BAQAA CAMP, Jordan, Aug 15 (Reuters) –
For Palestinian refugee Hilmi Aqel Israel's evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza has revived dreams that his people will one day return to their former homes in
what is now Israel.

"For the first time in 50 years I now feel there is hope that the
Palestinian people will one day be free," said 33-year-old Aqel, one
of around 1.8 million Palestinian refugees living in neighbouring

"It has raised hopes that the time will come when the occupation of
Palestine will end."

Amid the poverty and hopelessness of the squalid camps they inhabit,
even young Palestinians who have never set foot in the holy land
yearn one day to return. Many keep the keys to family homes their
parents and grandparents left behind after the creation of Israel in

Israel's plans to end a 38-year occupation of Gaza, which it captured
along with the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East war, sparked
jubilation among many of the 4 million Palestinian refugees scattered
in Arab countries.

Chanting "Today Gaza and tomorrow Jerusalem", scores of Palestinian
refugees took to the streets of Lebanon's largest camp, Ain
al-Hilweh, on Monday to celebrate.

Brandishing rifles in the air and performing the traditional dabke
dance, they hailed the evacuation as a step toward their eventual
return to their homes in what is now Israel.

"O God, the withdrawal gives me hope the Israelis may withdraw from
the rest of the Palestinian lands and of our return back to our
original homes," said Yasseen Ibrahim, a baker in the crowded camp on
the outskirts of Amman.

Amer Saleem, a teacher in the same camp, said: "Palestine is our land
and it's our homeland which Israel has to leave sooner or later."


For many of the inhabitants living in makeshift homes with corrugated
iron roofs, the sight of Israeli civilians leaving settlements the
World Court has judged illegal, inspired feelings of nationalist
pride and defiance.

Some said the pullout was a victory for militant groups led by Hamas,
which waged armed attacks against Israeli civilians.

"It is the Israeli blood that was shed that forced (Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel) Sharon to retreat and the more the resistance grows
the more Israelis will leave our occupied land," said Khaled Abu
Natour, a grocer in Jordan's Baqaa camp.

Others are less optimistic. They say a long and bitter conflict lies
ahead and fear Israel will give up Gaza but consolidate its hold on
the West Bank to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

"I believe the withdrawal leaves no more than a prison for the people
of Gaza because they have no borders or airport," said Sheikh Ahmad
Abu Sadad, living in the Jordan's Jerash camp.

Refugees also have their own concerns. They fear any future peace
settlement will forego any right of return for millions of
Palestinian refugees to land now inside Israel. They also fear
exclusion from a future Palestinian state.

"I am happy they are leaving, but I will dance in the street only
when Jerusalem is back to us and we are back to it," said Um Nidal, a
mother of 12 living in a camp near Damascus.

"I am willing to give all my sons to the resistance to make this
happen." (Additional reporting by Ali Hashisho in southern Lebanon
and Inal Ersan in Damascus)

Source: Suleiman al-Khalidi- Reuters- 15/08/2005


The main United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees has
allocated $3 million for some 30 additional health and social
services projects in Syria, bringing its total assistance for this
year for nearly 430,000 Palestinians living there to $31.3 million.
That total excludes funding for special projects currently under
implementation worth $19.4 million.
The money, contributed by various donors to the UN Relief and Works
Agency (UNRWA) General Fund, represents the first substantial funding
for the Agency in Syria as a result of the launch of its Medium Term
Overall, the 55-year-old agency has been providing education, health
care, social services, micro-credit and emergency relief to over 4
million Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip,
Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Source: Press Release: United Nations- 12/07/2005
He migrated from his homeland Palestine to Syria in 1948, while still in his mother’s womb. He lived the life of a refugee, poverty, and homelessness. From a tender age, he worked as a street seller of fruit and vegetables with his father. Through struggle, effort and willpower, he built his rich experience bit by bit until he came to be one of the writers who have enriched Syrian drama and contributed to its renaissance.

He is the Palestinian writer Hani Al-Sa’adi, who treated the Palestinian issue allegorically in his works: “Al-Burkan” (The Volcano), “Al-Fawaris” (The Horsemen), “Al-Mawt Al-Qadim min Al-Sharq” (Death coming from the East), and his more important work, which has yet to see the light, the series; “Safar Al-Hijara” (Journey of Stones), which relates the story of Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem and Damascus - he wrote this five years ago, and to this moment no Arab channel has had the courage to produce it.

On the experience of Hani Al-Sa’adi, and on fantasy in Syrian drama, was our following contemplation:

*What was the beginning of your experience, and what where the stages that passed until it matured and you reached what you are now?

** Hani Al-Sa’adi’s experience is long and bitter; I am from a poor family that was displaced from Palestine in 1948 to Damascus. I was still in my mother’s womb when that happened, and I was born in 1949 in a mosque called Al-Bukhari in the area of Ain El-Kerash of Damascus. My father worked as a street seller of fruit and vegetables, and from a small age, I used to sell with him. We used to go around the streets on a four-wheel cart. Then I went to schools and learnt. I was very interested in writing from a young age, and in primary and secondary, there were attempts in poetry, parables, and theatre. All were failed attempts, because they were not based on a firm foundation. When I gained my baccalaureate, I went to teacher training college, and was appointed a schoolteacher in Damascus. I still persevered in writing, but as a hobby throughout my education.

In 1975, a strong feeling stirred within me, that I could be an actor, so I made a personal effort and entered the Actors’ Syndicate, they tested me and I passed the examination and became an actor. I started to act in television and cinema, yet writing was within me, accompanying me. Little by little, I started to write for radio, and the first film I wrote for cinema was in 1978, “Lail Ar-Rijaal” (Night of the Men) starring Fareed Shawqi, and Nahid Shareef, and directed by Hasan Al-Saify. After that I settled in writing for television, and the first television work I wrote was “Hara Nasiyaha Al-Zamaan” (A Neighbourhood, Time Forgot) in 1984, after which my other works followed.

* Writing is an expression of people’s preoccupations and their problems, as a Palestinian writer, where has the Palestinian cause manifested in your writings? And to what extent can the writer overcome the limits drawn in order to get his message to the viewer?

** The writer has all the resources, but he stands at the limits drawn by the censorship, which allows this and disallows that. At that point, the writer’s licence ends. For example, the problem of marital infidelity, considered a social plague and disease, and is with us whether we accept that or not. The censorship does not agree to this issue being dealt with, except using guile and in a roundabout way. I cannot be frank with the viewer and convince him, if I do not enter directly and say this is your pain. I cannot say that the policeman takes bribes, because his pay is low - although this is a reality.

I have treated the Palestinian issue in my writings within the bounds allowed. I wrote about the Palestinian cause in the series “Al-Burkan” (The Volcano), and in “Al-Fawaris” (The Horsemen) directed by Muhammad Aziziyah, and also in “Al-Mawt Al-Qadim min Al-Sharq” (Death coming from the East), but in symbolic form, because the Arab channels do not allow you to say everything, so long as some sort of peace may be made with the Zionist enemy. Five years ago, the idea that they do not want peace has accumulated in me, and that they were manoeuvring and deceiving the peoples. This was confirmed during the government of Sharon. The Arab World including the rulers have had it clearly confirmed that the Israelis do not have a peace plan, rather they are delaying and procrastinating so as to gain what they want. I said to myself this is my chance now, as a Palestinian to write about my homeland Palestine, so long as the situation had been uncovered, and Israel does not want peace. So I wrote the series for TV “Safar Al-Hijara” (Journey of Stones), which is a work dealing with the blessed Al-Aqsa Intifadah from its principal stages and before September 11th by two months, up to September 11th and before the convening of the Arab Summit in Beirut. I examined this period dramatically, away from the slogans and the Intifadah, and picturing the children dying in Palestine. It is narrates the heroic feat of a people, depicted in the stories of Palestinian families living in East Jerusalem and in Damascus. Sadly, no Arab channel would dare buy it, even though the intentions of Israel and America were unmasked, and that they are anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian, yet no producer dared produce such a work because there are orders from America not to be involved with such works dealing with the Palestinians. Quite frankly, this is how things go, and the work is still fallen by the wayside.

Now there is an idea, where the Palestinians from inside the occupied territories will produce it, and I do not know whether Israel will allow them to.

*You are considered the first who has innovated fantasy in Syrian drama, what is the relationship of fantasy with history?

** I take from history the historical grounding and the period. I do not take up the story of the personalities present in that era, meaning I invent a story, but it lives in that period of time, in that land. I fabricate a story from imagination that the viewer believes, and feels has happened or could happen. I wrote “Ghadab Al-Sahraa” (Anger of the Desert) and “Al-Burkan”, two works that were well received by people, because they felt they had a relationship with this history.

*In the series (Al-Jawarih, Al-Bawasil, Al-Kawasir), do you not see a sort of strangeness bred into the viewer?

** There was a type of strangeness felt by the viewer, because it is an Arab tale that can be believed, but the location, and method of photography were not right. The Arabs did not live in tents next to lakes. If there are lakes then that means there must be homes built of wood or brick, and there must be agriculture. At that time there were no fireworks fired into the sky, or phosphoric colours, or spices that we now know in our present. These were matters invented by Najdat Inzuur in his direction of these works - meaning Najdat Inzuur’s director’s vision of these works. Sure, it caused a measure of strangeness in some people, but many loved these works, which gave a highly visual experience while preserving the story.

*You create a story from imagination, does that mean an escape from reality, and from our Arab and national issues, and if not then what are its reflections on reality?

** Fantasy as a definition is something that is not subject to reality, it is above reality, and the writer or director can be carried by their imagination without being chained to something logical in real life, generally. However, when you go into the very heart of the story, and its details you discover that it is close to reality, even though it is a product of imagination, and doesn’t depend on time or place.

As for reflections, these always come according to the nature of the story. Does the story allow that we reflect upon it a nationalist flavour, something political related to our current state or not. In the series “Al-Burkan”, there was a possibility, as the Arab states were scattered, as were the Arab tribes in antiquity. I tried in “Al-Burkan” to call for the unity of the Arab tribes, which practically is the unity of modern states to confront this imperialist onslaught, which is American and Zionist at the same time. There was an invitation to face it, especially in our present situation. We as Arabs have a very important weapon, oil, and a massive number of people, which we have not used till now.

* Last year, you moved away from fantasy in favour of contemporary social drama in the series “Abnaa’ Al-Qahr” (Sons of the Oppression), was it a wave and now extinguished? Have you used up the popular aim of its existence? What is the cause of this retreat?

** My retreat from fantasy, started with the series “Al-Bawasil”, when I felt that the series had lost its truthfullness, as a result of the cutting out of two hundred and fifty-eight scenes. There ceased to be a link between it and the viewer. I decided to end these types of work with Najdat Inzuur, because I discovered after the work was screened for the first time that he had cut its throat from ear to ear. I judged that people would not like it, and that they would find in it deep gaps, so I decided to stop writing all works that are related to fantasy, and turn to social drama as a result of my let down in “Al-Bawasil”, followed by another more severe blow at the end of “Al-Fursan”. So I was sure that I would not write fantasy after that.

*What about “Siraa’ Al-Ashawis” (Conflict of the Strong), the work that is being filmed now?

** I wrote “Siraa’ Al-Ashawis” in 1995, and it was sold to a company called “Al-‘Anqaa”. However, the partners disagreed and dissolved the company, selling the work to “Amwaj Al-Khaleej” that appointed the director, Adnan Ibrahim, to direct it. As result of differences and disagreements amongst them, work stopped. Six months ago, it was bought by Rasheed ‘Asaaf, so as to produce it, which he is doing now with a company called Drama International, and directed by Salem Al-Kurdi.

*Are there any other works for the coming Ramadan season?

** The first work, in which filming has been completed was “’Asr Al-Junoon” (Time of Madness), directed by Marwan Barakat, and produced by Arab, the company. This is a social drama close to the ambience of “Abnaa’ Al-Qahr”, in terms of its treatment of problems of the youth, and the present times. It contains a discussion of the life of male and female teenagers in secondary and higher secondary, in addition to a discussion of the problem of drugs from a viewpoint that is worthy of being looked at. The star of this series is Bassam Kosa, and is the only Hashish user in it. In addition to the lines of enquiry I mentioned in this work, I also dealt with the line of the Mafia coming from the West.

There is another work, “Qatl Ar-Rabee’” (Killing of the Spring), also a treatment of different social problems of different families. What I mean by spring is hope, life and ambition, and how spring is killed in our society. This work is directed and produced by Yousif Rizq.

Source: Laila Nasr


This was the response of Al-Hajj Abu Marwan – an inhabitant of Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp – when he was offered taking part in a course for local community development, sponsored by those responsible for the drinking water and sewerage project in the camp; an undertaking funded by the European Union. However, those in charge of this project assured Al-Hajj that what they were doing was in no way contrary to the refugee’s right to return to their homes.

55 years had passed since the refugees came here. The observer from a distance may well believe that people had grown accustomed to this life and had forgotten their villages from which they had been expelled, and welcomed anything presented to them that improved their life, at whatever price. However the response of this old man aged over sixty, who had suffered the ordeal of living in the refugee camp for such a long time, without the most basic of life’s necessities; drinking water and sewerage. Moreover, ready to continue living like this for decades more rather than accept something that affects his right of return to the village from which he had been expelled.

Such are the people of Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp located 27km south of Damascus, within the village of Khan Al-Sheikh that had transformed into a true summer resort. Its pure air, cause for some to abandon the city to come and live there, in spite of the rudimentary services and the presence of a “refugee camp”, and who knows… perhaps for its proximity to Palestine…! As it lies facing Jebel Al-Sheikh, and has been historically known as the place where the trade caravans stopped over for the night on their way between Damascus and the other Syrian regions, and Palestine to the South.

This camp was established in 1949 on an area of 690,000 sq. metres, and the number of registered refugees there are 15,731, according to UNRWA statistics up to 30 June 2003.

The inhabitants of the camp suffer a problem that has caused them sleepless nights for many of the past years, which is the lack of drinking water or sewerage. The General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR) in cooperation with UNRWA had a few years ago created a temporary sewage system in the form of a closed collection pit beside the camp. However this did not fully resolve the problem, as the primitive sewage network that had been made by the camp inhabitants inside the camp, is always breaking down, especially in winter, causing many inhabitants to suffer from the flood of effluents. In addition to the lack of surfaced streets within the neighbourhoods and alleys of the refugee camp, has aggravated this problem with rainwater collecting with the sewage to an unbearable scale. The greater problem, however, is the lack of drinking water, and so the inhabitants have to rely on buying water, which in many cases is polluted.

So recently UNRWA in coordination with GAPAR, and funding from the European Union started a project to supply Khan Al-Sheikh and Khan Danun refugee camps with drinking water and a sewage system. The objective, behind this project costing 8 million Euros, is to guarantee improved public health conditions and environment, and meet the basic needs for drinking water for the inhabitants of the two camps and neighbouring areas.

The European Union is considered the funding body for this project, and UNRWA the implementing party, and contracting authority. It is expected that the number of inhabitants benefiting from this project, Palestinians and Syrians, reach 350,000 by 2025. The contribution of the Syrian government to this project is 400,000 Euros on top of the European contribution. The projected completion date is 2007. The current planning stage is to continue for 12 months, while execution will continue for a further 18 months.

The project consists of several phases, comprising; design, establishing infrastructure in Khan Al-Sheikh camp, including water supply and sewage networks, paving streets and pedestrian routes within the camp. Within the project remit, enter preparation and implementation of initiatives for developing the local community. These had met with acceptance from some, while others with reservation. Some described these initiatives as precursors for settlement, and had no relation to the objective that the project had been designed to achieve.

The Return Review interviewed a number of members of the development committee that had been formed recently in Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp with the task of liaising between the inhabitants and the project’s management.

On the idea behind the committee, its plan, and relationship to the project, Ustaz Sameer Mansour, head of the committee spoke to us:

The development committee was formed based on the directives of the General Administration for Refugees, and the Palestine branch of the Ba’ath Party. It is composed of 21 members from diverse camp inhabitants.

The mission of the committee is tackling services, health, and social development, and is the link between the local community and the relevant authorities, following-up with the management of the water and sewerage project in Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp. The committee was not formed for the sewerage project only, but also has other responsibilities, the project being but one of these.

One of the responsibilities of the committee is to gain greater participation from the local community in the daily running of their camp. So the committee has established branch committees, among these; women’s, environment, health, social, and sport committees, and representatives from the various camp neighbourhoods; most are university students. All this to organise meeting the needs of the camp’s inhabitants.

We in the committee are at the early stages, striving to establish service projects. Of the work that the committee will do with the management of the EU project is planting trees in some of the camp’s streets, and building a hall for a public library in the camp and also a computer lab.

The committee is considered a people’s committee and not an official body, and so it communicates with the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees in all aspects, and in turn the General Administration corresponds with the authorities. An example of this, is when we spoke to the General Administration about pedestrian bridges across the camp main road after it is widened, as well as establishing storm drains, and clearing the bed of Al-‘Awaj river that passes through the camp, and the General Administration corresponded with the relevant state authorities.

Drinking water and sewage project?

Securing drinking water and a sewage system was an urgent need for the local community in the camp, because of the scarcity of water in the area. The inhabitants depend on tankers from which to buy water; the water from these is most likely polluted. So an agreement was reached between the Syrian government and the EU for the accomplishment of a project for sewerage and water supply for the benefit of the inhabitants of Khan Al-Sheikh and Khan Danun refugee camps. The costs of this project would be met by the EU, as well as the Syrian government, which is always striving to meet the needs of the Palestinian refugees.

Relationship of the project to settlement?

The services provided by UNRWA jointly with the EU are recognition of the international community of the responsibilities it shoulders towards the Palestinian refugees until Resolution 194, and this project does not contradict the right to return to our homeland, Palestine.

A word?

The Return Review also met with Mr. Tariq Hussein, one of the active members in the development committee. He started by talking about the reason why the project’s management was interested in the issue of social development:

The Europeans, when they provide any funding, start by developing the local community first. The local community when it is educated is more capable of safeguarding the new accomplishment provided by the Europeans. Moreover, they strive to develop the individual in the area. The project contributed by fast-tracking the establishment of the development committee. This committee was formed on the request of the project administration, and we are the link between them and the people in the camp. Management of the project is very good. There is a monthly meeting with the ministries involved in the project. On the social front, they are hugely active, in running courses and lectures. One of these was a course by Dr. Mohsen Can’aan, one of those responsible for healthy villages in Syria. This ran for two days on the principles of voluntary work, fundamentals of healthy village organisation, and a course presented by Ustaz Rafiq Ziab, deputy director of the project on the topic of project and viability studies.

Formation of the committee?

Our committee was established to represent the local community, and the administration of the project wants to deal with the community through a select group from it, so as to correspond with the people through it and vice versa. Frankly, we have received a lot of encouragement from the General Administration for Refugees, and Party officials in the area; it was they who invited us to an open session at the Party offices. This was public - open to all the camp’s inhabitants even if they were not members of the Ba’ath Party, and from there the members of the committee totalling 20, were selected from those with qualifications. The committee is periodically renewed in the choice of the active elite. We have become the link between the General Administration for Refugees and the people, and at times combat incidents of trespasses against public property; the squares and streets of the camp. We have stood against a number of phenomena through correspondence with General Administration for Refugees, which in turn contacts the relevant authorities. We are not a government agency, and so whoever contravenes, we visit him at home and advise, and if there is no positive response, we turn to the General Administration for Refugees. We are just social volunteers from the people of this country. I believe development committees have been established in all the refugee camps in Syria. We intend to stimulate voluntary work, and stimulate the people of the area to participate in the campaigns we do, especially cleaning campaigns.

Development of local community?

We cannot read the thoughts of the Europeans, whether they are providing this for the sake of settlement. However the idea of settlement is rejected by all the Palestinian people, because we have a homeland, and our natural right is to return there, and we will not accept any substitute for it, but the refugee in the end is a human being, needing clean water and sewerage. Does this mean that for the Palestinian not to be settled, he must die of hunger, and that we suffer the fate of the camps in Lebanon, and the life of misery led by the refugees there.

We hope that the nations that host Palestinian refugees provide for them as they do their own citizens, I mean in terms of establishing municipal authorities, paved roads, and town planning. These are all human necessities; the refugee should not be deprived of. Is the meaning of settlement, granting citizenship - so that he does not return to his homeland or that we keep him, hungry and thirsty without sewage disposal services, so that the sewers overflow into the houses and in the streets; this is not anti-settlement but anti-life.

The camp’s need for a municipal authority?

A village like Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp has no municipal authority, while a village like Al-Manshiya that is next door, which is little more than one of the camp’s neighbourhoods, has a municipality that provides many facilities and services. We suffer a lot from the problems of sewage disposal. Many people have the sewage overflow in their homes throughout the winter, and the children play in polluted streets as well, and diseases spread among them. We want a municipal authority to prevent the contraventions committed by the camp’s inhabitants themselves, like unlicensed building, encroaching on roads, such that they become quite narrow and winding. Why this neglect? Is it so that we don’t settle and return to our homeland… Return isn’t secured this way.

Return… is the central focus and through it matters are resolved… This has become the essence of the conflict with Israel… Khan Al-Sheikh refugee camp is one of the areas that bear witness to Zionist aggression and like many in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and other areas of the Diaspora, this constant suffering that will not be resolved regardless of the money spent, only with a full, unconditional return.

There has been over the years numerous cycles of house demolitions in Jaramana Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. They have caused untold problems and successive waves of homeless refugees, all for the construction of the southern ring road, the long highway that shortened the distance and connected Damascus International Airport to the heart of the city without having to pass through its roads and neighbourhoods. It was the bad luck of the inhabitants of Jaramana refugee camp – stretching over an area of 30 thousand square metres – that their camp fell within the area allocated to the road. This forced the authorities to embark on a programme of demolition of many houses lying near the road in stages over a number of years, starting in 1982 up to this moment.

The Syrian government has compensated some Palestinian refugees, and allocated some residential flats to them in place of their homes, especially those affected by demolitions in the years 1994-95. The rest are still waiting for a solution to their problem, as they have not been offered financial compensation for loss of their homes and possessions. Noteworthy is that Jaramana Camp is situated on the main road to Damascus Airport, the lands on which it is established are owned by the Syrian state in form of the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR). The lands were rented by UNRWA from the GAPAR, when it started to build the camp. In 1995, work started on the southern ring road, and the road connecting to it, splitting the camp in half.

During some stages of the demolitions in the project caused by the widening of the southern ring road, many houses belonging to refugee families were torn down in successive years, including what was demolished in August 2002. Added to this were the houses of 130 families lying on the side of the road in June 2003. The GAPAR paid the sum of 2,000 Syrian Lira (US$40 only) as a handout to help those families who lost their homes in June 2003, to tide them over, until substitute housing could be secured for them. Five months after the demolitions, a decision was made to re-house 60 of the original 130 families who had lost their homes then.

During July 2004, another cycle of demolitions started, through which a fresh number of Palestinian refugees lost their homes. Added to the previous waves of refugees who lost their homes in past demolitions. The ring road project has become a nightmare for Jaramana Camp, and giving rise to successive tragedies for its Palestinian and Syrian inhabitants, renewed in every cycle of demolitions.

Palestinian refugees in Jaramana camp speak about the demolitions

Her small family was afflicted by many types of illnesses of such extent that it was above her ability to cope…Maysaa Al-Deeb has two children both suffer from Sickle Cell Anaemia, in addition to weak sight. As for her, she suffers from chronic inflammation of her veins, and her husband has a hole in the lung. In view of the massive tragedies endured by this family, they are considered to be in grave difficulty and are provided with symbolic aid by UNRWA once every three months. In spite of all the suffering of this family, this was not enough to avert the decision to demolish their home, and they were one of those families whose homes were torn down… During our tour of the camp, we met her and she talked to us of the bitterness of that time when her house was demolished, remembering all the painful detail, the pain was clear in the tone of her voice, and the expressions on her tired face, she said:

“On the same day that the secondary school students finished their examinations, an engineer knocked on our door, and told us that we had to vacate the house in two days only, we did not believe what he said, and we went out of the house looking for him to understand the matter better… We looked for him, but he was not to be found, he had left hurriedly. We did not believe the matter, only when the bulldozers were on top of us and all around us. We thought of not leaving the house, hoping that this would halt them, but one of them advised my husband to leave the house immediately… They were difficult moments indeed, we did not know what to do, we saw people running to vacate their homes, quickly trying to save some of their furniture, without thought, we found ourselves doing the same, bringing out what we could of our furniture, placing it on the pavement opposite the road”.

She moved to Husseiniyah population centre for Palestinian refugees, due to the low rents and cost of living, in her despairing attempts to find a solution to her problem and save her family, Maysaa knocked on the door of many institutions, but to no avail.

Maysaa asks the relevant authorities to provide a replacement home for her family, even unfurnished… even if only four walls and no roof, just a place to shelter her children and her sick husband, in place of her old home, built on land owned by the refugees authority, that was demolished in June 2003, according to her.

I hold the papers of ownership of the house and land for 30 years… and have received nothing.

The bitterness of leaving her home before it was pulled down, were the most difficult moments in her life. She used to live in a house made up of three rooms and attachments, and she had a well in Jaramana camp for the past 30 years, and lived modestly, until they received the judicial order to abandon their home, because it was to be demolished, those were the bitterest moments: “I cried at my luck and life, for my husband has been dead for 13 years… and one can only be saddened at the hardship and hard work and that of their husband. The toil of long years was gone in a moment, with the demolition, they told us that if we vacated the house they would give us replacement homes. A whole year has passed, and we have received nothing..”, says Mrs Fatima Um Qasem.

Living with Um Qasem are six of her children, the males try hard to find permanent jobs to support their mother and sisters. However permanent jobs in the private sector, especially for manual workers are a farfetched dream, as these tend to be seasonal. In spite of their difficult circumstances, Um Qasem has refused the idea of allowing her daughters to work, even though job opportunities for females are more than for males.

UNRWA has a tarnished image regarding the issue of the people of Jaramana. Of these is the story of Um Qasem with the employees of the agency. Um Qasem relates: “I was visited by a lady working for UNRWA, who told me they were going to provide a small amount of food aid (subsistence package), and asked for a massive quantity of paperwork… by Allah they dried our throats”, and after all that they gave us the aid one time only, and when the time for the second one came –three months after we received the first one - they refused to give us and said we had to enquire at their office in Jaramana. When we went there and after a long wait our turn came, they said to us “the people of Jaramana whose houses had been demolished do not have aid”, and took away the aid card and tore it in front of my eyes, so I returned to Husseiniyah and am still waiting for the mercy of Allah…”

As for ownership of the land and her demolished home, Um Qasem stressed that she still had the deeds that proved her ownership of the land and house, in addition to a document from the notary, and that after the demolition she had gone to the judge and proved her ownership of the land and her house, so they said to her that she had the right to a substitute house… she still hopes for that replacement home, even though one year had past; her living conditions being as they are, and no signs to show that she can have a substitute home… Every day she sends one of her sons to the city council to enquire of the matter, to no avail… to this moment.

There was no urgent need for the demolitions… we are not against development and civilisation

They were difficult moments indeed those experienced by Yaqoub Abu Luay, when the bulldozers tore down his dwelling. Time moved rapidly, he lost consciousness of what he was doing, with which piece of furniture to start, what to save and what to leave, where he would take these items, who would help him bring them out… In the extreme crowding of the pavements with his and his neighbour’s possessions, and everyone’s preoccupation with saving their furniture and things. It was good luck that the police started to help people salvage their furniture, among them Yaqoub. This brought immense financial damage to Yaqoub’s family, as it was only three years since they had bought the house that was demolished.

With much sadness and bitterness, Yaqoub spoke of the period after the demolition of his home in August 2002: “My wife and I lived in her parent’s house, which was severely overcrowded. It was only two rooms in which ten people lived. In spite of their difficult circumstances, they put us up for a long time, for seven months. This allowed us time to settle down, and find a dilapidated house, which we rented. The demolition of large numbers of houses occupied by Palestinians and Syrians caused a massive housing problem, and it became very difficult to find a house or even a single room to rent. The house we rented after that consisted of one room with no electricity or water, so I managed to get water and electricity connected to it. I bought doors for the kitchen and bathroom… that is I prepared it fully such that it became fit for living in, even though it was rented not my own”.

As for the reasons of that tragedy and its results, Yaqoub explains that it isn’t the fault of the citizen who receives notice that he is to vacate from twenty years ago, to suddenly have his house demolished now, that is not logical. He adds: “We do not oppose development and civilisation, but we are human beings, …two years ago our house was demolished, and I received nothing in compensation to this moment, no one and no authority has provided help to us, at the very least they could have given us a house to replace ours, and allow us to pay its price in instalments over a number of years. When we went to enquire at the relevant authority, they quickly passed us on, each to the other and so on… Our rights lost in between them… we have presented applications for documents proving our ownership of our homes, because we do not have the deeds, so we sat with the judge and brought witnesses, and proved our ownership of our houses. In my case, they told me I was not eligible for a replacement house, as I had no proof of ownership of the land, and most of the land is owned by the Administration for Refugees, and there are many like me…

The problem is that they demolish the houses and do not use the land. I have paid in rent for a house many times more than what they can compensate us for, and we still wait. In contrast they have not started work on the project, and two years have passed since the demolitions, meaning that they were not forced to demolish, and there was no urgency to do so”.

Fatima Mahmood Shehada (Um Muhammad) has a number of children we did not know, but presently two sons and daughters live with her. Her home in Jaramana refugee camp consisted of two floors, in each was a number of rooms and conveniences, in which she had lived since 1956. Then it had been only one room, but her husband had extended it little by little… until it was in that state when it was torn down. Her husband passed away, seven years ago, and her children had taken to work to support her.

Leaving our homes was sad

“It was a sad event, mother… By Allah it was a sad situation when we left our home in which we had lived for fifty years. We abandoned our homes to live homeless, as though we had left behind a deceased person, we cried and lamented our luck, but there was nothing we could do… It was no easy thing, to abandon the toil and hardship of a lifetime, and leave it all behind…!!” With these sad words, and tears she was unable to hold back, Mrs Nadia Muhammad Um Emad born in 1947 in Al-Ja’una, Palestine, related the conditions in which they left their homes and its demolition at the hands of the authorities.

Um Emad did not want to leave her home, because of her inability to buy another home. Her sons however, convinced her of the necessity of leaving her home. She moved to her son’s house temporarily until she could find a solution to her problem and that of the rest of them still living with her. As for financial compensation, Um Emad remembers that they gave her a small aid sum, once only, of 2000 Lira (US$40), with which she paid off some debts before she left the camp, and bought for her children the night before the demolition, chargrilled chicken, and in the morning pastry with Za’atar. Um Emad and her daughter-in-law laugh as she says: “My daughter-in-law advised me to buy food and that we eat our fill, so we fed the children and were happy that night, and next morning we were crying and lamenting our luck”.

As for the ownership of her demolished house, Um Emad explained that the land was from the UNRWA, whereas they had bought their house in the fifties from one of the owners. It consisted of a single room… They then improved it gradually over the long years, until her husband died ten years ago, and she remained with her children in one house until it was demolished”.

As for her son, Emad Hussein Abul’Abd, he told us of his continual enquires to the relevant authorities that had not given fruit except to verbal promises, saying: Many times we went to Damascus City Council and GAPAR and did not gain anything, we took nothing from them, neither good nor bad. They would always ask that we return again in a few days, and when we come back they would say the same thing again. No one has benefited from them to this moment. As for us, we could do not set anything in motion, as we do not hold any ownership documents showing our entitlement to the land and house… At the moment I have rented a house for my wife and five children, and our reliance is on Allah. Researchers from UNRWA have come to survey our situation, and we did not benefit from them at all. As for GAPAR, it sent no one to see these tragic conditions of ours…”.


We took out our belongings quickly

Mrs Fatima Khaleel Um Haytham – Al-Qasas, Safad Province – remembers that they were dismantling the doors and windows of the house, moments before the bulldozers started to tear down what had been their home for 27 years. After the demolition, they continued to go and see the authorities on a daily basis, and each time they are not given a satisfactory answer. To that moment, they had not been provided with a substitute house, financial compensation, or anything else.

Several popular political movements, youth organizations and inhabitants of the camp tried in 2003 to find an emergency solution to stop the demolitions. They formed one team to work together and talk to the officials in the relevant authorities, as well as preparing lists of names and signatures of those families given notices. They wrote a number of communiqués and petitions in the name of the inhabitants of Jaramana camp addressed to GAPAR, the director of UNRWA in Syria, and Damascus council, hoping to halt the demolitions, or save the families, or at least have them compensated, but to no effect. All these efforts only gave fruit to a three-month reprieve, to give students the opportunity to finish the school year. Fuad Deeb Abu Wattan, one of the youths in the camp active in the popular campaign said: “We compiled lists of people, formed a committee, we met with all the Palestinian officials of all political affiliations and views, to stop the matter before demolition started, but the Council authorities took advantage of the elections for deputies to the People’s Assembly, to carry out what they could not do in normal circumstances. So we were not able to find anyone to respond to us, because of the elections. The first day of elections was the day people were to vacate their homes according to the first warning notice. We tried to do anything quickly, immediately we went to see all the Palestinian officials and communicated with them, in their turn they got in touch with the Syrian officials, who postponed the demolition to the end of the school year. In that time, we would leave daily to look for houses to rent, and the demolitions went ahead.

Sadly, there seems to be a missing link between the Palestinians, Syrians and the leadership. People think that the notice letter is but a document for a substitute house. There is a section of those whose houses were demolished in 1985, who have received substitute housing in 2004. They considered the value of the demolished house to be the first instalment for the substitute house, and leave the family to pay for the rest of the instalments itself. There are other families who have received nothing”.

Homelessness and loss after the demolition

After the penultimate demolitions in 2003, the Palestinian refugees tried to demand compensation for their lost homes. They knocked on the doors of UNRWA, GAPAR, and Damascus council… Each authority would throw them over to the other, between the tragedy of the disaster and the need to find a safe haven, … they spent several months in despairing attempts to find a solution to no avail - their mass popular campaign did not find any. What is the role of the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees as the official authority charged with the welfare of these Palestinian refugees? What is the political role that has come about recently and what are its results? And, is the case of the Palestinian refugees, whose homes were demolished, and those under threat, humanitarian, political, legal or what?

Between Jaramana camp, Al-Husseiniyah Palestinian refugee population centre, and GAPAR, Damascus City and Rural Council, and the UNRWA, was a long episode and hard journey seeking the truth, details of the issue and ways to solve it… This took us to some information that pointed out some important matters:

An executive decision was taken to save 60 Palestinian families, while the other families still wait for the solution!

Six months after the demolition of the houses of the new batch of refugees in the third phase of the project, the Syrian Minister of Local Authority and Environment, Engineer Hilal Al-Atrash sent a memorandum dated 15/1/2004 instructing that housing be provided for 60 Palestinian refugee families, whose houses were demolished in June 2003, because of the southern ring project, and the lands on which their homes were standing is considered possession of GAPAR or rented for the same purpose.

In spite of the fact that this executive decision did not include the rest of the refugees whose houses were demolished in the same period, or even before, or after, it was still considered a positive step, and new hope for the Palestinian refugees of a solution to the massive tragedy that befell them. However this decision remains unimplemented as yet. Damascus council has neither the resources nor sufficient housing to provide for this number of refugees, nor can it offer any solutions to the other refugees. A large part of Jaramana camp is considered in contravention of rules and laws regulating building, in what is called in the council an area of contraventions. The relevant persons in the council view the problem of Palestinian refugees as a humanitarian and political problem, and not a legal one as regards this issue. Because according to the law, they have no right to demand substitute housing, especially as the majority had settled in land that was not theirs, nor can they prove ownership of it… the case of the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in Syria, who built their houses on top of the debris of their tattered tents, which they had pitched on land owned by the Syrian state and rented by UNRWA.


Role of the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees

In our attempt to answer some of the queries posed by the Palestinian refugees, and clarify some of the ambiguous aspects in this complex case, which had dragged on for years without a comprehensive solution to all the affected we met with Mr. Ali Mustafa director general of GAPAR. He explained to us some matters, saying: “This project was decided several years ago, relating to matters of improving the city, especially the road from Damascus International Airport. The area that falls within the project was subject to building demolition, whether part of Jaramana camp or many areas where Syrian citizens were living. In the first phase, housing was secured for our brothers who lived in the camp, of course with special treatment from the relevant authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic, which the Syrian citizens did not receive. In many cases, the money owed by Palestinian refugees was not demanded, who ended up in Husseiniyah because of their reduced and difficult circumstances, and because they were Palestinian refugees, Syria has treated them specially for decades.

Mr. Mustafa clarified that the land of Jaramana camp is not all illegally occupied, but part belongs to GAPAR directly. It was the inhabitants of this part, whose homes were demolished, who could receive alternative housing. Whereas there were around 60 to 70 refugees who had built on land that did not belong to them, nor to GAPAR, nor anyone else, i.e. it was land with no owner. In consideration to their circumstances, GAPAR intervened and sent a list of them, which was ratified, wherein GAPAR as soon as some houses were demolished, in coordination with UNRWA, immediately provided these families with subsistence payment, and considered them worst cases. The GAPAR in cooperation with other authorities provided immediate aid to those families that had their homes demolished due to the project.

Mr. Musatafa added: “there is no stage in which no compensation was made, and last year we treated the issue of ownerless land, and managed to compensate 60 families, as for the rest of the families, they return to rented land or land belonging to the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees for Refugees and there is no problem about them. We note that the services and treatment afforded to our refugee brothers is special and better than that given to our brothers, the Syrian citizens. As always, the refugee is given preferential treatment better than that for the Syrian citizen.

In his comment concerning the current stage, in which a new number of Palestinian refugee homes in Jaramana camp have been demolished during July 2004, Mr. Ali says: “this project is implemented over stages, and in the same way that we resolved the issue of 60 families, we shall resolve the matter of the rest of the Palestinian families who took over ownerless land”.

The case of Jaramana camp, and the great Nakba that has befallen a large section of its Palestinian refugee inhabitants, is urgent, complex and important, awaiting a miracle solution to save hundreds of Palestinian families, who live in the camp below the poverty line.

Will the cries for help from the residents of Jaramana camp find attentive ears among the Syrian authorities who have always been generous in their support for the exiled Palestinian people… who have tasted only bitterness, and sadness throughout the years of Zionist occupation of their sacred Arab and Islamic land..!!

Source: Shireen Al-Sharafy - Damascus
Ever since the ‘Annual Damascus International Exhibition’ began, the Palestine wing has always been one of the richest components of the exhibition visited by vast numbers of visitors. This has not been the case this year.

The exhibition was this year moved from the capital to its suburbs. This reflected negatively on the turnout, in spite of the free transport offered by the Syrian government. In a corner of the exhibition sits the Palestinian wing. Scores of Palestinians from the occupied territories meet their friends and relatives in the Diaspora who make a point of visiting the exhibition for this purpose.

As you walk into the Palestine wing you are greeted by the exquisitely embroidered traditional Palestinian garments, wooden engraved furniture and ceramics, while the pungent fragrance of rosemary, lemon zest and orange juice and the sound of the folkloric songs take you back to the valleys of Palestine.

The tour ends with a picture exhibition depicting the Palestinian people’s heroic struggle as well as the tragedy of its daily existence. Unsuitable location and unbearable conditions Mr Yahya al-Atrash owner of the Klar leather shoe factory, Galilee, says: “The location of the Palestine wing for this year is quite bad, cast at the very end of the exhibition. Its gates overlook the back garden… Many have been unable to find us, thrust as we were in the very end of a huge place few had ever been to before. Many participants have declared that they would never take part in the exhibition again if this terrible state of affairs continues in future years.

This has also reflected on the numbers of visitors to the wing, which have declined sharply in comparison to past years. We have had as a result to sell at a fraction of the cost of our goods, in order to avoid transporting them back to Palestine, which involves much hardship. The facilities placed at our disposal were the poorest… we were the only wing not to be supplied with air conditioning, or even electronic fans… It was boiling hot… quite unbearable…” We had to endure enormous difficulties in the transportation of our products from Palestine to Damascus.

The road linking Galilee to the Jordanian borders was dotted with Israeli military checkpoints, where we had to wait for hours on end… The journey takes you a mere two hours under normal circumstances…” Mr Khalid al-Mirdawi, owner of the al-Mirdawi Juice company, adds: “We have had to walk for 80 kilometres in the dead of night until we reached the bridge to Jordan…” Another participant, Mr Faiz a. Umar – General director of the Ceramic Company (Galilee) said: “ It took us a whole month to transport our products from Galilee to Jordan…

The journey was terribly strenuous… we moved from one city to the next and from one checkpoint to the one after on donkey carts… Much of the ceramic was broken to pieces…”

Source: Shirin Sharrafi: Damascus