We were pleased that two of our Kennington neighbours recently made a trip to Bethlehem. Jon Davies and Deborah Arnott have supported all of our fundraisers for various projects in Bethlehem, so it was particularly rewarding for us to know that some Kennington residents would see the reality on the ground in Bethlehem. They wrote this report:
A TRIP TO AIDA REFUGEE CAMP.
Shortly after Christmas we visited the Aida Refugee Camp as part of a broader visit to the Middle East.
As western tourists getting there was simple, we took a taxi from Jerusalem, with none of the difficulties going through the Israeli checkpoints faced by the local Palestinians.
Saed Zboum, a young man who was born and brought up in the camp met us on a very rainy day and showed us around. We thought we knew about Aida having met the women’s football team and attended Kennington Bethlehem link events, but it was still a shock to see the conditions in the camp. This was far from the Bethlehem of the Christmas carols, lying still in a deep and dreamless sleep with silent stars going by.
The tents from when the camp was first set up in 1950 were long gone of course and replaced with a network of narrow streets crowded with dozens of very small homes, one on top of another, cheek by jowl. Saed explained that many of them lacked basic facilities and we could see for ourselves quite how difficult people’s daily lives were. Despite this the camp was full of children making the usual noises you would expect, full of energy and fun despite, or perhaps because of, the circumstances they find themselves in.
Dominating all of the West Bank and Aida camp in particular is the big concrete wall that divides communities and makes travelling for anyone without Israeli or foreign ID a real challenge adding hours to their journeys which often end in failure. To give you some idea there is an excellent feature film 20 Meters on Netflix.
We were worried about being out of place but Saed told us how pleased people in the camp are to see visitors, not just because we bear witness, but also because tear-gassing by the Israeli forces, almost a daily event in the camp, is much less likely when westerners like us are around!
Saed also showed us the memorial to Abed, 13, a teenage boy shot dead in 2015 by an Israeli sniper on one of the many watchtowers overlooking the camp. Sadly his death is not unique but it is memorialised because despite happening in broad daylight in full view of the UN office, and Israeli officials admitted it was a mistake, still no-one was found responsible for his death. It was hard to take all this in, but the day after another teenage boy was killed in a sister refugee camp in Bethlehem, like Abed with a bullet to the chest. Adam, 15,was the third Palestinian to be shot dead in the West Bank by Israeli forces in 2023, and this was only the January 3rd.
In December, the United Nations said 2022 was the deadliest year in the West Bank since its records began in 2005. Under Netanyahu’s right wing coalition, with a national security minister Ben Gvir who has beenconvicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terrorist organisation, 2023 is shaping up to be even worse.
Our visit was an experience we will never forget with the contrast between Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity and the lives of the Palestinians in the camps.
And one PS – we were a bit cynical about British artists Banksy’s artworks on the wall but Said was full of praise for the attention this had brought to the plight of the people of Aida camp and in the West Bank.
Deborah Arnott and Jon Davies