Written By: Mahmoud Husineen
A quarter kilometre square, a very small area. It is so small that no one imagined this geography would draw the future of thousands of people for decades. A quarter of a kilometre is the distance a person travels in ten minutes without his or her cup of coffee getting cold. A quarter of a kilometre is the border of the camp, which sits in a valley between the village of Surda and Jifna, north of the city of Ramallah. A quarter of a kilometre is the border of the Jalazoun camp.
Here many were born and how many immigrated? With my bad luck, I was one of them. Where I was born I do not know what it is. For many years, I thought this is a normal life that humans live from the far east to the far west. For the first time, I heard the name of the place I live in: Camp. Yes, from our first-grade teacher in the UNRWA school located on the side of the camp. Our total was over forty students in a classroom that does not exceed four metres in length by three metres in width. We sat next to each other with our shoulders pressed together as if we were small human bridges.
From that moment everything suddenly changed, I was aware in that moment that we are a part of a whole. However, that whole is completely different. I thought what goes around in our lives was normal. I opened my eyes to the unknown crowd all at once; that I am in a camp and others are not. This is what is important now.
The boundaries of the camp that UNRWA has set for us, you can see with your naked eyes while you are standing on any spot in it. You only have to turn around to see them all at once. A small place teeming with thousands of buildings and people. This place will continue to renew the pain in the hearts of its residents until we recover our stolen homes or until God inherits the earth and those on it.
Our life is not full of romance like some imagine it to be despite of what others say. I do not wake up to my mother’s voice or to the birds chirping like in fairy tales. I wake up every day to two sounds. Not a third sound. The first sound is in the winter when the gutters enter the alleys and their sound is disturbing, especially if something is stuck under the water of the gutters. As for the other sound that I wake up to, it is the sound of the wheels of the garbage cart pulled by a refugee to collect the garbage from the alleys of the camp. The wheels crashing into the winding ground inside the alleys make a disturbing sound that makes you wake up anxious about your morning, no matter how rosy your dreams. Not to mention the screams of the neighbours as they wake their children up for school. The crying of children forcibly going to school where they do not find a spacious place for fun and learning. This is because the large number of students in each classroom do not make them want to go to this crowded place.
After these mornings where the noise does not stop, as soon as you leave the doorstep of your house heading to your work or university, you will encounter hundreds of people at once. The camp is small and its residents are many. At the present time, their number exceeds 16 thousand people, which creates weight over a heavy burden. The buildings take a vertical area due to the lack of space. So, whoever marries his son builds a house above the parents’ house, continuing the life of the refugees. It is a grey vertical with the colour of the buildings and no horizon.
With the increase of the number of the refugees, many problems have occurred which were non-existent years prior. The lack of job opportunities in the Palestinian market is all on the camp youth’s backs. This is shown as the unemployment rate in the Jalazoun camp has reached more than 45%. Whoever visits the camp will find that the cafes in the camp are full of young people who are looking for job opportunities in all fields but find nothing but emptiness.
Due to the crowding and the high population density, the green colour has been cut off from the camp for decades. You can almost walk through its alleys and not find a single tree or a green place to sit under its shade. With the replacement of "zincko" panels in the houses with stone and mud, the trees were cut down and the green spaces disappeared in order for the houses to expand. This is to accommodate their people as much as possible. In the camp, even street dogs became in large numbers. It is as though the camp lacked this phenomenon, which worsens the situation during the day or night. The camp cannot accommodate its residents until it accommodates stray dogs?!
At the end of the road, if you want to describe the Jalazoun camp which is located north of Ramallah, you must go into details. This includes the people, buildings, streets and alleys groaning silently. Only words suffer from a lack of inability to describe what goes on behind the walls of adjoining houses. It is where secrets are exposed to all and privacy is endlessly violated in everything. If you sneeze in your house, your neighbour responds to you and says “God bless you”. What goes on in your house is constantly heard and seen.
In the camp, we do not talk about privacy. It is a funny and foreign topic to us because our walls are stuck together. Despite our lost rights, we cannot change what happens on earth. However, the only question in my mind remains: Why am I living in our neighbours’ house while I am sitting in my own house?
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor