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The View From Aroub: Fenced-In Refugees Look At Peace Talks

August 29, 1992

AROUB, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ The 7,400 Palestinians living in the Aroub refugee camp have immediate and practical concerns about what peace talks could bring. They worry about some things no diplomat would list on the agenda.

School principal Muhammad Mahdi hopes the talks in Washington will bring removal of the Israeli army’s earthen blockade at the camp entrance.

An improvement in the camp’s open sewers would be nice.

He’d like to see some prisoners freed, too.

Ahmad Tmaizi, a 19-year-old construction worker, wants to get an education degree from Jerusalem’s Open University but says he cannot get an army permit to go to Jerusalem for classes. In any event, he opposes the peace talks.

Sahar Fathi Jaber, 17, whose father is jailed for possession of a rifle, also opposes the U.S.-backed peace negotiations.

She said she fears autonomy will only mean more violence between the Fatah faction of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, which supports the talks, and the Muslim fundamentalist movement Hamas, which is against them. ″They will kill each other,″ said Sahar, who wore a T-shirt with a picture of a Palestinian ″martyr″ on it.

Most of those living behind the 18-foot-high fence separating their homes from the Jerusalem-Hebron road judge the negotiations based on whether their own lives will be bettered.

Take for instance Fathiya Khalil Tmaizi, Ahmad’s 52-year-old mother.

She says she is still deeply angry at the deaths of her brothers Ibrahim and Jamal and cousin Mohammed in a shootout with Israeli troops two years ago. But she believes peace will mean a better life for her family.

″Inshallah″ - God willing - it will bring the release of another brother and cousin serving 15 to 20 years in an Israeli prison on weapons possession charges, she said.

″No one will say no if our children are released from prisons,″ she said. ″No one likes violence and killings.″

The majority of Palestinians in the Aroub camp, between Hebron and Bethlehem, are from families who fled or were driven from villages in what was then southern Palestine when Israel was founded in 1948.

The camp has paid a high price in the 4 1/2 -year-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. Seven of its sons and daughters have been killed, and about 250 have been jailed.

The surrounding fence, made of chain-link and metal plates, was built to stop stone-throwing at Israelis driving to Jewish settlements. An Israeli flag flutters from the military post at the camp’s entrance, manned 24 hours a day.

An informal poll among 50 Aroub refugees showed a slim majority supported the peace talks that could lead to autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Twenty-six were for the talks, 19 opposed, five undecided.

The supporters generally believe autonomy will bring Palestinians at least some rights. Others say they have no choice - that life can only get worse without peace. Some say they back the talks because the PLO backs them.

Ahmad Tmaizi argues with his mother, saying of the peace negotiations, ″There is nothing in it. We will not have our own independent state. Israel is offering us an autonomy, not a Palestinian state, not our right to return.″

Ahmad and his two sisters have lived all their lives in the camp and never saw the family’s village northeast of the Gaza Strip called Irak Manshieh, destroyed in 1949 as Arabs were forced from areas viewed as strategic.

The outside wall of the family’s two-room shack in Aroub bears graffiti reading: ″No to a sellout of national rights.″

Principal Mahdi, 49, received an economics doctorate from Beirut’s Saint Joseph’s University with a thesis on Palestine under British Mandate rule. He said Aroub residents were coming around to supporting the talks.

″Most people here support our leader, Yasser Arafat,″ he said. ″Many people believe you will hurt yourself if you keep hitting your head against the wall, if you keep rejecting.″

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