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In photos: Generations of Palestinian exile

In photos: Generations of Palestinian exile

In photos: Generations of Palestinian exile

27 June 2014


Wajeeda, 62-years-old, in Aida refugee camp, with a granddaughter.

There are more than five million Palestinian refugees
registered with the United Nations, making up the largest group of
refugees in the world. The Palestinian refugee advocacy group BADIL estimates
there are an additional 2.7 million unregistered Palestinian refugees,
making up 66 percent of the Palestinian population worldwide.

They have been waiting more than sixty years to exercise their right to return
since their first mass forced displacement with the ethnic cleansing of
Palestine by Zionist forces in 1948, what Palestinians call the Nakba or catastrophe, during the establishment of the State of Israel.

Five generations since then, many Palestinian refugees today live in
poor conditions in crowded camps. The stateless are among the most
vulnerable, as their plight in Syria continues to show.

With the conviction that the right of return is not a side issue but
is at the core of the so-called conflict, this series depicts a
Palestinian refugee child with a grandparent, a first-generation
refugee. Through it I hope to emphasize not only the duration of the
plight of Palestinian refugees, but also to visualize the extraordinary
bond and solidarity that Palestinian refugees share across generations,
preserving their dignity and determination during the long wait and
fight for justice.

I first worked on this series in 2008 but I had left it buried and
unfinished in my archive. Although I have worked for years in these
camps and know how central the issue of Palestinian refugees are, I put
it aside as there were always developments in Palestine that seemed more

This series questions the way the “conflict” is portrayed and how a
core issue remains largely left out of the story, leaving the plight of
millions of Palestinians in a perpetual state of uncertainty and

As the first generation of refugees and the immediate survivors of
the Nakba become fewer in number, it is more urgent than ever to bring
their histories back to the center of the discourse on Palestine.

Wajeeda, the woman in the photo above, told me: ”I remember when we
were under the tent [after the 1948 Nakba]. It was a very small tent for
four persons but we were seven children there. There were only six
toilets for hundreds of people. The life was very bad. I know that to
return to the homeland is just a dream but I still hope for these
children of the new generation to return.”

Anne Paq is a French freelance photographer and member of the photography collective ActiveStills.


Al-Amari refugee camp, near Ramallah. A major problem with most
refugee camps is the severe overcrowding and lack of infrastructure.
There are usually no sidewalks and no green space, only small walkways
formed by rows and rows of concrete buildings.


Youssef, seven years old, lives in al-Aroub refugee camp near the
West Bank city of Hebron. “I see the Israeli army every day in our camp
when I come back from school,” he says. His 73-year-old grandfather
Youssef says: “I felt humiliated and insulted when I was kicked out from
my village. We left without our things in cars that Israelis brought to
take us far away. We still hope to go back. If we are dead, our
children will.”


Abed, ninety years old, lives in al-Aroub refugee camp: “I used to
own a lot of land. I had animals, and trees. I want to go back there to
die. I want to finish my life there.”


Mohammad, 83 years old, lives in al-Azzeh camp, the smallest in the
West Bank and where the unemployment rate is high. “I cannot explain my
feelings with one sentence,” he says. “Those who have no country have no
dignity. I have no dignity. I always think of the past. Life was better
then. We had our land. Now if you don’t work, you don’t eat. I feel
angry. I was a fighter against the British and the Zionists. If I had
the strength to fight, I will fight the Palestinian leaders.”


Israel’s wall in Aida refugee camp near the West Bank city of
Bethlehem is built only a few meters away from the homes of the refugees
and prevents them from accessing the olive grove where they used to go
for recreation.


Approximately 40 percent of the Palestinian refugee population are children, according to a 2007 report by the refugee advocacy group BADIL. A 2012 survey by the group states that 27 percent of the population is under the age of 15.


Tasneem, nine years old, lives in al-Amari camp near the West Bank
city of Ramallah “This place is not my place. I would like to go back to
my original village and I pray for my father to get out of prison,” she
says. Her 54-year-old grandmother Khadija has five sons, four of them
in prison.


Mahmoud, eighteen years old, lives in Aida refugee camp near
Bethlehem. “There is something missing in my life,” he says. Abed, his
75-year-old grandfather, says: “I feel miserable because my village is
gone. I was fourteen years old when we had to leave our land. We had a
small house and land. It was a simple life but we did not need any help
from other people or institutions. I could go back once to Beit Jibrin,
and when I saw that everything was destroyed I felt very sad.”


Ninety-year-old Fatima in al-Amari camp shows the original property
documents from her home in Lod (al-Lydd). “I wish I had died there in my
village,” she says. “It would have been better than living in this
camp. The Zionists attacked us with weapons and threatened us. We ran
away. We slept under trees with no food. I lost my twelve-year-old
brother during the Nakba.”


Mahmoud, eleven years old, lives in Balata refugee camp near the West
Bank city of Nablus. His father is in prison and his young brother was
killed by the Israeli army in 2004 when he was four years old. Zuhdeia,
his seventy-year-old grandmother, is a shop owner and has 57


Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5
million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in
Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East
Jerusalem, according to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.


Zakia, 85 years old, lives in Qalandia refugee camp near the West
Bank city of Ramallah. “I feel the exile, the instability, the loss of
my rights with the approval of all the world which let Israel take our
lands,” she says.


Balata camp near the city of Nablus was established in 1950 and has
become the largest West Bank camp in terms of inhabitants, with more
than 23,000 registered refugees.


Ibrahim, 83 years old, lives in Dheisheh refugee camp near the West
Bank city of Bethlehem: “I was around twenty years old and I had a wife
and a son. Our family owned 1,000 dunums [a dunum is
the equivalent of 1,000 square meters]. We had fifty goats, twenty-five
cows, two camels and fifty hens. When the Israeli soldiers entered the
Palestinian villages, they shot everywhere and we were afraid. When I
heard that my friend and his wife were killed, I became even more afraid
and I hid myself and my family in a well for one night. For two years
we had been going from one place to another. Once I was able to return
to my village, five years after we left. Everything was destroyed,
including my home. I just found two dogs that I knew before and they
recognized me. I was very sad when I saw all the destruction.”


Khadija, 75 years old, says: “I was fifteen years old when the
Israelis came to Ras Abu Ammar. I was married, I had a house, thirty
goats, one camel and hens. We owned twenty dunums. For two
years we went to different places before Dheisheh camp. We live here
like cats in this room and nobody cares about refugees.”


Hakma, 75 years old, lives in Dheisheh refugee camp: “I was seventeen
years old, I was pregnant and had a two-month-old baby. When we heard
about Deir Yassin [a massacre in a village near Jerusalem], we got
afraid and left. One day in my original village equals one life in this


According to
the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 31 percent of Palestinian
refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip live below the
poverty line.


Ahmad, sixteen years old, lives in Aida refugee camp and wants to
work as a DJ: “I am proud of being refugee but I hate where I live. I
hope to return to my homeland.” His grandmother, 70 years old, says: “I
was twelve years old when the soldiers arrived. My house was very
beautiful and we grew many things on our land. There were a lot of
shootings at the houses. I am a refugee and I got married under the
tent, can you imagine? I want to say to the world: do not forget


Salma, seven years old, with Ahmad, her 76-year-old grandfather, in
his shop in al-Azzeh camp near the West Bank city of Nablus. Ahmad says:
“There is no humiliation in the world such as being away from your own


Fatima, 67 years-old, surrounded by some of her grandchildren in Dheisheh refugee camp.


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