where the writers are
Balata, Palestinian refugee camp
Graffiti on a wall in Balata

Here’s a short article about the Palestinian refugee camp Balata which is located on the outskirts of Nablus, one of the oldest cities in Palestine. This article will give you a simple picture of what kind of life people in this camp live.

In Balata there are told to be around 25.000 people living in an 0.386 square mile, that makes it one of most densely populated areas in the world. In each apartment or small living space there are around three generations living together, the grand parents, the parent and their children. When people live like this there’s not much room for privacy like you can imagine. One of the few places where you can find a second or two for your self is the bathroom. The apartment buildings the people live in are so densely built that if a fire would break loose in between there would be no chance of extinguish it for there is no room for a fire truck or a hose to reach it. The houses would burn until it would go out by it self, and by that time everything that the people have would be long gone and their homes destroyed. For this reason Balata is not only a terrible place to live in but mortally dangerous also.

 UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) runs three school’s in the camp for the children. Children between the ages 6 and 15 go to these schools, around 6500 children. I worth mentioning that seventy percent of the population are under 18 years of age, that makes around seventeen thousand five hundred people. In each class there are around 50 students, so it’s quite clear that the teachers can not satisfy the educational needs of the children. Therefore the educational level is not high in the camp.

People in the camps mostly originate from areas which now belong to Israel since 1948 like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Aggo and others. Also some people originate from areas seized in the 6 day war in 1967. Originally the Balata area was only the be a temporary location for the refugees, but since Israel does not act on the international law of return (see below) for Palestinians, the people were stuck there and are still today. As goes for all the other refugee camps, people are allowed to go home and they have not been compensated either like they should.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) article 13 states that "[e]veryone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

Reasons for the Palestinians departure is simple, they were being ethnically cleansed by the Zionist movement. People were force from their home, people were killed and homes were burned down, so the people fled in hope for a new and better live somewhere else (which most of them didn’t). Why don’t they make more room in Balata and extend the boarders of the camp? Well, because of they would make it bigger it would lose it’s status as a refugee camp and would lose most of the support their getting from the UN and other organizations. If aid to the people would be stopped there would not be much hope for these people since their not educated, they don’t have money and don’t have any means to make a life for them selves. So the problem would only grow for these people.     

The biggest ratio of martyrs in the two intifatas came from Balats (if you count per capita), that the main reason why seventy percent of the population is under eighteen. The cemetery is full of young men who lost their live fighting for freedom. And today there are around seven hundred fifty men permanently disabled in the camp because of the two wars. Nablus was the centre of the rebellion (and is still today) in the West-Bank which explains why so many young men from Nablus and the camps have died in battle with Israel. Just like in Balata the Israeli army invades the other camps and Nablus every single night. It’s an unwritten agreement that from 12’o clock midnight until 6’o clock in the morning the army controls Nablus and the camps. That’s the life for these people, endless invasions, house demolitions, killing and arrests for now good reasons. The army therefore has a dramatic effect on the every day life of the people there.   

Children and grownups have had to see a lot of atrocities in their lives which a permanent mark on every single soul in the camps and Nablus (and a huge part of the other Palestinian people). The children are raised in a manner western children could never imagine in their worst nighmares. These children do not live with the security and healthy environment we westerners live with (of course I´m not generalizing about all westerners). Therfore the schools have tried to have it as their motto to enforce both their social awareness and keeping them busy with things not related to conflict and misery. Along with regular school activities some of the children have extra curriculum activities such as learning on instruments, making short films, theatre, gymnastics and et cetera. These activities keep most of the children from rock throwing and keeps them from getting in to trouble, but of course not every one can be prevented from trouble. That’s one of the reasons why education here in Palestine (and everywhere else) is so important, not only to teach them how to read an write but to lead them to a better life. The occupation is making this task very hard though.

One of the most successful and popular activities in the camps is short film making, the children make their own scripts and costumes them selves, then they get a video camera and shoot their film. And ones a year the best films compete against each other in a film festival in Ramallah. This program has proved it self to be both successful and helpful to the children, and that’s the most important thing of all.

This is the end of my article and if you find your self in a state of doubt after reading this just do your own reaserch, on the net and in books. One book I specially recommend is the book ‘The ethnic cleansing of Palestine’ by Ilan Pappé (http://www.amazon.com/Ethnic-Cleansing-Palestine-Ilan-Pappe/dp/1851684670) who is an Israeli historian, shunned by his fellow Israelis for telling the truth about how Israel works, from the beginning to the present.

My fact about the camp I got from a good man Mohammad Khanfar (teacher in one of the schools in Balata, born and raised in Balata) and my own experience as an volunteer in Nablus.

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Good for you, taking up the cause of suffering people anywhere. But if journalism is your aim, then it would benefit from reporting the broader picture. Why is 70 percent of the population under 18? Because of the intifatas? Doesn't ring true. Here in Berlin the Palestinian population is largely under 18. They're not fighting for freedom.

Sounds dangerous. Be careful.

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Hey Ken

In this case the reason for this percentage is the Intifatas, almost every single young man in Balata took part in these wars. Posters of martyrs are everywhere and people talk about it constantly. I was volunteering in Nablus for 3 months and got to talk to a lot of people about the situation, the intifata and their perspective on life.

I do not know the reason why so many young Palestinian live in Berlin but that's different story.

But of course the Intifatas are not the only reason, far from it but it's the biggest one.

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Hi, Aron. Nice blog

Hi, Aron. Nice blog post.

The youth demographic is large throughout the Arab world. I think it's important to note that high birth rates, multigenerational living, and lack of privacy are not unusual in Arab culture. But your point about the overcrowding remains valid.

I wonder what percentage of Palestinian people, especially children, have post-traumatic stress disorder. My guess is that it is very high.

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Hey Ellen

Good point Ellen, definitely high birth rates, multigenerational living and lack of privacy is common in arab countries but not nearly as extreme as it's in camps such as Balata. In the normal arab home (at least Palestinian) you can go somewhere in your own house and have a moment for your self, you could not when living in tight conditions like in Balata.

Post-traumatic stress with Palestinian children (and adults) is something that has not been researched enough in my opinion. But like you said the percentage is most like frighteningly high.