The Balata Refugee Camp is only about 5 miles from the MPT home in Huwwara. It is the largest and most crowded refugee camp in the West Bank. Buildings were often built to the dimensions of the original tent and crowded together. As families grow and additional space is needed, they build straight up as there is no horizontal space. Some streets are extremely narrow with just room to walk. There are almost no places for the many youth to play. Noise is constant. 25,000 bodies are living in one square kilometer which is about 247 acres. That is more than 100 people per acre.
The following murals are on the wall outside of Balata. The first one depicts the happy life before 1948.
The second mural shows the sad time of leaving when Palestinians were forced out of their homes and became refugees or displaced persons within their own country. This event in 1948 is known as the Nakba, the Catastrophe.
Many Palestinians still have the keys to their homes, some still speak of their previous village as home, although they have never seen it. The hope to return is still very alive for many.
Refugees lived in UN tents for years before the building of permanent homes started.
If you view the murals and then turn around, you will be looking at the Greek Orthodox Church. We took the tour to the basement and viewed Jacob's Well. The quiet spacious green garden inside the walled church compound stands in stark contrast to the crowded, dusty camp right across the street.
MPT visited Balata recently and took an informal walk through the narrow streets talking with children and adults. We had tea with a shop keeper and his friend. He had been “visited” by soldiers recently but did not want to discuss it. His friend said, “He fears that any publicity may cause the soldiers to return.” This friend spent time in prison for reasons that were not clear to us. We dropped by the Yafa Cultural Center and had a nice conversation with a staff member. He reviewed the history and conditions at Balata. He also shared that Germany (indeed a German social worker sat in on this discussion) was helping to establish a mental health program, a clinic where support groups could meet and therapists could work. Psychological problems caused by overcrowding, stress, unemployment, abuse, grief and despair are rampant. He said, “It is a total community problem; everyone has mental health issues.” It was painful to see this man’s frustration as he said, “I continue to be a moderate but what good does it do? We have waited for freedom for over 60 years and nothing changes.”
Refugees tend to be more involved politically so it was no surprise to see many names on the list of martyrs.
Previous MPT teams have visited the Balata Refugee Camp on numerous occasions. Related MPT blog posts include:
http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/10/palestine-refugee-camp.html more information on Balata
http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/05/nakba-and-balata-refugee-camp.html the Nakba is discussed.
http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/05/nakba-and-balata-refugee-camp-part-ii.html includes reflections on the Nakba, the Catastrophe.