they had undergone, the long-term effects of the invasion slowly began to set in.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints we were unable to delve into the history of the camp as much as we would have liked; nevertheless, it was important to me to be able to walk around the camp, even if only briefly, in order to get a better sense of the community that resides there. As we walked around the camp, we came across a group of three boys playing soccer in the street. They were not at all bothered by us (except of course for me to snap a quick picture of them) but rather fully engaged in their game of soccer. People continued to pass us on the streets with the determination of reaching an unknown destination written on their faces.
In more ways than one, the camp appeared to be a fully functioning community. And in more ways than one, one wondered how the residents have sustained a life like this for so long? All of the camp residents, close to 11,000 of them, cannot leave the camp without giving up the right to return and so they remain…..they stay in this camp waiting for an end to the occupation….for a peace to be brokered….for a chance to begin their lives once again.
I promised to offer a silver lining in this blog and so here it is: the people of Jenin Refugee Camp have endured more than I could ever attempt to relay, but on the other side of the horrific battle, the people of Jenin survived – they continued on as so many people do after serious conflicts and most importantly, they rebuilt. Of the 450 homes and business that were leveled during the battle, the people of Jenin Camp were able to replace nearly every building.
This does not in any way mean that their struggle is over or that living in a refugee camp is a sustainable way of life, but what it does mean is that the power of human resilience continues to shine through even in the darkest moments of history and offers a beam of light that refuses to be put out.
Posted By Rangineh Azimzadeh
Posted Aug 16th, 2009