Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem

Aida Refugee camp is one of three refugee camps in Bethlehem and one of 68 Palestinian refugee camps that exist in the whole region, including in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the Westbank. In the Westbank there are 19 refugee camps.

The most teargassed place in the world

This camp is especially know for the most teargassed place in the world. It is close to an Israeli military base and there are regular raids from that base into the camp. It is not uncommon for Israeli soldiers to arrest Palestinian children. On several occasions children and teenagers were shot by snipers. At the entrance of the camp is a big poster with a photo of 13 year old Abdelrahman who was standing right at that point on 5 October 2014 with some friends when he was shot right in the heart by an Israel sniper and died.

The key of return in Aida camp

Right next to the poster we see the entrance gate to the camp with a huge key on its top, symbolizing the key of return, the right of return that Palestinians has according to international law to the UN resolution 194. Many of the Palestinian families who fled from their homes in 1948 had locked their doors and taken their keys with them, hoping and maybe expecting that they will return after the attacks were over. Many families still have that key in family possession.

The Key of Return

Life in Aida refugee camp

The name of the camp, Aida, is the name of a woman from Bethlehem who used to prepare warm drinks and support the refugees when they fled to Bethlehem in 1948.

The streets are very narrow. The houses are literally built with no spaces between them. There are only a few streets where cars can access. Everywhere you see electricity cables. On the roofs of all the houses are water tanks. With electric pumps water is pumped into the water tanks on the few days a month that water is running through the pipes. Especially in summer time the camps do not get regular water supply. This is caused by the fact that Israel controls all the aquifers under the Westbank. Only Israeli pumping stations are allowed to pump water. They then sell it back to the Palestinians with high prices and low quantities. The Palestinian water company divides the water between different parts of the city and some areas get more water than others. The refugee camps are the first to be cut off. On days that water is coming you see all the people doing laundry, cleaning their houses with water and you hear the electric pumps pumping the water into the tanks so that they have some water stored for the rest of the month.

One room per six family members

One room for six people

In 1950 the Palestinian refugees were supplied with tents. In 1956 these tents were replaced with small rooms. One room for each six people. They did not have private bathrooms and kitchens. There is only one of these rooms left in the camp. All the other rooms have been replaced with bigger houses to accommodate the growing numbers of Palestinians living in the camp. As they can’t grow on ground level, all the houses are high rising. They can only grow upwards. And when I think about the fact that about every one hundred years there has been a big earthquake in Palestine and the last one was in 1927, this is definitely a risk for the inhabitants of Aida camp.

Rooftop gardens and goats in the basement

The families that ended up living in the refugee camp were not city people, they were farmers, they were used to live with animals and grow crops. That’s why we see a lot of rooftop gardens and people planting all kinds of plants, herbs and even trees wherever they can around the houses. Some families have goats under their houses.

UN school in Aida camp

The new UN school building was built with financial help of Saudi Arabia. The previous UN school building had bullet holes and the UN had to decide to replace the windows with walls, because of the regular shooting at the building from a nearby watchtower. I have always found that very disturbing that the UN decided to make classrooms without windows rather than being able to stop the Israeli soldiers from shooting at the school.

The burnt watchtower in Aida camp

The watchtower across the school was set on fire in 2014. Youth from the camp piled up a large amount of car tires and set them on fire. The heat made cracks in the tower and the wall. The tower has never been replaced and is still completely black until today. It has not been in regular use since then although it is sometimes used during night raids. There are security cameras from different points of the separation wall pointed at the camp from all sides.

From gas canister to jewelry

Near the entrance of the camp and across from Aida Youth Center is a small shop. The owner has different accessories and jewelry made of the tear gas canisters that were shot into the camp. He is turning something so ugly into something beautiful.