Qalandia Refugee Camp, Palestine: Knocking on Death’s Door
A journey through a refugee camp in West Bank reveals the depth of suffering and alienation that the Israeli occupation has created
Shubhda Chaudhary West Bank, Palestine
Time stands still in Qalandia refugee camp in West Bank. Though it is located between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, this refugee camp is miles away from modernisation, development and civic amenities. It seems as if the area has been perennially lurching in abject poverty, lack of sanitation and safety. There are very few people that loiter in this area ravaged by time and circumstances. The walls in this part of the town are crumbling. There is an eerie pallor of death that surrounds the entire refugee camp. The camp was established in 1949 by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Leased out of Jordanian land, it is under Israeli occupation and thus, heavily guarded. The Palestinians live in crowded homes, packed like sardines, with no room to even breathe. The area evokes the feeling of a dystopian future where modern civilisation has ceased to exist. Little children with no school to go to can be seen playing in the dirt. One look at them and it’s clear that their childhood has been snatched away from them.
The houses in the Qalandia refugee camp are oddly placed. One stacked over the other, like a misshapen lego block, oozing a pungent smell of waste smeared on wet floors. Every fifth house has a tragedy to share. Either the Israeli authorities have blown up their houses or demolished them wholesale. There are pieces of brick, mortar and debris still lying around.
A few refugees, who have been staying since the Al-Nakba exodus of 1948, narrate their journey of lifelong exile. They lost their families, jobs and identity. Today all they have is a piece of Israeli permit that allows them to cross the check-point nearby. Sadly, even this is not enough. In case of a medical emergency, if they want to go to East Jerusalem, a fairly developed area, they can be stopped, scrutinised and rebuked by the Israeli military. They have no power to resist. In case they misbehave, they have to face detention in Israeli prison without any evidence.
There are homes of several martyrs in the Qalandia refugee camp. Out of the 3,000 families that stay here, most of them have lost their young boys to the Israeli occupation. Every house has the poster of their deceased on the main entrance, with quotes of resistance written in Arabic. In 2013, the refugee camp witnessed one of the worst forms of oppression by the Israeli forces during the Qalandia raid. Flash forward three years later, the scars are still alive. The tears of the mothers don’t stop. They can still be seen standing at the doors, waiting for their sons to return. Alas, they never will. Very often, reports of deaths at the Qalandia refugee camp are not published in the media. There is a complete media blackout and as a result this refugee camp remains a invisible terrarium of human suffering.
The Qalandia check point, one of the heaviest guarded ones in West Bank, witnesses arrests and shootings almost every week. The Israelis snatch away the cars of the Palestinians, lock them up in the detention centre and simply erase them from public memory. The death of hope and longevity can be felt most acutely here. The residents of Qalandia are in exile in their own homeland with no permission to move freely, talk or even engage. Their livelihood has been jeopardised and yet, in few fragments of the refugee camp, the resistance continues. The walls are lined with illustrations of dead martyrs and their names, with quotes of resistance and hope. Perhaps, this is the only catharsis that they can embrace.