Guest contribution by Dana Saifan
Balata Refugee Camp, in Nablus, is the largest camp in the West Bank, housing over 20,000 refugees. Approximately 3,000 additional refugees living in the camp do not have any identification papers at all — they do not hold refugee status nor do they hold a Palestinian ID.
Balata is constantly surrounded by Israeli settlers and soldiers, as right outside the camp are several important Jewish sites, such as Jacob’s Well and Joseph’s Tomb. Pictured here is Joseph’s Tomb.
Because of the Oslo Accords, when Jewish Israeli settlers and tourists come visit these sites each day, Palestinian police are obligated to turn their heads and allow them unfettered access to Balata. According to residents of the camp, around 200 to 400 Israelis make their way through the camp each night.
Graffiti covers the walls of the camp, with messages of hope and resistance.
The image of Handala, who represents Palestinian refugees and their struggle, is coupled with the Arabic phrase “For our brave soldiers”.
The alleyways of the camp are very narrow, not allowing even small vehicles to cross through. Because the camp is restricted to a 1 km x 1 km space and is very overpopulated, residents and camp dwellers have to utilize as much space as they can, building homes very close together and on top of each other. The narrow alleyways are also designed to keep Israeli tanks and vehicles from driving through.
In the 2002 invasion of Nablus, 40% of the homes in Balata camp were destroyed. This home was completely burned and, like many other homes that were destroyed, remains empty and damaged.
When the refugee families began moving into the camp in 1950, they were permitted to rent the available houses for 99 years, never being able to truly own a home. What will happen when their 99 years run out?
75% of Balata camp’s population is under the age of 18. These children have known nothing but the narrow corridors of the camp. However, when the time comes for them to go to secondary school, they must leave Balata to attend one of the city schools because the camp does not have facilities or resources for them. The children of Balata must take expensive taxis to these schools each day, costing the family much of their income just to send their children to school.
These are some homes in Balata camp.
Dana Saifan is a Palestinian-American from Southern California. She is currently a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studies Psychology and Public Health. Dana is also an active member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.