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Jenin refugee camp not an easy place to grow up in

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By Ana Thorne - December 11, 2012
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Features]
Tags: [Jenin Freedom Theater] [Jenin Refugee Camp] [Israeli army]

The Jenin refugee camp was established in 1953 on 0.42 square kilometers of land leased by the Jordanian government. The inhabitants mainly come from the Carmel region of Haifa.

The camp’s residents still have close relationships with relatives on the other side of the Green Line due to the short distance between Jenin and what is now called Israel; some villages from the 1948 occupied territories are clearly visible from the camp. A number of 16,000 refugees are registered in the camp.

The Freedom Theatre  has become the trademark for Jenin refugee camp. The theatre was established in 2006 by the film and stage maker Juliano Mer-Khamis, former Jenin chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades Zakaria Zubeidi, and two Swedish activists, Dror Feiler and Jonatan Stanczak.

From the start the theatre was conceived as a place where young people could express their anger, frustration and trauma that resulted from the aftermath of the second Intifada. Over 40 percent of the camps’ inhabitants are under the age of 15 – which constitutes a large proportion of the community had grown up during the intense period of violence.

Under the second Intifada the Jenin camp was one of the hotspots for armed resistance. The coalition of the armed wing associated with Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, were heavily present in the camp.

During this time the Israelis kept using the rhetoric that stamped the Jenin refugee camp as a “terrorist camp” including all of its inhabitants, which justified all actions taken against them. 150 buildings were completely destroyed and many more not safe to live in. Approximately 435 families became homeless.

In April 2002 the Israeli army entered both Jenin city and Jenin camp, imposed a curfew, and declared them both as closed military zones, which prevented all access to and from the area.

The intense fighting in the camp, which Israeli officials named Operation Defensive Shield, lasted for 10 days. The Israelis prevented ambulances, medical support and humanitarian workers from getting into the camp. The bloodshed caused at least 52 Palestinians lives and a lot more were injured, half of them civilians.


Brought up with a father in prison

Adnan Naghnaghiye, the location and stage manager for the Freedom Theatre, introduced his brother Mohammed’s family, who live in the house behind the Freedom Theatre. Adnan explained that Mohammed has been in prison since March 25th 2003 and his wife Falasteen was left with no other choice but to raise their twin girls alone.

“He was arrested because he was a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,” Adnan explains.

The twins are called Sara and Yara and are 11 years old. They are dressed completely alike and it is not only strangers that find it difficult to distinguish between them, but also their uncle Adnan seems to have given up. He introduces them as “one is Yara and one is Sara” with a smile. The girls are quite open to speak more about their family. Yara talks about how their uncles Usama and Ahmad were both killed by the Israeli soldiers. She continues to explain that uncle Ghassan has been in prison for 5 years and points at Adnan saying, “And you were in prison during Ramadan.”

He was arrested because he was a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,” Adnan explains.

Adnan clarifies that Usama was killed during a fight with the Israeli soldiers. Ahmad was killed when the Israeli Special Forces attempted to arrest Zakaria Zubeidi July 6th 2006 where he attended a funeral.

The soldiers started shooting towards the civilians, and during this shooting they killed 16 year old Ahmad who was sitting in the mourning-tent. Adnan tells that they also killed four other civilians.

It is clear that the girls are totally aware of the serious and intense situation in the camp, in spite of their young age. Despite this they are determined to live normal lives. When asked them about their hobbies, Sara replies: “I love to draw and also like to swim.”

“I like to listen to music,” Yara adds. Sara would like to become a doctor when she grows old and Yara would like to play music.

Suddenly the phone rings and the girls jump– it is their father.

Adnan explains that ever since Mohammed was imprisoned he has declared that his girls should not lack anything, and therefore he asked Falasteen to give them a nice room. A carpenter has renovated the girls’ room and they now have a television, computer, printer and Internet in their room.

The girls say that they sometimes write letters to their father.

The family’s house has been the target for several raids by the Israeli soldiers. They always come during the night and leave the house in complete disarray and in total chaos. Furniture and personal belongings are thrown on the floor and broken, and once there was even dog excrement left on the floor.


A normal day in the Jenin camp

The normal routine the girls follow in their daily lives is to usually wake up at 6 am in the morning on school days.

“We wake up and then we sometimes take a small look at our homework again, wash our faces and go in the kitchen and eat breakfast,” says Yara.

“For breakfast we have tea and bread, which we dip in olive oil and za’atar, then we go to school at 7 am and come back at 2 in the afternoon, where we then eat a sandwich,” Sara continues.

The girls are in 6th grade in one of the two schools that is run by UNRWA in the refugee camp. The school takes pupils from 4th to 9th grade. Yara explains that in their class there are 42 pupils in their class, all girls.

After school the girls do their homework, and when they are done they are allowed to go out and play with the other children until the evening prayers. During the weekends they watch cartoons.

“Our favorites are Finding Nemo, Tom and Jerry and a TV series that is called Sabaya [series about young women between the ages of 16-22 years]” Yara says. Saturdays are often used for social activities at the school.

Life goes on for the two girls despite the absence of their father and the frequent Israeli raids they suffer under. They look forward to Eid, weddings, birthdays and other holidays.

It is impressive to witness how life for the children in refugee camps is so normalized no matter how chaotic and horrible the past experiences have been. They live their childhood in the camps where high unemployment, overcrowded schools and extensive damages from the second Intifada marks a huge impact in their daily lives and yet they still manage to find joy and happiness in their lives, for it is simply a survival mechanism they depend on until they are granted the right of return to their original towns and villages.




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