Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amnesty Focuses on Palestinian Refugees

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amnesty Focuses on Palestinian Refugees

Article excerpt


If Mohja Kahf is likely to become the poet for a generation of Muslim women, then Elham Bayour is a potential political voice for Palestinian women under 30. Bayour discussed Palestinian women who have been released from Israeli prisons and returned to Gaza at an Oct. 3 meeting of Amnesty International's Women's Human Rights Committee at the stunningly lovely Mount St. Mary's campus overlooking the new Getty Center and the Pacific Ocean.

The setting may have been beautiful, but Bayour's message was shocking. She described the suffering of the Palestinian people, particularly the one million living in Gaza, where 75 percent of the population is confined to eight refugee camps and more than 74 percent of the work force is unemployed.

Bayour said the Israelis drove her family from the Galilee village of al-Bassa in 1948. Now she is a member of the third generation to live in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

"I don't know which is harsher -- to be a refugee in one's own country as the Palestinians are in Gaza and the West Bank or in a foreign land," she said.

Now working for her master's degree in women's studies at UCLA, she traveled at her own expense for three months this summer to research the conditions of Palestinian women who have been discharged from Israeli prisons.

"I never thought I would see al-Bassa, the village of my family, or meet with Palestinians of the Galilee who had remained," Bayour continued. She did, however, and showed slides of the ruins of al-Bassa's church and mosque, which now are used to stable sheep. Houses of the village have been replaced by Israeli factories.

Nothing, however, had prepared her for the squalor of Gaza. "More than 230,000 Palestinians are jammed into the Beach Camp, where sewage is in the water that is fetched from public faucets on unpaved streets," she stated. "Conditions in this camp would terrify any social scientist. People living like this will react violently sooner or later, and an eruption of rage is overdue. Fifty years of social oppression and economic deprivation have gone hand-in-hand with total neglect of the emotional well-being of people denied all human rights. …

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