1 December 2012


written by Hayley Kemp, humanitarian worker

The Tulkarem refugee camp, on the edge of the West Bank town of Tulkarem dates
from 1949 in the wake of Nakba (the Catastrophe) when thousands of Palestinians
were forced to flee from their homes in what is now territory occupied by Israel.

Initial numbers of refugees in the camp are unclear, but by the 1967 war the UN
estimated that the camp was home to some 5,020 refugees. By 1989, the population
had grown to 10,500 and by 2006 there were 17,800 people living in the camp.

Many of the kids are Afro-Palestinians, refugees from villages inhabited by the
descendents of slaves brought by Bedouins from the Sudan many years ago or
descendents of a regiment from the Sudan who fought with the Ottoman Empire.
Many of the people we speak to have grandparents that came here from Haifa during
the Nakba. There are 18,000 people living in 1 square kilometre of land.

I visited the camp to hear some stories from some of the people I had come to know
living there. One of the women I spoke to was Menel Renim, aged 32. Menel lives
at the camp with her husband, 3 boys and 1 girl. One of her boys is aged 4 years
and his story is remarkable because he was born in prison and 'released' from prison
when he was aged two and a half years. His name is Noor, meaning light, because
his mother said that he provided light and hope for the women in the prison. Menel
was detained in prison and released in April 2007. The Israeli government claimed
she helped fighters and wanted to help suicide bombers enter Israel. She does not
know why they thought this, she had not been doing anything wrong and had never
had problems with the military before.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, over
650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel. This forms approximately 20% of
the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). As the
majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinians detained forms
approximately 40% of the total male Palestinian population in the OPT. Of the 9,273
prisoners currently held by Israel, only an estimated 1,800 have actually been put on
trial [and then unfair by international standards] and convicted of any offense at all.
… Israel currently holds an estimated 800 Palestinians detained in prison camps who
have not been charged with any crime under what is called “administrative
detention.” (The Institute for Middle East Understanding)

When we enter her house it is like many houses on the camp. They are not really
proper houses. There are no windows, just holes in the bricks and no proper roofs or
structure. She has one brother who was a soldier in the Palestinian Authority,
another brother who was in jail for 13 years and another brother who was a martyr.
Her brother who was a martyr was standing outside the Tulkarem Youth Centre,
where we give English lessons, when he was shot in 1991 during the First Intifada
(uprising). He was aged 17 years. I think that everyone I have spoken to has either
a family member in/has been to prison, has been in prison themselves (usually for
throwing stones), has a family member that has been shot/killed or has been shot

She tells me that when she was arrested more than 100 soldiers came and
surrounded her house. It was winter but they made the children go outside whilst
they smashed the house up. Menel was sent to Hasharoon Prison when she was 3
months pregnant. She says the soldiers beat her and when she told them she was
pregnant they just said they wanted to get rid of her baby. When she was giving birth
they kept her arms and legs tied up. She was not allowed any visitors and she says
she was not allowed to call her family to tell them she had a baby son. Menel says
that when she first saw Noor she forgot about all the hard times. She says that all
the women loved him and that he had 600 mothers in the prison. ‘It was not easy to
get a doctor or medicine in prison and so all the women made sure he didn't get sick
and helped to look after him. They protected him from germs and diseases.’

When Noor was two and a half Menel was taken back to court and told by a female
judge that the baby was to be released as he was at an age when he no longer
needed his mother. Menel begged the judge to let her keep Noor with her as she
said he did need his mother but the judge refused. She said that she couldn't believe
that they thought two and a half was an age when a baby did not need his mother
and she couldn't believe that it was a female judge that had said this. Her husband
came to collect the baby, Noor, when he was 'released from prison'. When Menel
herself was released she says that many people came to meet her, her husband, her
children, her family and many people from the camp. She said she has had no more
problems since from the IDF and to this day does not know why they imprisoned her,
as there was no evidence, as she had not done anything.

I asked her if she noticed if her son was any different in his behaviour from her other
sons because of what he had already been through. She said that he is different
from his brothers, that he knows he was born in jail and so he feels different. She
says he was a light in the prison. ‘How will he forget this, how will he forgive,’ she
asks. It made me wonder what the future held for Noor.

After the visit to the camp I felt very drained of energy. It had been a harrowing and
difficult day to just listen to the stories, let alone experience them. When you look at
children like Noor you wonder what the future holds for them. How will they turn out
when they have already been so affected so much by the occupation at such an early

From Aisha's Lips


Muslim Mummy said...

May Allah (swt) reward her for her suffering!

ALhamdulillah she is now back with her son

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