As you might know, Palestine is one of several countries with many refugees around the world, who struggle every day to return to the land that was taken from them 65 years ago. They yearn to return to their place of heritage and erase the refugee label from their lives. Unfortunately, seeing how things have developed over the years, this is a dream that will not come true.
According to Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention the term “refugee” shall apply to any person who:
“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
Currently, there are 5 million Palestinian refugees around the world, with 1.4 million living in 58 refugee camps distributed throughout Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and West Bank. 17.1% of them live in refugee camps in West Bank and 41.7% of those are children under the age of 15.
In Palestine there are 19 official refugee camps where 727,471 refugees live, with a total of 52,633 pupils. In the city of Nablus, where our colleague Ruth is, there are 3 large refugee camps, where unfortunately many children are not only refugees, but also orphans, who lost their parents as a result of the intifada or incarceration. Although it is known that Arab families are large, meaning that children are never totally abandoned, it is also true that the affection and love of a parent cannot be replaced. The male figure is the nucleus of the Arab family and a very important cultural pillar, whose absence is noticeable.
Along with a voluntary association created by teachers and students of the An-Najah National University, where our colleague Ruth works as a volunteer teacher, she devotes her time to know the situation of refugee children and orphans. She believes that:
“In a society where children attend schools segregated by sex and where they are forbidden to have contact with each other until they get to college (which is the first place where they begin to have contact with the opposite sex in the classroom), we have created an association with which we intend to change this habit so typical of most Arab countries. However, this is not the only purpose for which we work and struggle.
What we want is for them to feel comfortable with each other even though they do not know each other, being from different camps. We want them to completely forget the problems that are involved because of the circumstances of the country. We hope they have a good time, have fun and our motto is “let’s draw a smile”. We usually start doing that by having them introduce themselves by singing in a circle. After that, we have breakfast together, and then we start with the games.
They are the new generation that will change the course of Palestine, and we want them to grow up happy without fear or hatred. They need to learn to forgive, forget, love and respect. This is a challenging psycho-socio-educational project; it is not easy to grow up surrounded by soldiers, guns and settlers.”