A day in the life of Palestinian Children and Young People

Tulkarm Refugee Camp

Introduction

The Tulkarm Refugee Camp is in the northern sector of the Palestinian West Bank. It was established in 1950 and is home to over 25,000 people. [1]

There are 22 refugee camps in the West Bank, each is approximately 1 Km square. It is estimated that approximately 176,000 people live in these cramped conditions. [2]

Palestine is a very young society, 40% of the population is under 14 years old, whilst people aged 65 years and over account for only 2.9% of the population. [3]

This is the Amara family home in the Tulkarm Refugee Camp. There are three generations of the Amara family living here, including grandparents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces.

As families get bigger, overcrowding becomes worse. Because of the limited size of the refugee camp the houses have been built very close together and new floors are built on top for new family members.

Camps have a series of small passageways for people to walk through. Cars cannot fit through the narrow streets, so families have to carry everything to their homes.

The Amara Family

Mohammed Amara is our dear friend who works with us at Liverpool Hope University to support the field trips, research and publications.

In Arabic culture fathers and mothers are often referred to as ‘father of’ (Abu) or ‘mother of’ (Um) their eldest son.

Mohammed’s eldest son is called Omar, so as a sign of respect and affection people call him Abu Omar – father of Omar.

September 2019

Mohammed Amara’s father

Abu Mohammed Hussein Amara

Mohammed is the eldest son of the family. He has 11 brothers and sisters. His father Omar [Abu Mohammed] Amara was born in the village of Messka just 15 kilometers from Tulkarm in 1934.

Abu Mohammed often said he had only lived for 14 years up – meaning until the ‘Nakba’ in 1948.

‘Nakba’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘catastrophe’.

In 1947/48 an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and lands by Israeli troops and militias. [4] Many more were killed. Those who became refugees and have never been allowed to return to their homes and lands.

[4] Ilan Pappé The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Autumn 2006), pp. 6-20.

Before the Nakba, the Amara family were farmers and grew olives, fruit, vegetables and grain and raised a small number of livestock.

The family were forced to leave and moved to a small village called Tira before being moved to the Tulkarm Refugee Camp in 1950.

Conditions in the camp were very difficult. Sanitation was poor, running water limited and the family had to live in a tent. The tents were poorly equipped to cope with Palestine’s cold, wet winters and blazing hot summers.

The family had to endure living in a tent for 10 years, before the tents were replaced by small, single room homes.

In remembrance

This is Omar Amara [Abu Mohammed].

This photo was taken in Abu Mohammed’s shop in the Tulkarm Camp.

Omar passed Away on 19th April 2020.

The School of Social Sciences is saddened to hear of the death of Omar Amara. 

Omar lived in Tulkarm refugee camp and, over the years, welcomed many students and staff from the University into his home.

Professor Michael Lavalette has been leading regular student trips to Tulkarm since 2009. He said: “I first met Omar in 2006, on my second trip to the West Bank. I was doing some research with Chris Jones and Omar opened up his home and made us both very welcome.

“He would spend many hours telling us about his life. He once told me; ‘I have only lived for 14 years’ meaning the time he had been ‘free’ in Palestine before the Nakba. From the age of 14 he became a refugee and lived his life in the camp in Tulkarm.

“Like many Palestinians, he spent some time in prison. His ‘crime’ was that his son, my friend Mohammed, had been arrested for being a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. He was given 12 months ‘administrative detention’.

“He was always welcoming. He told me his house was my ‘home in Palestine’. He welcomed staff and students from Liverpool Hope into his home and always made people feel welcome.

“He was passionate about his right to return to his land and his opposition to the Israeli occupation. He was thoughtful, clear thinking and good fun to be around.

“He has a very large family. Over the next period, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will miss his presence immensely. But they should be proud to be the relative of such a great man.

“We will miss him greatly.”

Early Morning

Waking up early children and young people get ready for school. Before school they help prepare breakfast. Breakfast will consist of bread and humous, perhaps a little cheese, jam or falafel and a drink of very sweet mint tea. Early morning is a busy time in family homes as many generations of families live together and are all getting ready for their day.

Water storage containers on top of homes in Tulkarm Refugee Camp.

Water

Water supply on the West Bank is limited due to the complete control of water systems, even of the collection of rainwater on the West Bank, imposed by Israeli authorities instigated in 1967 by Military Order 158. This states that Palestinians cannot construct any new water installations, wells or pumps without permits from Israeli which are rarely granted. Palestinians living on the West Bank are forced to buy back their water from Israel at times taking nearly half of the family monthly income. [5]

[5] Amnesty International (2017) The Occupation of Water – https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/11/the-occupation-of-water/

Going to School and University – Education

After breakfast its school. The Camp has five UNRWA schools supporting 1,600 young people through primary and secondary education.

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA). It was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1949 to provide services to registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East and today it continues to provide services for the Palestinian refugee camps across the region.

94% of children in Palestine are enrolled in primary education. However, at secondary level this drops to 61%; only a quarter of boys attend school, and nearly 40% of young people with disabilities are out of school. [6]

Getting to school can be difficult at times. If the Israelis set up a temporary check-point, as they often do, it adds to the time for young people to get to school.

Often journeys that take less than 30 minutes can take 2 hours or more because of the deliberate delays at checkpoints by the Israeli forces. This means that young people have to get up and leave for school far earlier than necessary and miss a large proportion of their studies because of this disruption.

At times, when there are raids on the camp by Israeli armed forces, children carry raw onions with them!

The onions are used by the children if tear gas has been fired. They rub their eyes with the onions, making their eyes water and washing the tear gas away.

Going to Work - Farming Land & Growing Food

Since 1948, restrictions have been in place to limit the access of Palestinian farmers to their own land. Permits are required from Israeli authorities for each farmer. Recent changes have set restrictions on the frequency of visits farmers are able to make to tend to their lands and official permits are needed for both visits and harvest. [7]

Food at home has to be locally sourced and where possible families grow their own produce to support themselves. Food insecurity is a continued issue on the West Bank impacting on a one in four households. [8]

Checkpoints

Checkpoints are part of daily life, they affect every Palestinian. Young people travelling to school or university face the frustration of being held at checkpoints for long periods of time. At the check points the armed soldiers will demand to know where they are going, where they are from, how long they will be.

From the age of 16, every Palestinian must carry an Identity Card with them at all times. The ID card will have personal information on it and, at check points, they will have to produce their ID. If they do not have it with them, they will be arrested.

Some checkpoints are permanent, fixed installations – so everyone knows where they are. But others are ‘mobile’ checkpoints that can spring up at any point.

It is never possible to avoid checkpoints. They are everywhere and are part of the routine harassment of Palestinians.

The checkpoints generate uncertainty and ‘steals time’ [9] from young Palestinians who do not know if they will make it to and from school or university each day.

This often means disruption to young people’s studies and extended periods of time and extra money is needed to complete courses. For some students it means they are forced to study closer to home, on courses they did not choose due to the impact of checkpoints if travelling further distances.

Checkpoints are not limited to roads they also exist on streets within towns and cities to cut off and separate areas, making movement on foot challenging.

[9] Jones and Lavalette (2011) Voices from the West Bank, Bookmarks Publications.

Violence / Raids

Many of the communities where Palestinian youth are targeted for arrest are located close to Israeli settlements, Israeli military bases or roads used by settlers and the army. Children are taken from their homes, often in the middle of the night; at demonstrations, or checkpoints; near the wall, or military institutions. They usually face the charge of throwing stones, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 or 20 years depending upon the circumstances.

Around 60% of child prisoners end up in prisons inside Israel. This is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the deportation of any person from an occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power.

According to International Law, a child is defined as a human under the age of 18 years. Under Israeli military detention, Palestinian children as young as 12 are routinely taken from their homes at gunpoint in night-time raids by soldiers.

The arrested children will be blindfolded, bound and shackled and taken for interrogation. They will be interrogated without a lawyer or relative being present. They will be expected to sign a statement (in Hebrew, a language they do not speak or read). This statement will be presented in court as evidence.  

The children will meet their lawyer, for the first time, when they appear in the courts. Most of the time, these will be military courts and the outcome will often be ‘Administrative Detention’.

Administrative Detention is effectively a six-month detention without trial. On the last day of their sentence the children will either be set free, or given another six months.

Friends and Play

Given that the Palestinian society has such a large proportion of under 18’s, everywhere you go there are children and young people playing and laughing.

Like children and young people all around the world, they love spending time playing. The spaces for children to play are limited in Palestine, especially for those living in refugee camps because there is such a shortage of space.

Young people in Palestine are connected to wider youth cultures, through the internet and social media in particular. These are spaces where young Palestinians can express themselves and feel a shared sense of being a teenager. These are also spaces where the realities and impact of the occupation on their lives are clearly seen. [10]

Young people are also the target of the Israeli military. Here is the tragic story of our friend, Atta.

We met first met Atta in 2015, and have visited him several times on our trips since then. In 2015, Atta was 13. He told us his story.

[10] Jones and Lavalette (2011) Voices from the West Bank, Bookmarks Publications.

Atta was mucking about with his friend on the way home from school. His friend threw his bag over the school wall and when he went to get it, Israeli soldiers had it and told him he would have to come for it the next day after school.

The next day he went to get his bag, at the pre-arranged time and place. But as he approached the checkpoint, a soldier shot him. The wound paralysed Atta.  He was 12 years old.

In 2018 Atta was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by the Defence for Children International and is looking to develop his career as a lawyer.

Graffiti on the Wall in Tulkarm

Future

Given the daily challenges young people face, they find it difficult to imagine a future. They have the same hopes for their lives as other young people around the world: to get a good education, a job, their own home and to have a family.

The wide-ranging nature of the occupation on many areas of daily life means that families are often separated by imprisonment or violence. Unemployment or restrictions in getting to work effect the amount of money families have. This can impact on young peoples’ school and university education causing disruptions and delays in moving forward into work or training. Young people can feel that their lives are on hold.

Unemployment rates within the West Bank are high and young people worry about being able to get a job. Unemployment rate for young people is currently recorded at 42.10%. [11] For graduates the unemployment rate is recorded as high as 75%. [12] This is particularly challenging given the efforts to achieve within their university studies.

For some young people there are additional struggles to overcome as the anxieties from the occupation effect their mental health and wellbeing. Many families report their children experience nightmares and disturbed sleep, bed wetting, emotional trauma and anger.

The impact of the occupation on every aspect of daily lives takes its toll on the opportunities young people are able to enjoy and their ability to plan for their future. However, there is a strong sense of determination among young people to work hard to achieve an education, they see it as ‘weapon to resist the occupation’.

[11] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

[12] European Commission (2017) Overview of the Higher Education System Palestine https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/sites/eacea-site/files/countryfiches_palestine_2017.pdf

[1] Jones and Lavalette (2011) Voices from the West Bank, Bookmarks Publications.