Squalor, Hopelessness Breed Rebellion Against Occupation With PM-Israel-Violence Bjt
BUREIJ, Occupied Gaza Strip (AP) _ The squalid Palestinian refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are breeding grounds for the anger and frustration that boiled over into the worst anti-Israeli riots in 20 years of occupation.
Teen-agers from the camps have led the uprising, defying the powerful Israeli army with stones, home-made firebombs and burning tires.
Israeli soldiers have cracked down hard since the rioting began Dec. 8, fatally shooting 21 protesters, wounding at least 179 and arresting hundreds who now now face months in jail and stiff fines.
Still, the young seem undeterred.
″We are just at the beginning,″ said a 23-year-old activist from Bureij, a camp of mudbrick huts near the Mediterranean shore south of Gaza City.
″The land that was taken by force must be returned by force,″ said the activist, a slight man wearing a red windbreaker, gray jeans and sneakers - the ″uniform″ of the camp youths.
He would not discuss his anti-Israeli activities, and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, saying he was arrested twice in Israeli raids.
″There is a new mentality,″ a senior U.N. official said on condition of anonymity. ″The young kids are prepared to sacrifice everything, and it’s not just the bravado of kids baring their chests, daring soldiers to shoot them.″
At the root of the anger is the hopelessness that prevails in the camps, where a third generation of Palestinians is being reared in squalor.
The chances of leaving are slim as long as Middle East peace efforts are stalled, and practically the only available jobs for camp residents are menial and mostly in Israel.
Bureij is typical of the 28 camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which were set up and are administered by the United Nations for Palestinians who during the 1948 Middle East war fled or were expelled from what is now Israel.
During a recent visit, barefoot children played in dirt alleys piled with garbage and families of as many as 12 people were crowded into single-room shelters.
At the camp’s clinic, women in traditional Arab dresses and white headscarves, many carrying crying infants, formed long lines to see a doctor who serves 16,000 residents.
Parasitic diseases, especially intestinal worms, are rampant because open sewage contaminates the water supply. Infant mortality is 45 per 1,000 births, or 2 1/2 times the Israeli rate.
″Dogs live better than we do,″ said 60-year-old Abdul Kareem Ammar, who came to Bureij in 1950 after fleeing a village near the Israeli port city of Ashdod where he grew melons and wheat.
Ammar, a wiry man with a salt-and-pepper moustache and a brown wool scarf draped around his head, said members of his generation didn’t fight the occupation because most were uneducated peasants.
But he said he supports the young rebels. He said one of his sons was shot in the abdomen during an anti-Israeli demonstration, while two others were arrested in sweeps last week.
″Death is better than life in such a miserable situation. I’m ready to sacrifice five of my six sons if I can go back to my country,″ said Ammar, who like many older camp residents works in Israel as a day laborer.
He spoke in the family’s unheated shelter, furnished with a mustard-colored velvet couch, glass table and wall unit. Mattresses were stacked several feet high along the wall, to be spread on the cold cement floor at night.
Nevertheless, many refugees say that if they leave abandon the camps for a permanent home, the world will forget their national aspirations. The Palestine Liberation Organization encourages residents not to move out.
″The camp is a symbol. It’s the only thing they have,″ said William Lee, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the occupied territories.
Of those, about 770,000 live in camps. Gaza has a refugee population of 450,000, including 55 percent in camps. The West Bank has 370,000 refugees, and 95,000, or 25 percent, live in camps.
In the past few years, Israel has tried to thin out the Gaza camps. Christine Dabagh, another U.N. spokeswoman, said refugees were offered land leases to build homes outside the camps, but that only 40,000 have accepted.
Those who moved out had to destroy their shelters, and their old plot became off-limits for new construction, she said.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, a political hardliner, last week proposed dismantling the Gaza camps altogether.
″Palestinian national aspirations ... in western Israel (the Gaza Strip) cannot be fulfilled,″ said Sharon.