Our House or Nothing

<div class="at-above-post addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.wordsinthebucket.com/refugee-camp"></div>“I keep telling my daughter that we will go back to our house,” Ahmed tells me as a group of boys and men behind him fill...

“I keep telling my daughter that we will go back to our house,” Ahmed tells me as a group of boys and men behind him fill some boxes with food, which will be delivered to the poorest families in the Al-Amari camp, in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

It’s Ramadan and Muslims can only eat between the time when the sun sets and when it rises. During this holy Islamic month, believers are encouraged to do charitable work and help the needy; thus, Muslims in the camp collect money to provide dinner to needy people.

The nearby mosque illuminates of a shiny emerald light as the Imam calls for the afternoon prayer.

Ahmed stops helping the group to speak with me about the situation in the refugee camp and the two-state solution between Palestine and Israel. It’s been one year since the last Gaza war claimed the lives of 2,200 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and 71 Israelis, of whom 66 were soldiers from Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

Al-Amari refugee camp. Photo credits Ludovica Iaccino

Al-Amari refugee camp. Photo credits Ludovica Iaccino

“I know we will go back,” he says with eyes full of hope. Like hundreds of Palestinians in Amari, Ahmed was born in the camp, established in 1949 in the aftermath of the first Israeli-Arab war. According to the locals, it is now inhabited by some 7,000 people, the majority of whom refuse to leave the camp – which with the aid of the UN has been slowly transformed into a micro city with shops, schools and a hospital – unless they can go back to the territories now occupied illegally by Israel.

“Our day will come,” the man continues and people behind him nod as soon as he pronounces those words.

We keep walking and children chase us. They all want to talk to me and they scream: “What is your name?” hoping that their question will not be left unanswered.

Many walls have been covered with Palestinian flags and graffiti calling for peace. Politics, war and the Israeli occupation are recurring themes that never abandon Palestinian lives.

A group of adults approach me and we start talking. They ask my opinion about the conflict and they all are willing to tell me their point of view.

It’s 8 pm and I am invited to have Iftar – when Muslims break their fast –  with some people living in the camp. They all make sure I like the food and they want me to eat until I am full. Then we sit on a sofa placed in the middle of a recreational centre some of the men in the camp have built so that youths can meet and do activities when they don’t go to school.

Al-Amari camp. Photo credits Ludovica Iaccino

Al-Amari camp. Photo credits Ludovica Iaccino

We keep speaking about politics. They tell me they hope one day the two countries – which have been at war for decades – can reach the two-state solution that has been often brushed aside,  but never achieved.

They tell me that some families leave Amari hoping to find a better future somewhere else in Palestine, but many others keep living their life within the walls that delimit the camp. It’s their form of resistance, their form of protest, they explain.

“It’s either our house or nothing,” they say and shrug after I ask when they think a solution to the conflict can be reached.

A soft music spreads all over the camp and children rush to the centre as they know there is going to be a party tonight.

“Our life goes on until the day we can return to our homeland,” they say and then they smile as their eyes navigate in to the horizon.

Human Rights

Ludovica Iaccino is a London-based press officer for children's charity World Vision. Previously, she worked as a foreign news reporter for the International Business Times and Newsweek, focussing on Sub-Saharan Africa. She has reported extensively on Nigeria and her work features interviews with local activists, politicians, survivors of terror attacks and analyses on terrorism and development. She is the author of “The Silence of Nyamata”, a historical novel about the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
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