407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

On Thanksgiving, I realize just how much I have to give thanks for. And as I continue to think about my trip to the West Bank, my mind has been filled with thoughts of the trip and the experience. The rockets that flew out of Gaza into Israel just days after I left Israel only exacerbated my processing and I have found myself dreaming about the trip and its impact on me. So on Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking about those people living in refugee camps in the West Bank.

The Aida Refugee Camp and refugee camps in general impacted me greatly. Refugee camps are designed to be a temporary space. Having never been to one before, my expectation was that it would have the feel and look of a temporary space and that the problem was that people were living in temporary spaces for 70+ years. Boy was I wrong.

The Aida camp looked like a part of Bethlehem. It was hard to tell what was the camp, and what was the city. The buildings were concrete and appeared permanent. In comparison to the village in the Gush we had just been to, this was a big improvement. There were schools and opportunities for a full life. While people were moving out of the camp, the vast majority were staying in order to keep their refugee status, international funding, and to make a political statement.

Before going, I always wondered why these camps still existed. What was their purpose? Having seen them first hand and having listened to one of the camp leaders and having a chance to ask him questions, I can only come up with one answer. The camps exist only to serve a political purpose. They only exist to teach hate. The people who live in the camps are pawns of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the PLO, and Europe. They exist to teach hatred of Jews and to provide talking points for why Israel should not exist.

One thing that really stood out to me about the Aida camp was the hate that was being taught. We heard it from the head of the community center who worked with children. It was not about hope and building a life, it was about hatred of Israel, of Jews, and maintaining the refugee status. The cuts in aid were beginning to have an impact as it was forcing a change to their victim reality. It was painful to hear of the personal suffering due to the decision to use these people as political pawns. As I walked through the camp, I noticed the children. Adorable 5 year olds who were playing, smiling, and laughing. They would wave to us with joy. I found myself wondering if it was already too late for them. Had the hate being taught already been too much to overcome?

The more I think about these camps, the more I think they need to be eliminated. European nations who fund these camps and the United States have a moral and ethical obligation to eliminate the camps and find new homes for those who live in the camps. Israel has an opportunity to allow new Palestinian communities to be built where there can be sustainable economic and social opportunities for growth. It’s time for the residents of these camps to begin new lives and to find hope. It’s time for them to have an opportunity to create lives with meaning and not to be political pawns against Israel. It’s time to give them dignity and a chance to show they can build a state that will live next door to their neighbor, the Jewish State of Israel. As long as these camps continue to exist, continue to breed hate, and continue to be used as pawns against Israel, it’s hard to see an opportunity for peace where two nations live side by side. So on Thanksgiving, I hope that these camps can be eliminated, giving an opportunity for those who live in them to have things to be thankful for that don’t involve killing Israelis and eliminating the State of Israel. And I hope that the elimination of these camps will give Israelis something to be thankful for – a chance to have neighbors who are more interested in building lives for themselves and their children than hating Jews. It’s time for 5 year old children to grow up with happiness and joy, not hatred and bitterness.