How To See Palestine: An ABC of Occupation

K is for Key

At the entrance to Aida Camp in Bethlehem stands this gateway, topped with an outsize key, on which is written 'Not For Sale.' The people living in Aida are from twenty-seven villages between Hebron and Jerusalem and have been in exile since 1948. The camp was built to house 1200 people. There are now some five thousand living inside in what must be called the 'formal' camp and another five thousand outside the designated camp space. The distinction matters because within the camp, the United Nations takes care of some social services.

Habshe Yossef, an activist at the Aida Center, told me that he was 'proud to be a refugee,' meaning that he was not willing to accept his displacement as permanent. The symbol of the determination to return is the key. Many Palestinian families have kept the keys of buildings that they used to live in and own, even if those buildings no longer exist. The key is a commitment to return. I was uncomfortably aware that, as a person with Jewish parents, I have a 'right of return' to Israel--not that I would exercise it--while people like Habshe in Aida have never seen the Mediterranean Sea, an hour's drive away.

The implications of this commitment are not insignificant. It means that the 'two-state solution' would not satisfy these refugees. It would continue to keep them away from their homes, where they feel they belong. No normal social life is possible in Aida, for all its warmth and hospitality. 
The Wall divides even the refugee camp, as you can see here: it runs right through it. Camp residents can no longer tend crops that they used to grow on land that is now the other side of the wall. Although Jerusalem is just on the other side, students are opting not to attend the free public university there, and to pay fees at the Catholic university in Bethlehem instead to avoid the daily violence of the checkpoints.

So a 'two-state solution' would mean for Aida refugees, not only not returning to their places of origin, but continuing to live like this, divided from even the resources of displaced life. It's not surprising to me that they don't see that as even being a choice. I have long supported a single, democratic, secular state (yes, even if, like whites in South Africa, Jewish residents have to learn to become minority) but it took my visit to Aida to see this as a human need, not a political abstraction.


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