Dheisheh camp, located near
the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, is
one of the 59 Palestinian refugee camps established
after the expulsion and flight of more than 750,000
Palestinians following the creation of the state of
Israel in 1948. Those that fled to Dheisheh originated
from 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron, the descendants
of whom comprise the 11,000 inhabitants of the camp
today, living on less than a half square kilometer of
A resilient and active community,
Dheisheh has a long history of struggle. Until the Israeli
army's withdrawal in 1995, the camp was surrounded with
a high barbed-wire fence, sealing one but all 14 entrances.
Soldiers and violent confrontations filled the alleys,
killing tens of residents, while hundreds were injured,
imprisoned and disabled for life. During the peace process
years, the plight of refugees was largely ignored in
the negotiation framework, bringing the sense of stagnation
and desperation to the community.
Since the second Intifada began in September 2000, Dheisheh has come under intense Israeli military assaults, including numerous invasions by tanks and shelling by apache helicopters. Soldiers conduct raids in the dead of the night and have imprisoned tens of camp residents, including children.After the reoccupation of the West Bank in the spring of 2002, the Bethlehem area has been under constant curfew, seriously disrupting school curriculums.
As of January 2003, the camp has lost 21 of its residents, five of whom children under the age of 17, in Israeli attacks. In addition to the violence, overcrowding and poverty characterize the life in Dheisheh. Although UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) is responsible for health, education and social welfare in the Palestinian camps, its decreasing funding has been unable to sustain the wellbeing of the camp residents. There is constant water shortage in the summer and electricity blackouts in the winter. Unemployment has skyrocketed to more than 70% since the beginning of Intifada, as the Israeli closures and curfews have nearly wiped out economic activities in the occupied territories.