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Nakba and Balata Refugee Camp Part I

[Balata Refugee Camp in the 1950s. Tents were no protection from floods or cold.]

Nakba Day is the day after the anniversary of the establishment of Israel as a nation. Known by Palestinians as Nakba: “Day of the Catastrophe,” Palestinians remember on every May 15th the horror of their expulsion and flight from their villages and towns in what became Israel in 1948. Confronted by well-armed Jewish/Israelis troops, thousands of Palestinians became permanent refugees.

Balata Refugee Camp was established near Nablus in 1952 for those expelled in 1948. This extremely densely populated refugee camp is the largest camp in the Wet Bank. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians Refugees in the Near East [UNRWA] funds a school in the camp.

MPT interviewed Ali Basumi, a 70 year-old man, who is a refugee from Yanzur, a village of almost 5000 people in 1948, near Yaffa – Jaffa. His family owned 120 dunams, about 30 acres, which produced fruits and vegetables such as oranges, tomatoes. He said it was a wonderful place to live because the villagers loved one another and worked well together, “like one hand.”

About five percent of the village were Jewish, but even after the 1917 Balfour Declaration [British decision without consulting Palestinians, that Palestine would be the Jewish homeland] these Jewish people lived peacefully with their ne ighbors. [Ali Basumi referred to the Jewish people as Jews because they were not officially Israelis until Israeli declared itself a country. But even when describing Israelis after 1948, he and the others called them Jews rather than Israelis.]

Ali Basumi displayed the many documents for his land, dating back to the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate, however, he said his family lived in the area before the Ottoman Empire. In 1948, Jewish people asked to buy their family land for a very good price, but Ali’s father refused. Ali has the key to his house from which he was expelled in 1948.

Following the Holocaust, more and more Jews immigrated to Palestine. Beginning in 1946, armed Jews, including the formerly good neighbors, and British troops began nightly to terrorize the Yazur villagers. In 1948, after 4 people were killed including children and women, many villagers left the village temporarily for Al Led near Tel Aviv. In Al Led they slept in the mosque and on the streets and were attacked by Jewish soldiers. Ali’s father was arrested and spent 9 months in prison. The family kept in contact through the Red Cross. They moved to another village and then to Deir Asam near Ramallah. The trip lasted 8 days during which they slept in olive groves. They finally moved near Nablus to be further from Israel ‘48. Here they lived on the mountainside with no amenities, walking two kilometers for drinking water, for three years.

In 1952, family move into the UNRWAR Balata Refugee Camp #1 to live in tents. They had been in transit from Yanzur for four years. The tents provided no protection from the cold or flooding in the rainy season. For some time there were no health clinics and no water was provided. After 6 months UNWAR provided food, but the conditions continued to very crowded.

Ali has visited his family land about 400 times he said. The last time he saw his land was in 2000. He spoke to the Jewish people who reside in his home, showing them the key he still has, but they told him, “We left Europe and this is our land now.” Ali keeps his many documents and key hoping that some day he can return to his village.

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