Deheishe, WEST BANK — David Grossman’s book “The Yellow Wind,” published on the eve of the First Intifada, opens with a description of the Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem: “On a day of turbid rain, at the end of March, I turn off the main road leading from my house in Jerusalem to Hebron, and enter the Deheishe refugee camp. Twelve thousand people live here in one of the highest population densities in the world; the houses are piled together, and the house of every extended family branches out in ugly cement growths, rooms and niches, rusty iron beams spread throughout as sinews, jutting like disconnected fingers.” Grossman goes on to describe the water problems facing the camp.
Twenty seven years later, and it doesn’t seem like much has changed at Deheishe. Yes, the camp no longer sits on the main road from Jerusalem to Hebron (there’s a bypass road for that). The number of residents has gone up to around 14,000. But the houses still look like a stack of cement growths. Water continues to be a problem.
Unemployment is high, and 60% of the residents are under the age of 18. They wander the small alleyways, spending their time in small conversations or big clashes, like one that erupted here on Wednesday afternoon.
And yet, amid all this despair, there are other voices, young and original. Aysar, a camp resident, is trying to start an art project in the camp’s open spaces. A sort of renovation and preservation effort that will include a presentation about the history of the camp and will improve the quality of locals’ lives. “I have a twin brother, Ayman, meaning right, and I am Aysar, like left. Israel let Ayman enter its territory, but I, the ‘left hand,’ was left here,” he said smiling.
I asked him about the Palestinian unity agreement, and there was no excitement in his voice. He’s even more skeptical about talks with Israel. “I don’t think it’s serious. The PA is stuck in the past. The solution is not negotiations over a two-state solution. With all the settlements built here, it’s no longer possible. One state for two peoples is more realistic. It has already happened elsewhere. Look at Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
On one of the camp’s walls, there is a graffiti drawing of a young girl patting down a soldier, whose hands are pressed up against the wall. Above, the Hebrew words “Fork Junction” are written, a memento of the many IDF operations here, and below it in Arabic, “Think outside the box.”
I asked him about the refugees’ desire to return to their families’ previous homes in Israel, and if they still see them as such. “During Ramadan, there were tens of thousands of Palestinians in Israel,” he said. “From here as well. Do you think that during their visit to Israel they went to see where their homes once were? No, they went to have fun in the sea, to relax, to have a vacation.”
Aysar is not an exception in the camp. Many other young residents see things in the same way. They are not seeking an intifada or conflict with Israel, but are waiting for the reality on the ground to determine what type of state they will live in, together with the Jews, but as full citizens. And as time passes and a peace agreement is nowhere on the horizon, their idea becomes more and more realistic.