A Palestinian refugee living in the territories explained how corruption in the UNRWA system and the Palestinian Authority has made it impossible for Palestinian refugees to live dignified lives: “I blame them for me being a refugee.”

Palestinian refugee children play in squalor

Palestinian refugee children play in squalor Photo Credit: Kay Wilson

In an exclusive interview with JerusalemOnline, a Palestinian refugee who wishes to remain anonymous because this person is living in an authoritarian dictatorship where critics of the Palestinian Authority can be imprisoned for stating their views discussed the dilemmas Palestinian refugees face and how UNRWA has made the problem worse instead of better: “I am trying to distance myself from being a victim. I realized that only being a victim has blinded us from many things. It is a dilemma that I face in my life. My people think of themselves as the only victims but we are not the only victims in this world. A lot of people are suffering more than us and they deal with it.  But we cannot disguise this aspect of our lives.”

This Palestinian refugee was born inside an UNRWA camp in the Palestinian Authority: “That is something that became part of my identity. When I attended a class with 60 to 70 other students, I cannot distinguish myself from being a refugee. I am looking for privacy but I miss this for I am living in a small 100 square meter hall together with 7 other people. I tried to find my privacy at home but I cannot. All of my life looks like a sardine box. 17,000 people live in one square kilometer. You can imagine how crowded it is. It is overcrowded.”

“If we are living in a sardine box, what about the future,” the refugee ponders. “What about 10 years from now? The big picture of being overcrowding dominates the camp itself. My home is part of the sardine box. I opened my eyes and I find myself sleeping in the guest room. I have no space for I am living in a refugee camp. Why I am living here?  After 68 years of conflict, it is ashame to be considered a refugee and living this life.”

According to this Palestinian refugee, there is a golden opportunity to turn the UNRWA camp where this person is living into a paradise but that chance is being squandered: “The Palestinian Authority is taking a lot of money because of me. They are using me to get more funds in my name. I don’t see any changes for the better.” According to a report by Israel behind the News, the European Union determined that the Palestinian Authority squandered nearly 2 billion Euros between 2008 and 2012.  

“The infrastructure is horrible,” the Palestinian refugee noted. “We have the same infrastructure from 40 years ago. There is an average of 50 students in the same class.  When I was a student, we lacked basic things in school. We used to spend the winter without a heater and there was not even a fan in the summer.  We barely had pens to write with. I came from a poor family.  I had to starve for the entire day for there was no food at school for those without money.  They teach English from the 1st to 9th grade but students finish barely being able to combine two sentences together.  In my camp, there are no playgrounds.  They didn’t teach art or music here.  Some private schools encourage it but most of the schools ignore art and music but art and music is the space where you can express yourself and get rid of the negative feelings that are inside you.”

This Palestinian refugee stresses that corruption is rampant within Palestinian society and UNRWA plays a major role in this corruption: “Due to the amount of funds coming in, the conditions should have been better. I blame the corruption for this reality. According to the financial reports of UNRWA, these things should be available at these schools but they are not.  I can understand not having the money but on the ground, we have the chance to have more due to the financial support UNRWA gets but because of the corruption, we are getting cheated.”  

This Palestinian refugee claims that even though UNRWA was created in order to help Palestinian refugees, UNRWA hires foreigners and some of them earn wages that are high enough to support 20 local Palestinians: “An UNRWA employee can earn $10,000 per month. Others earn more. They have luxury cars and apartments. Some have villas for free. Meanwhile, local Palestinian teachers hired by UNRWA earn $700 to $800 per month. The people from abroad get 10 times more. The more the refugees suffer, these people live a more luxurious life. I blame them for me being a refugee.”

Meanwhile, this Palestinian refugee stresses that these horrendous living conditions combined with the UNRWA school curriculum are hindering the peace process: “The schoolbooks don’t encourage forgiveness and looking forward into the future. They remind you of the wars, of you being a victim, of you being killed and this incites the culture of revenge. This proves that the Palestinian Authority won’t be part of any solution to give us dignity and human rights. 24 years after Oslo is enough to tell the donors that there is a corrupt power controlling the Palestinian lives that is generating violence and frustration, thus making the conflict more complicated than what it is.”

According to David Bedein of the Center for Near East Policy Research, “UNRWA does serve food and does art in their schools but when they do art, it is art that speaks about war and the right of return. In Camp Jihad, they have marvelous art displays and paintings about the right of return. In every aspect, the education is war education. We have witnessed hundreds of children learning music but war music. On Fatah Day, 50 children played instruments but during songs about liberating Palestine. However, the PLO families control who gets assistance. There is a lot of tension inside the camps. Under the PA corruption, only certain families get help. The UNRWA system does have playgrounds.  We have filmed food distributions and saw the playgrounds.  It is possible that the children not connected with the terror groups don’t have access to them.”