What is it Like to Live in a Refugee Camp in Gaza?

Yousef M. Aljamal

There is no privacy in refugee camps.

The Gaza Strip is home to eight refugee camps, which host hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced in 1948 from their towns and villages following the creation of Israel.

Jabalia refugee camp is home for nearly 90,000 Palestinians who live in only one square kilometer. The density of the population makes it difficult to adapt for those who have never lived in a highly populated area like Gaza.

Many refugees in Gaza live a few miles away from what used to be theirs – spacious lands and farms which Zionist militia occupied. Looking to the north of Alshatie refugee camp, the Chimney of Almajdal, today named Ashkol in Israel, appears, bringing back memories of this town back to the refugees here. The refugee camp has always served as a reminder to the Palestinians of what happened to them in 1948. The east and north of Jabalia also reveal some of the towns and lands that belonged to these Palestinians.

The refugee camp is narrow. It is a concrete jungle. Rarely would one see parks or green areas. What was a camp of tents provided by the United Nations in 1948 became blocks of concrete, which makes it suffocating to live here. Kids play in the streets because there are no parks and playgrounds for recreation. They play games which reflect their reality – hide and seek where one team seeks to arrest the other, just like what Israel does to Palestinians.

According to the latest statistics, 97% of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption. Hence, refugee camps suffer from the lack of clean water. Electricity has taken its toll on refugees and they often go to the beach to escape the heat in their crowded neighborhoods. Most recently, three kids were burned to death in Alshatie refugee camp after their house caught alight.

Refugee camps have always been on the frontline of resisting the Israeli occupation. Former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, called the Nusierat refugee camp the ‘den of wimps’. The Jabalia refugee camp was the spark for the first Palestinian Intifada following the killing of four Palestinian laborers in Israel. Palestinian refugees here, 68 years on, still dream of a return of lands, which were theirs and still is.

– Yousef M. Aljamal is the Palestine Chronicle correspendent in the Gaza Strip.

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