Today - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in the United States - brought us to Aida, a Palestinian refugee camp. There is no question in my mind that Dr. King would weep at the way Palestinians are treated. Some will blame the failure of Palestinian leadership for the refugee crisis here - and there is truth in that their leadership has not always made wise decisions - but no group of people should live in the hopeless poverty we saw today. So what exactly are these camps? The United Nations explains:
Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
A Palestine refugee camp is defined as a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and set up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such and are not recognized as camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distribution centres in areas outside the recognized camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk, near Damascus.
The plots of land on which the recognized camps were set up are either state land or, in most cases, land leased by the host government from local landowners. This means that the refugees in camps do not 'own' the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to 'use' the land for a residence.
Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.
Israelis have built giant walls cutting off refugee camps from other communities. They are like prisons. It is difficult to travel in or out if you are Palestinian. Freedom of movement does not exist. Most of the resistance to these living conditions take the form on non-violent action but there have been periods where violence has erupted. It would seem a silly hope for violence and terror not to thrive in conditions such as these. Still, many people, like those we met today at the Alrowwad for Cultural Arts, are seeking means of non-violent creative resistance.
There are no easy answers to how to solve the Israeli - Palestinian question but there is no question these camps violate basic human rights.