Dheisheh refugee camp is located just south of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. It was established in 1949 as a temporary refuge for thousands of Palestinians forcibly driven from their homes by zionist settlers in 1948. 62 years later and this “temporary refuge” still stands, and its Palestinian population continues to expand. Joanne, one of the founding members of GPSC, has been taking tour groups to Palestine for years and brings us the following account from Dheisheh…
12 May 2010, Dheisheh
“It seems the Israelis want to isolate Bethlehem and make it difficult to go in and out. We stay there, and I had some problems when leaving each morning in the coach to go to Jerusalem etc. The checkpoint works very slowly, and the apathetic soldiers, male and female, take their time to check each coach, but it’s not real checking!! One day they just walk through with their guns, and another time they say to hold up passports for checking, but they don’t look into them, and one morning they want it open at the entry visa which you have to point to as they pass.
It all takes time and so on subsequent mornings we have to leave half an hour earlier to allow enough time. We had to miss some visits because of the delays, so it was difficult as they had to be fitted in on another day.
The knock on effect of that was that we had to request breakfast earlier for the rest of our time there, and as I stay in Yousef’s house, I saw him getting very tired when he had to go to the hotel every day at 5.30 or 6am to do breakfast.
Re Water….It was cut off when I arrived. We ordered a tanker, but luckily the water came on that day, so we canceled the tanker. It was running very slowly so the tanks on the roof did not fill completely when it went off again. It was still off 10 days later, and we had to go onto the reserve tank. The next day, it came on again, but only stays a few days. It’s a constant worry there. The Palestinians pay about £55 for the tanker to deliver, and few can afford it, so when we buy water, we give it to the neighbours who need it , and sometimes get 3 more around the camp. Israelis never have their water turned off, and use at least 4 times more than in the territories. They pay a quarter of the price so their water will cost the same as the Palestinians who have 1/4 of the amount.
There are nightly incursions of the army into the camps at night. They are arresting people, who ‘are wanted’, but never say what they are charged with.
Now there are problems as the Palestinian government have ordered that NO goods are to be sold in the West Bank and Gaza, from the settlements. They can buy Israeli stuff, but not settlement produce. They are checking and burning it at the checkpoints, which has upset the Israelis, and the other day they shot a 14 year old boy dead, who was near one of these points. Bear in mind, that the Israelis have built the wall on Palestinian lands and have taken a lot of farm land. This means they cannot access their land on the other side of the wall. Also, if they do pick their produce to sell in the market in Bethlehem, they have to pass checkpoints, where they are made to unload it for checking, and carry it through, and reload onto another vehicle on the other side. It makes it all very expensive for the loading and transportation costs, and because of the delays and handling, the stuff is not so fresh any more. It’s easier to just buy the Israeli stuff, though it does not taste so nice as it’s all ‘forced’ in greenhouses, and not grown on the land. The Palestinian produce is called ‘biladi’ as it is grown on the land…and it may not look so perfect, but tastes nicer….a bit like our organic!”