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You are here: Home Research Resources Expert Guides Palestinian refugee children Common Issues and Emerging Themes

Common Issues and Emerging Themes

Palestinian Identity and the Desire to Return

Palestinian identity is reconstructed through internal factors, namely political and collective will, such as through popular memory and external factors which enhance 'otherness'. An example of these would be government policies preventing Palestinians freedom of access to the Civil Service or higher education.

A dog in his homeland is a sultan! (Jordan, 1st generation, female)

Memory implies identity and the younger generations are learning less about their past. In Jordan, most of the children and adolescents mention the name of their village of origin in Palestine as their identity, while others just say Palestine.

My grandmother tells me about Palestine, she is like a dictionary; she has many stories to tell about Palestine. She always tells us about Palestine. I wish I could visit Palestine. There is no one in the camp who does not wish to visit Palestine, my grandmother tells me we are from 48, and there is also 64 [he makes a mistake, meaning 67] she says those from the 67 territories are going to return but the people from 48 are not. My grandmother is from Marj Ibn Amer from Haifa, my grandmother always tells me about Marj Ibn Amer, and Haifa. She desires so much to return (Jordan, 3rd generation).

I'm a Palestinian to the roots, I have never visited Palestine but I loved her thanks to my mother, grandfather and grandmother (Syria, 3rd generation).

The Issue of Return

There were different opinions and positions concerning the issue of return to Palestine. Many of the interviewees of different generations expressed a wish to return.

I have built a two-storey house here. However, if they let me return, I would leave everything and accept to live under a tree in Palestine (Lebanon, 1st generation, female).

I wish I could die in my country (Lebanon, 2nd generation, male).

We believe that Palestine is the land of our fathers and grandfathers and we will never give it up no matter what they offer us as alternatives (Syria, 1st generation).

I wish I could visit Palestine; we had lands and lived a good and simple life. Here the houses are close to each other, the boys are in the streets…(Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

I would like to finish my studies and go back to Ajur (West Bank, 3rd generation, male).

I didn't think of leaving the camp and I refused to buy land here in the camp although it was very cheap. Each 1000 sq.m was only for 10 lira, but I want to go back to Beet Jebreen (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

If I had to choose to go somewhere, I only chose Tel Alsafi. I always imagine going back to Tel Alsafi (West Bank, 3rd generation, male).

I refused to leave the camp and now if I have to choose I'II refuse to leave… I want to go back to Alfalojeh, there is no choice but going back even after 100 million years (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

Some younger people stated that they preferred to remain in the countries they had grown up in.

If someone asks me where I am from, I say I am from Gaza and live in Schneller camp. I was brought up here and got used to the place. I would not like to go to Gaza, because my girlfriends are here. I am very attached to my girlfriends, they have a lot of influence on me, I tell them all my problems. I do not know anything about how people were living in Gaza (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

Over-crowding is the worst thing in the camp. People are very close to each other so you don't have any privacy; every body knows every thing about everybody. We like to buy a land and build a house outside Al-Fawwar camp. My husband thinks the same (West Bank, 2nd generation, female).

Many of the refugees who belong to the first generation feel guilty because they left their place of origin and their grandchildren think they should have stayed. Some of the members of the West Bank households had visited the family village of origin. This is only a possibility for people on the West Bank, in Gaza and in Jordan. Although visiting place of origin is a painful experience for some children, the parents and grandparents always talk to their children about their place of origin and encourage them to visit it.

Ajur had more than 20 ruins. I read this in some papers in the house. Once I went to Ajur with a summer camp, I was very happy to visit the village that my grandfathers left. I was very upset because they left their land and came to the camps (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

What I would like best is to go back to my village. I visited it. I told old people that our countryside is heaven. Why did you leave and let the Jews kill you? In Haifa, I saw people. Our village was beautiful, It has all the goods. Why did they leave it? Old people were scared by Deir Yassin; some places had a cease fire agreement but people ran away, My father made a white flag and ran because we heard shooting. My father was scared that Jews would come and kill us like they've done in Deir Yassin. My father was concerned about us for they killed young men of 20-25 years of age and buried them. Their families were looking for them (West Bank 3rd generation, female).

My father told me the story of his uncle and how Jews from Gat Settlement tried to buy his land with a lot of money but he refused and died with honour. I saw the land during my trip to Iraq Almanshieh, but I hated entering it. I felt a lot of pain. There are a big difference between reality on the ground and imagination. I can't express my sadness (West Bank, 2nd generation, male).

I didn't visit Samial but my sister Rawia visited it she told me that she cried when she was there. People used to go to clean the house and sit by it. My uncle came and we visited the empty place, my aunt (my wife's grandmother) found her silver bracelets in the wall of the house, where she hid them. There was a Yemeni Jew on one side of it. Once I fought with them because I picked up some garlic. They said it was theirs (West Bank, 2nd generation, male).

At the beginning of the occupation I organised a trip to Iraq Almanshiah. I took a jug and a handkerchief to bring soil. There was a tent for a Bedouin family. It was 10 o'clock in the morning, the man was asleep but his wife was awake. I asked the wife to fill the jug with water from the old well. The man told me if it is your village why did you leave it? I said you kicked us out and he refused to give me water. I went to the Jew who was guarding the well. The Jew asked me and I told him this is my village. He was from Syria. He told me that they forced him to come to Israel and that he wanted to go back to Syria. He warned me not to go to the bushes because there were mines (West Bank, 1st generation, male).


Some parents and young people talked about emigration as a possible choice for the future of their children as a way of escaping poverty, unemployment and refugee status. Mothers were more in favour of emigration than fathers, and most parents saw emigration as a final resort. For some of the parents emigration was linked to Palestine as a destination. Most boys, if provided with the opportunity, wanted to leave to work abroad. The countries mentioned by parents and youth included Denmark, Sweden, Canada, England, France, Germany, Brazil, and the Gulf.

Internal Discrimination as a Refugee

In Lebanon parents spoke of the denial of their civil rights by the Lebanese government. Many fathers reported feelings of humiliation and many children/adolescents said that they felt isolated and discriminated against by the host community.

My children are against naturalisation…they feel the discrimination (Lebanon, 2nd generation, female).

There is no future for our children in Lebanon (Lebanon, 2nd generation, female).

In Syria similar feelings of 'otherness' were expressed

I realised that I was a refugee when I was six years old. Even when we were inside Palestine in Ramallah, they used to call us refugees (Syria, 2nd generation).

I don't like to visit Lebanon or Kuwait because people there hate us (Syria, 3rd generation).

In Jordan, people of different generations spoke of being discriminated against as Palestinians, refugees and camp-dwellers.

Here they tell us you are from Gaza, our son cannot enroll in university and the other cannot get a government job. We fled to Gaza in 1948, we are not from there…We suffered from the people of Gaza as well, they used to look at somebody and say 'haram (poor or pathetic) your face is like that of a refugee…!' (Jordan, 2nd generation, female).

Many people from the outside think we are terrible and we are all bad. They call us 'mukhayyamjiyyeh' (campers). Even my sister's family, who lives in Zarqa, they say that people in the camp are garbage, good for nothing, cows, etc (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).

In Gaza, children reported their perceptions of what it meant to be a refugee and used these terms. It meant being humiliated, displaced, homeless and lost, deprived and feeling inferior. Similarly in the West Bank, the refugee children experienced discrimination very dramatically.

We feel the discrimination against us when we go outside the camp, for instance, we feel it when a girl marries outside the camp and when some girls join the schools of Doura village (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

Teachers are racist. This appears in their dealings with students. They always blame students from the camp for silly mistakes and not students of Beit Omar. They also discriminate with marks. The first students are always from Beit Omar (West Bank, 3rd generation, male).

Livelihood, Socio-Economic and Cultural Relations

The way people make their daily living is related to the way they reproduce themselves socially and culturally. Thus, it is not possible to isolate practices such as early marriage and close kinship relations from poverty and the absence of alternative institutions to support individuals.

There is insufficient money, I can't (take special courses) and not all my friends go. Most of them work, some in construction, others at Jabri's. Maybe there are only four of my friends who are able to take the extra courses to help them, only those whose fathers have money. The problem is that most centers take 3 dinars and I cannot pay (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).

The Camp, Space and Infrastructure Problems

All households were concerned with the poor living conditions in the camps.

There are problems in the water, the narrow houses, unemployment and poverty… there is no place to breathe, neither for the families nor their children, no park or public space to go. (Jordan, 2nd generation, female).

1st Boy: We need better streets, less students inside the classrooms, we need playgrounds. We need playgrounds and footballs, which do not have holes in them.

2nd boy: I suggested to my father to put some wooden boards and to make the zinc roofs sturdier, because it is too old and it falls sometimes, but he did not listen to my suggestion.

3rd boy: Our desks, if one is broken, they do not replace it. (Jordan, 3rd generation, males)

The problem I face has to do with the neighbourhood, there are a lot of young men (zu'ran) 'hooligans' and there are often problems that break out in the area. The other day it was so serious, they brought in weapons and it is very disturbing, we heard the police and the ambulance (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

The houses are too narrow, overcrowding and population density, dirty water, unemployment, the narrow streets, the UNRWA clinic has no medicine and they treat patients badly. The schools, which do not even have proper desks, they do not care about the students, transportation is inefficient ... The employees or garbage collectors do not work on Fridays, so the waste accumulates. The market is narrow and the gangsters attack shopkeepers with knives, alcoholism is rampant and there is fear of the gangsters in the streets. As a result of overcrowding, there are many problems and it is difficult to maintain morals and traditions (Jordan, 1st generation, male).

In Lebanon, parents, teachers, and NGO workers noted increasing frustration and anger in the camp. All interviewees (parents, teachers, NGOs, & children) mentioned that there are no creative outlets and play spaces for children

Our houses are like graves not houses (Lebanon, 3rd generation, male).

When I cough my neighbours can hear me (Lebanon, 2nd generation, female).

In the West Bank, many of the refugee children said they felt safe inside the camp, which is the only world with which they are intimately familiar.

My family is here. The camp is better than many places. It is safer and there is no crime here. People have normal relations but my mother says it was better in the past. However, when I visit my brother in jail I feel that I am not living, I see all the beautiful places on the road. It is better than here. A lot of green areas (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

I know the camp is not my place but I belong to it (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

The adults spoke of a sense of community and support. Despite the lack of infrastructure, people had learnt to live together.

We should take care of our brothers and sisters, family cohesion is important to put up with this miserable situation. It is also important for the continuity of our resistance and steadfastness (West Bank, 2nd generation, male).

People's relationships are very good. We are the only family from Iraq Al-manshiah in our neighborhood and there are 10 different families but thank God nobody ever hurt any body. Once a bad person needed blood because he was in an accident and everybody went to donate blood for him... I don't wish to go out of the camp unless to go back to Iraq Al-manshiah. We own land in Hebron, we visit it occasionally. We can build a house in Hebron but we don't want to. People are compassionate and cooperative (West Bank, 2nd generation, female).

Over-crowdedness makes us very close to each other, some times I listen to the neighbour's radio and I ask them to turn it up. Sometimes I smell the food at our neighbours and we share it. But when a problem occurs we hear the shouting at their houses. The most important problem is the narrowness of the place. Children can't play. People ask their neighbours to keep their children home. There are problems of transportation inside the camp and of a shortage of water. People who live in far places in the camp are forced to walk because there is no transportation inside the camp (West Bank, 2nd generation female).

I don't like any thing in Al-Fawwar, but when some girls swear at the camp I feel I must defend it. We don't go out of it except on school trips. There is no government, no sewage infrastructure, a lot of insects and a shortage of water. Nothing is good. People relations are good at weddings and condolences (West Bank, 3rd generation female).

Intergenerational Relations

The older generation felt that they did not have control over the younger generation of adolescents and the adolescents felt misunderstood and constrained by their elders.

In the past, the young used to respect their elders and to take them into account. Today they answer back rudely to their fathers. Now I worry for my children and I am scared when my son goes out. My daughters go out to visit their sister and only to people that I know and like, because girls influence each other and can destroy the other (make them go astray)(Jordan, 1st generation female).

The youth of the past worked and did not know unemployment…Also, the son used to obey the neighbour, not only his father. Today, all the youth care about are clothes, perfumes, walking in the streets, carrying knives. He is a hero who dares to speak to his son or daughter. The reason for all this is the absence of religion, lack of work and the things they see on the television (Jordan, 1st generation, female).

The main problems we face is that the parents do not take care of the adolescents and they do not understand their psychological needs and the developments they pass through. They are removed from the son or daughter (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).

The main problem facing adolescents is the freedom to express one's opinion. Parents must allow the youth to express themselves and not to pressure them too much and not to constantly observe adolescents to a point it suffocates them, a person feels under constant surveillance (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).


This was seen as vital and important by everyone. Access to education for girls has improved over time. Many of the first generation women and some of the men spoke of how they regretted their lack of formal education.

It was shameful for girls to go to school, Sara was the only girl in school, she finished the fourth grade (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

Schools were only for the children of Sheikhs (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

My father bought me the school uniform and the other school supplies but then he ripped the uniform off because a young man told him that if I learn the alphabet, I would write letters. When I remember this now, I swear at this man. I wish I could read so I can read the Quran (West Bank, 1st generation, female).

We are nothing without education. Education gives value to humans especially us the Palestinians, we are without money or support and we have no choice but education (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

Nothing is better than education. For 38 years I imprint my thumbprint when I get my salary. This really depressed me. I lost many work opportunities because I couldn't read (West Bank, 1st generation, male).

UNRWA is the main provider of education in the camps, although government schools and private schools are available. The quality of schooling and the interaction between teachers and pupils was raised in every setting.

The teachers are not good; the kids run away and are loose. My generation, when we went to school we used to know what school means… I think government schools are better than UNRWA in terms of teachers and curriculum (Jordan, 1st generation, female).

The government schools are better because there is discipline … in government schools there is no time for problems …and the break is ten minutes…In UNRWA schools things are too free and there is no studying… they (students) take drugs like pills and smell AGO (a type of glue) (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).

Abuse and Violence

Very few informants referred to violence inside the family, however, many of them mentioned that violence is very common at school.

Once in the kindergarten we hit a girl and threw her shoes in the toilet. The teacher hit us and kicked us out of class (West Bank, 3rd generation, male).

Once I couldn't memorize a verse so the teacher hit me with a pipe--which has a piece of metal inside it. I was very angry at the teacher (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

My father sent me to school but I made a mistake in the alphabet and the teacher hit me so I ran away and never returned (West Bank, 3rd generation, male).

There was concern that the curriculum in the schools was not Palestinian in content, that the schools were overcrowded and lacked facilities. Violence was a problem. Teachers were reported to use verbal and physical abuse and the children reported violence amongst themselves and sometimes within the family.

Here one cannot live without the knife, but if you have one there is a problem and if you don't it is a problem too. If you have one and the police catches you, you go to prison for God knows how long. If you don't you may be attacked. There problems can start in grade five up (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).

There are problems in school, the treatment is not equal. At home, my mother comes in and tells us your grades are bad anyway, get up and go to the kitchen to work. Then when my parents see the certificate, they beat us and burn our hands (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

The youth are unruly and carry razors. People worry for their children. The other day one of the 'gangsters' poured gasoline on a bus and burnt it. He was the ticket controller. The owner of the bus told him, he no longer has a job for him, so at night the young man went to the bus and burnt it. Now we live in terror in the camp, because there is unemployment, because the young men they study but do not work (Jordan, 2nd generation, female).

The problem of adolescents is that the school and the family are constantly punishing us….The situation in the streets forces the person to deal with others in the same way, if you want to become a man, you must carry a knife (Jordan, 3rd generation, male).


The problem of unemployment concerns the young people and is demotivating.

Teaching began to deteriorate in 1985 onwards. The economic situation became worse after that year. If someone finished tawjihi (high school) and his financial situation is bad, he can't go on to university anyway. The colleges are not good, neither are the job opportunities. People think I will work for 80 dinars after I finish school, which is better than going for four or five years to university for nothing. Even university graduates can't find jobs and it is worse for college graduates (Jordan, 2nd generation, male).

The most important problem today is that the youth say why should I trouble myself and study and at the end anyway I will not find a job? If they do find a job, it is a low salary, they are demoralized, and if they work, the highest wage is 80 dinars per month. Okay, what does 80 dinars do, if he wants to open a house and if he wants to get married? (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

Gender Issues

Girls faced discrimination from their parents, male siblings and society and are often considered physically and emotionally weak.

My single sister is working and I do not approve of that.

A female always needs male authority (Lebanon, 3rd generation, male).

In addition, the girls complained about lack of freedom of movement compared to the boys and a lack of places to meet with each other outside of their homes and school.

A girl is no longer allowed to play outside when she 'matures' that is around 12 years old. But most of us play inside the house even when younger (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

At home, there is discrimination between girls and boys. Boys can go any time with their friends and come back at any time, but girls cannot do that they are forced to stay home and not go anywhere. If I go out anywhere, it is only if my brothers take me to my uncle's house. Picnics? Maybe once a year, they do not let us go out, there are only centres for the young men, but nothing for us (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

There are differences between my thinking and my parents'. When I am bored I like to go out of the house but my Mum prefers me at home. I can see the discrimination between boys and girls, boys can spend 24 hours outside the house, but we stay home. It is true that it is better for girls to stay home but it is boring. I participated in the summer camp in Ramallah because my Dad was there. At first I hesitated in participating in the camp because I'll be far from my family, but I love people. I stayed for a couple of days but I cried every day because I am away from my family (West Bank, 3rd generation, female).

There were also reports of gender discrimination in the schools.

We have many problems in school, the teachers hit us a lot... Sometimes the girls who do not know how to read, instead of helping them… the teacher gives them a zero. This is the reason why the girls do not do well in school.., they tell the girls they are 'donkeys'... The headmistress is very harsh on us...' Once she told the teacher that we are only good for wearing 'shoes' which are like 'our faces.' The daughter of the headmistress can wear anything she likes. But if we wear clothes that we are not supposed to, like putting nail polish on our fingers, or wearing colourful scarves, they give us hell (Jordan, 3rd generation, female).

Last updated Sep 23, 2011