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Across Borders
By Evelyn and Gregg - 23 Sep, 1999

Page 3 of 5

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Dheisheh Camp (by Evelyn)

It was a short ride literally from the doorstep of our hostel to the Dheisheh, maybe fifteen kilometers away, with one smooth change of service (shared) taxis in-between. Through Adam, the webmaster at Bir Zeit University, we were put in touch with the Across Borders project coordinator at the Dheisheh camp. She was unable to meet with us but welcomed our offer to do some work on their site and referred us to the site webmaster and jack-of-all-trades, Jamal.

Dheisheh is a Palestinian refugee camp, one of 60 odd found throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They were initially set up as temporary refugee enclaves after Israel's War of Independence in 1948, as the term 'camp' suggests, but most have become somewhat permanent encampments. Though conditions may be squalid, for the Palestinian refugees, the camps are a symbol of their visible suffering and the majority are opposed to the integration of the camps into the larger nearby cities as part of the same district. In a book I'm reading, I found a quote reflecting this perspective by someone actually from the Dheisheh camp: "Without the camps, I can say fully that the Palestinian case will not have a clear face." A common Israeli Jew reaction to this is likely that the Palestinians choose to live in their run-down camps.

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Stepping out of the taxi where we were told "Here, Dheisheh", my own pre-conceived notions of what constitutes a 'refugee camp' came to light. I imagined an area of tent-like structures, a few crude latrines, maybe a smattering of concrete block buildings where families shared meals... These notions are shaped by media's effect on me—TV and newspaper images of refugee camps, and second-hand knowledge of such camps in Thailand. These notions looked little like what I saw around me.

The Dheisheh camp runs from the main road up a low hill, its boundaries not entirely evident. As much as it didn't look like my idea of a 'camp', neither would I describe it as having a thriving town atmosphere. Buildings poked out of the cluster of rooftops, some in sad disrepair, others left unfinished. There was a Kodak studio, a few eateries and food stores, a couple of old ladies selling baskets of produce.

We were led by Ahmed to Jamal's office at the IBDA center—a youth activities center whose name translates from Arabic roughly as "creativity". Ahmed is in his early teens, friendly and bright, and he spoke some English. I asked if he had school that day. "No school. School is very is closed." He asked where we were from and when we told him, he replied that he was going to America soon. Ahmed is part of a children's dance group performing traditional debka musicals through the activities of IBDA—a joint French-Palestinian cultural exchange program. With IBDA, Ahmed has been to Sweden, Frankfurt and France, and in two weeks, he would be going to five major U.S. cities, including our hometown, San Francisco.

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We entered the IBDA center, a modest-sized two-story concrete building, and were greeted by Jamal. Jamal grew up in Dheisheh but spent about 10 years in Portland, Oregon. He was fortunate enough to be able to continue his education in America when his university in Bethlehem was shut down during the Intifida. He is a tall, unassuming man with a direct but warm demeanor. We talked with him in his office about his background and involvement with Across Borders. Although life in America was more comfortable, he was without family and he and his American wife eventually decided to come back to Dheisheh. "After 10 years in Oregon, I said that's enough... but there is one thing I do miss, driving. Driving was a great thing. Here I don't have a car."




Across Borders
  Right of Return
  The Intentional Tourist

  New York
    New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
Middle East
  Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going."
-- Paul Theroux
  © 1999/2000 ~ Cervezas frijo served.