Reason, Treason, and Palestine

The Palestinian refugee camp Dheisheh is buckling beneath poverty and inherited hopelessness. The despair is palpable even in the pictures that my friend and co-worker Ali sends me from inside the camp. I have never been there — even before October 7 it was not simple or prudent for a Jewish woman to visit Palestinian refugee camps, but now passage has become impossible. Since I began working with Ali to restart the after-school program for children which he used to run in his camp, my view into Dheisheh has been dependent on Ali’s glitchy WiFi. Ali grew up in Dheisheh, which has no parks, no playgrounds, no art museums, no movie theaters. The streets are marked by potholes and littered with the detritus of a population which lives on memories. There is nothing beautiful there. A life without beauty binds the mind as ropes bind hands and feet.    “Return” is the echo that haunts places like Dheisheh. There, tomorrow is an unfriendly specter, and the embers of a past worth remembering require much effort to keep from flickering to ash. The camp is located south of Bethlehem, the ancient town between Hebron and Jerusalem on the west bank of the Jordan River. It was built in 1949 as a temporary shelter for Palestinian refugees from both those cities. They had fled their homes during the war that would become known to Palestinians as the Nakba and to Israelis as the War of Independence. That war ended in an armistice on July 22, 1949. For the past seventy-six years, the Palestinians of Dheisheh have remained stalled in its aftermath.   Dheisheh was built to be provisional. The displaced Palestinians are bound together by the siren call of their former homes. Many of them carry keys to the buildings from which

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