Depending upon whose estimate you read, there are some twenty or thirty thousand “refugees” in the Balata refugee camp outside of Nablus. Balata is simultaneously the most populous and smallest of the Palestinian refugee camps — its growing population is confined to one square kilometer, making it one of the most densely populated and miserable places on the planet.I had no idea that Balata "refugees," fully within the PA's jurisdiction, had few of the rights of PA citizens.
Any regime with an ounce of compassion would have shut Balata down and integrated its people into the surrounding community. Balata is a place without hope, a quagmire of despair, where the day-to-day misery of its inhabitants is partially ameliorated by Western charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), while inadvertently building a culture of dependence.
Balata’s creation could ostensibly be laid at Israel’s doorstep, but its perpetuation cannot. The current residents of Balata are only refugees by a crude reworking of the meaning of the term. They themselves have fled from nothing, and sought refuge from nothing. They are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the people who fled or were expelled during the 1948 war.
If you want to use the term “apartheid” to characterize some aspect of Middle East politics, then Balata is a good place to apply it. It is the Palestinian Authority’s answer to Soweto.
The PA does not permit the children of Balata to go to local schools. It does not permit the people of Balata to build outside the one square kilometer. The people of Balata are prevented from voting in local elections, and the PA provides none of the funds for the necessary infrastructure of the camp — including sewers and roads.
Balata and the other refugee camps are showcases of contrived misery. They are Potemkin villages in reverse. Naïve peace activists and unsophisticated Western clergy are led through such camps to witness the refugee drama, with Israel conveniently and prominently cast in the role of villain.
Some 16 years after Oslo, the PA is finally in the process of building its first town from scratch. (Compare that with the amount of building that happened in Israel between 1948-1964!) But even that town is being built by a developer to attract Palestinian Arab yuppies, not at all to help out the "refugees" who are in their own land and yet treated as second-class citizens. The people of Balata will continue to rot because they are more useful that way.
(h/t It's Complicated, a new blog by an EoZ reader.)