“The youth in this camp [Burj El-Barajneh] know nothing but Palestine, though they have never seen it. They know nothing but the loss of Palestine” Amina Al-Ashqar a Palestinian refugee in Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon explains the relationship between Palestinian refugees and their pillaged home.
Today, Palestinians are marking the anniversary of the start of their mass displacement. Over 750 000 Palestinians have been expelled in order for Israel to build its state on the rubble of the homes of Palestinian refugees. Palestinians and people around the globe commemorate this date as the beginning of the #OngoingNakba [Arabic for ‘catastrophe’].
The displacement was a result of a variety of factors, including massacres by Zionist militias and later Israel’s military, the destruction of Palestinian villages, and direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities. Following the 1948 mass displacement, Israel passed a series of laws preventing Palestinians, who had left, from returning to their homes or claiming their property. The #OngoingNakba is still part of the everyday life of millions of Palestinians, whether Palestinians who are still resisting their current ethnic cleansing, or refugees longing for their return and for a normal just life.
Today, there are about 7.2 million refugees, one third of them are registered in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. Most live in camps outside of Palestine. Further, latest UN reports show that the total Palestinian population around the world in 2021 had reached about 14 million. The gravity of Israel’s crimes is even larger than this, as these numbers do not include ethnically cleansed Palestinians after 1948 until now.
The #OngoingNakba is exponentially increasing with every generation.
After 1948 and then in 1967 the expansion of Israeli control to all of Historic Palestinian with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the construction of Israel’s apartheid Wall is Israel’s single largest mass expulsion project in the last 50 years.
Not only is the Wall an effort to annex 46% of the land in the West Bank, it has put the entire population outside of the ghetto walls under threat of expulsion. While the projections at the start of the construction of the Wall would have placed over 50 000 Palestinians under threat of expulsion or in nonviable living conditions, the plans have degenerated with the maps issued in 2020. The Trump-Netanyahu proposal anticipated that 118 000 Palestinians would be directly expelled or simply non-recognized.
The region of Masafer Yatta, in the South Hebron Hills, is today the most prominent case of ongoing mass expulsion. 1,300 Palestinians living in eight villages living in the area are under direct threat of expulsion.
Below we are showcasing the reality of a refugee camp inside Israel’s apartheid Wall, Deheisheh, near Bethlehem, and Burj El-Barajneh in Lebanon. They are divided by Israeli apartheid, settler-colonialism and occupation but united in their struggle for the right of return.
Return is a natural part of our future
Amina Al-Ashqar is a Palestinian refugee and journalist who lived most of her life in Burj El-Barajneh refugee camp. “My family descends from Nablus, which in our modern mindset, doesn’t make sense.” Amina introduces us to her family’s history. “Before the Nakba and all of the checkpoints and settlements separating Palestinians from each other, my family lived in Haifa.”
Amina’s family’s history is filled with gaps that were created because of the #OngoingNakba, a common situation Palestinians find themselves in, a result of the sociocide that comes from the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. In an attempt to fight the erasure of her family’s history, Amina went on a journey learning about her family and how they got to Burj El-Barajneh refugee camp.
“No one in my family could ever tell me how we ended up here and where the rest of our extended family is,” she notes, as she started explaining her understanding of her family’s Nakba story. “From what I understood, my father’s uncle was a freedom fighter, fearing for his life, my grandmother took him and other siblings to Jordan, Syria, and then Lebanon. Some of my family members now live in Nablus, and some in Jordan. We ended up in this refugee camp,” she finally concluded.
Burj El-Barajneh camp is a Palestinian refugee camp located in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon. It was established in 1948 to house Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their homes during the #OngoingNakba. Today, it is one of the most densely populated refugee camps in the world, with an estimated population of over 20,000 residents. Despite the difficult living conditions and challenges faced by its residents, the camp has a vibrant community and is home to numerous schools, shops, and community centres. However, overcrowding, lack of basic infrastructure and limited access to healthcare, employment and education are some of the major issues affecting the residents of Burj El-Barajneh camp.
“Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not allowed to practise around 70 jobs, and their subgenres, leaving us with substantially no career choices” Amina says, explaining the hardships refugees in Lebanon struggle against. “This affects not only the refugees’ income possibilities, but also, the way they would view education and self-development in general,” she adds. This results in a dual perspective of the world. “A sense of yeilding to the system and stop aiming high, but also you will see a sense of never giving up on returning, as the only chance of hope” as Amina portrays it. “Returning is not just a right in our minds, it is a necessity and a natural part of our future,” she adds.
In 2015, refugees in Lebanon organised a “March of Return”, in which Israel killed 7 youths and injured many more. “We marched to the southern parts of Lebanon, literally aiming to go back to Palestine” Amina explains how refugees in Lebanon view their return. “The camps were empty that day, we all collectively decided that the Nakba can’t continue any longer.” The #OngoingNakba has been going for 75 years too long.
The right of return is an urgent necessity
“Israel put our children in a dark box and closed it,” Mohammed Abu Ayyash an activist and refugee living in Dheisheh camp near Bethlehem explains the life of children in this camp. “Their world is a refugee camp, which the Israeli occupation forces target every day.” He explains the experience growing up in a refugee camp in Palestine, where children end up writing wills and hiding them in their pockets.
Dheisheh refugee camp is located near Bethlehem in the West Bank and serves as a symbol of Palestinian resistance. The camp is filled with murals and posters commemorating Palestinian martyrs who lost their lives during the struggle for their liberation. In addition to resistance, Dheisheh is also home to a community of children who support each other despite living in challenging circumstances. Hence, the loss of one youth raises alertness and deeply affects all children of the camp, and their view of a return.
In December of 2022, Israeli forces shot and killed Omar Manna and arrested his brother in a raid to Dheisheh refugee camp. “Omar cared for the youth of this camp, kids looked up to him, and after his murder, they thought of him as a hero,” Mohammad explains the effects of Israel killing one youth in a refugee camp.” His martyrdom was a changing point in the lives of the children here, they started confronting military raids, to protect their world, the refugee camp.”
Less than a month after Omar’s death, two middle school children were killed during military raids on the camp. “Kids only throw stones, there was no need to shoot him in the shoulder and head,” Amro Al-Khmour’s mother said during his funeral, “but he knew they would kill him just for being a kid in this camp He wrote a will, asking his friends to stand by my side if he ever gets killed.” Amro’s will was not the only one written by a child this month. Before him, Adam’s will was found in his blood filled jacket the day Israeli soldiers killed him, containing with similar requests.
” The physical education teacher in the camp’s school found 14 written wills: The kids stay all day at the cemetery near their lost friends,” says Mohammed expressing his concerns. “This is not a normal childhood, there is no doubt that the only reaction is to want to be heroes of the struggle for freedom. It is the only way of life they know,” he adds.
The right to return is at its highest necessity now, it is crucial to take steps for the youth to have hope.
Take action against the #OngoingNakba for a return if Palestinian refugees
The #OngoingNakba keeping refugees away from their right to return will continue as long as international complicity offers a lifeline to Israeli apartheid. Take action to end Israeli apartheid and support the Palestinian sumud.
Participate in our #EndEthnicCleansing campaign, and during May join the commemorations and protests to end the #OngoingNakba. sShare information about the continuing ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Participate in the BDS campaigns, such as:
- The campaign to end Hyundai’s complicity in Israel’s ethnic cleansing as well as the complicity of other corporations, such as JCB, Volvo and Caterpillar.
- Support the call for a comprehensive and immediate military embargo on Israel, as the apartheid regime relies heavily on imported weapons as well as the money coming in through the export of its own military technology to sustain the continuous oppression of Palestinians.
- Pressure your local or national government to ban Israeli settler goods and services and settlement trade.