Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Refugees, tear gas, and culture

Here's a brief update of the last few days. More later.

Yesterday we took a tour of the Balata Refugee Camp and Yafa Cultural Center. Balata was formed by the United Nations for refugees from Yafa and the surrounding areas of Palestine in 1951. It was intended to be temporary, and was located on one square kilometer of land in the Balata neighborhood of Nablus.

Today, the camp is still there, and over 25,000 people live in its one square kilometer.

This morning we took a bus down to Ramallah for a meeting at the headquarters of the Stop the Wall campaign. After that, we went to the village of Nilin. Nilin is one of many villages of farmers who have found themselves separated from their land due to the wall being built by Israel to separate the West Bank. As we walked about a kilometer away from the wall, we were constantly stepping around empty military-grade tear gas canisters. The cacti lining the dirt road were riddled with bullet holes. In some places rubber bullets remained embedded in the plants. Rubber bullets and regular shell casings weren't hard to find on the ground.

Reaching within half a kilometer of the wall, our local guide stopped us.

"What will happen if we go closer?" asked a member of our group.

"I don't know," he replied. "Maybe they will open the gate and shoot us."

We kept our distance.

We also ran into a peacock as we walked back into the village, before we headed to the Palestinian Popular Culture Center. Go figure.

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