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The rain fell hard as our small tour bus carried us into the Aida Refugee Camp  in Bethlehem, Palestine. Thousands of Palestinians have lived in refugee camps since they were forced from their homes in 1947. Some have lived there the last 62 years and hold the hope that they will return to their villages one day. They keep the keys to their houses, as symbols of that hope, even though their homes have been demolished or others have lived in them for years and years. If they ever decide to leave the refuge camp, they give up the right to ever return to their original villages.

A 26-year-old man named Mohammed introduced us to the camp and the work of the Lajee Center there. Mohammad has never known any other home than the Aida camp, where 5,000 people live in half a square kilometer. While a teenager, he  spent two years in an Israeli jail for planning a protest and writing graffiti on the Apartheid Wall that runs alongside the camp on two sides. There are six military watch towers along the walls surrounding the camp.

Water in the camp is a major issue. Residents there are allowed to have six hours of water, delivered to a tank in the camp, every two weeks. In the summer, they receive six hours of water per month.

Life in the camp is hard to imagine. Muhammed told us many stories. During the Israeli siege on Bethlehem in 2002, for 20 days the camp residents were not allowed to leave their houses, or look out the window. People were starving, sharing food with their neighbors by throwing it from home to home. At one point, they were allowed out for six hours and then confined again for the next 22 days. Sometimes the Israeli military uses the camp as a training ground, arresting, handcuffing and hauling them out, then releasing them after the soldiers have practiced.

Two weeks ago, there were demonstrations in the camp because of a child shot and killed in Hebron. Demonstrators burned one of the towers.

We saw the outside of the United Nations school in Aida Camp. It has classes through the ninth grade. Teachers have  boarded up the front and the windows after Israeli soldiers opened fire on the school, injuring children and killing a teacher trying to proteect the students..

The Lajee Center is a place for educating the children in technology and the arts. It is run by residents of the camp. Mohammad showed us an exhibition of photographs the children in the camp had taken. They also publish a magaizine, perform ballets. The arts give them an opportunity to express themselves in a creative way.

This is an excerpt from an article written in the May 2010 edtion of the refugee youth magazine “Our Voice” by 15-year-od Jabir Abu Balah, from the original village of al-Maliha; 16-yar-old Mohammed ad-Dibs, from the original village of Bayt Nattif; 16-year-old Oday Abu Odeh, from the original village of Bayt Nattif, and 16-year-old Shoruq Abu Sh’ereh, from the original village of Bayt Nattif.

As for children, the Wall deprived them of playing and enjoying nature and childhood Munjid Abu Akr, who is 14 years old and from the original village of Ras Abu Ammar said that they had built a playground behind the Wall in an area called ‘al-Inglezieh’ near Aida Refugee Camp that belongs to the Monastery of the Armenians. The playground was the place the children of the camp liked, in spite of its small size. But nevertheless they were prevented from playing in it.. One of the children of the camp was murdered in that area during the construction of the Wall whilst the children were playing football. That martyr was Rariq Jado who was 17 years old. Others were wounded at the same time. The watch towers are a constant terror. In 2006, Miras Al Azzeh, who is 15 years old now, was shot as he played in his house which is opposite one of the towers. Miras said, ‘ My injury made me more determined to resist the Wall.

Our cause remains suspended in the air, and our destiny remains hanging in the hands of others. But we, the children of stones, say that we will not wait for ‘the world’ to wake up and apply international resolutions. If the stone  could not defeat the tank, we will continue to resist and resist. This message is resistance: with pen and paper we will write and express the reality, and we will implant the name of Palestine into the hearts of everyone of us so that it grows from generationn to generation until we get our freedom.

Mohammed told us he will soon be going to university in Glasgow, Scotland.