Eighteen-year old Anwar is new to bastat, street peddling. Two days ago his mother bought several crates of corn on the cob, which she boiled for him to sell in Tulkarm refugee camp streets. Recently released from a six-month term at Ansar III detention camp in the Negev desert, Anwar returned home the first day having sold nothing.

“There were problems in the streets,” explains his mother, Umm Jamil. “Anyway, no one goes out as they used to. Something happens, the army comes, and everyone runs. Who will buy?” Tulkarm camp, near the northern West Bank town by that name, is home to nearly 12,000 Palestinians.

No one in Anwar’s household — including his parents and eight siblings (four of whom are mute) — has steady work. His father, formerly a construction worker, was the sole supporter of the family until just prior to the war, when he lost his leg due to complications from diabetes. Umm Jamil suffers from asthma and is unable to seek regular employment. An elder brother, married with two children of his own, finds occasional day labor to contribute to the household. Relief rations from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were cut to the family four months ago, when the eldest single son turned 19. [1] Currently the family survives on alms donated by more fortunate camp residents during the Ramadan season.

Umm Jamil echoes the sentiment of other Tulkarm camp residents when she marks the beginning of the Persian Gulf war as the economic breaking point for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. “Before the war there was money, people came and went, people bought things,” she says. “There was work. People could work without permits. Women could work in agriculture and in factories in Israel.”

Restricting Movement

Israel seized the opportunity provided by the war in the Persian Gulf to escalate its economic war of attrition against the Palestinian uprising. On January 17, 1991, the military declared a 24-hour curfew over all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, confining approximately 2 million Palestinians to their homes. [2] This was the longest and most comprehensive curfew since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, lasting nearly one month throughout the Occupied Territories and more than six weeks in many areas.

The curfew effectively shut down all civil and economic activity in the West Bank and Gaza. Authorities then accelerated punitive military operations and mass arrests in late February, when Palestinians were experiencing increased economic difficulties as a result of the curfew. In early March, Israel institutionalized a pass system severely restricting the access of Palestinian workers to jobs in Israel. [3]

This step-by-step assault was devastating. Nearly a year later, the effects of the “war curfew” and the wide range of punitive and debilitating measures accompanying it, remain acutely evident in Tulkarm. While Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in Madrid and Washington have captured the media spotlight, it is the reality of Israel’s economic devastation of Palestinian communities that most characterizes the post-war period and which continues to resonate most deeply in the heart of the camp.

Nine months after the end of the war, Muhammad Haykal, Tulkarm camp officer for UNRWA, received notice that 40 residents would soon have their electricity cut for non-payment, including Anwar’s family. Haykal is attempting to negotiate a settlement to avoid leaving some 300 households in the dark. Many families are unable to feed themselves, let alone pay utility bills, he says. In early summer, reports of hunger in the camp were widespread; nursery school teachers reported that children’s complaints of hunger and the resulting inability to concentrate had led to alarming levels of apathy.

The overriding cause of the economic crisis is lack of work. Dispossessed of land and located close to Israel, 30-35 percent of the camp’s labor force worked in Israel prior to the uprising, by Haykal’s estimates. Curfews, other military-imposed restrictions and nationalist strikes decreased these numbers during the first years of the uprising. [4] War-time restrictions and the influx of Soviet Jewish immigrants has further reduced the number of workers entering Israel regularly to no more than 10 percent of the camp’s work force. All workers entering Israel or Jerusalem are now required to obtain passes for specific jobs from the Israeli Civil Administration. [5]

Most Tulkarm residents who worked in Israel, like Anwar, now work in bastat or as day laborers on Palestinian land outside the camp. Some find occasional construction work or odd jobs in the city of Tulkarm. Even so, between curfews and strikes, workers lose nearly one half of their work days. [6] Camp residents were under curfew more than a year out of the first three years of the uprising. [7]

Raising unemployment is exacerbated by the loss of remittances from family members working in the Gulf, which prior to August 1990, provided subsistence for many camp households. “Now,” says Haykal, “children who used to send money to support entire families here in the camp are sending requests to their families for money to make the short journey home across the bridge” from Jordan.

No Work. No School

In his mid-twenties, Muhammad began selling newspapers two months ago and earns 10-15 shekels ($4-7) a day, his family’s sole income. His elderly father stopped working day labor in Israel several years ago due to poor health; two of his siblings are married; a third left the country ten years ago and has been missing since; his mother cares for the five remaining school-aged children. Selling newspapers is Muhammad’s first job. He was released from prison nine months ago after serving a three-year sentence on political charges.

Sixteen-year-old Majid is the second eldest in a family of thirteen children. “There is no work since the war. Everything has changed,” he says. “Jews became afraid and prohibit us from entering Israel.” He was told he could not get a pass to work in Israel because he had been in prison. Majid’s mother, Umm Ayman, works in the fields outside the camp to support the 15-member family. Her daily wages are supplemented by UNRWA food rations. Abu Ayman, the father, has not worked for years due to poor eyesight. Their eldest son, 18, is serving a one-year prison sentence.

Majid is one of an increasing number of children whose schooling has been interrupted by a prison term. He left school a year ago, sentenced to seven months on “security” grounds. When he was released, he tried to get into a vocational school, but was turned down because he had turned 16 in prison. “The school only accepts 15-year olds,” he explains. Now he stays at home, unable to return to school and unable to find work. His 15-year old sister, the eldest of eight sisters, left school after third grade to work at home caring for the house and her ten younger brothers and sisters. [8]

Camp residents also cite the war as a watershed in the state of the four-year old uprising, during which 26 camp residents were killed and hundreds more injured by Israeli forces. [9] Israeli military sources record a higher monthly average of clashes in 1991 than in 1988. [10] The perception of most Tulkarm camp residents differs. “Since the war the intifada has been very weak,” says Umm Jamil. “Without Saddam [Hussein], it would have remained strong. Now there are no stones, no activities…because they [the Israelis] detained and killed all the shabab [young men]. No one is left but the small children.”

Fawziyya, mother of seven children, agrees. “The intifada is completely different. It used to be strong. Now you see very little,” she says. “Nothing,” corrects her husband. But her son Muhammad, who has spent five years in prison, maintains that the uprising continues. It is the economic devastation which accounts for the change, he says. “The intifada was as it is. It can’t stop until we have a state.”

Tulkarm camp residents hold limited hopes for the actualization of peace. Fifteen-year old Ahmad dreams of a peace which will end the threat from soldiers. He was shot in the leg with live ammunition while throwing stones at an army patrol. A boy with him was shot dead. Because the soldiers were looking for him, Ahmad was taken from the hospital by friends and hidden in Tulkarm for a month. “I was afraid,” he says. “Every time there was a knock on the door I thought it was [the soldiers].” He hopes the intifada will bring “a state like everyone else…freedom.” Freedom means “I won’t be afraid,” he says.

Akram, a high-school student, interrupts Ahmad to argue that war is inevitable. “I don’t expect peace. I don’t like peace. Arabs don’t want peace, they want Jerusalem. We want the land. We want the Jews out.” But Ahmad disagrees. “There must be two states. And the settlers must go back where they came from.”

Camp residents’ comments reflect the survive-and-endure stance that prevailed prior to the intifada. [11] “The conference won’t work,” Majed asserts. “If there’s peace and autonomy, there’ll still be Israeli taxes and there will be police like before so there will be problems. We want them to withdraw. We want an end to the daily problems. When God wants them to withdraw they will. We won’t both stay. It’s either us or them. There’s no chance for two states.”

“If there is a just peace and it is real, we want it,” says Fawziyya’s husband. “But if it’s a peace at our expense, then we don’t want it.” Muhammad is more specific: “We want peace — two states. Our hope is in God. You won’t find hope in the uprising or in the peace process. Hope is in God.”

New Settlements

The trip back from Tulkarm through Nablus to Ramallah testifies to the final thrust of Israel’s use of the Gulf crisis to assert further control over the Occupied Territories. Descending from the fertile plains of the northern West Bank and winding into the terraced hills of olive groves in the central region, barely a bend is rounded without the view of a Jewish settlement spilling over a ridge. Settlements hardly visible a year ago now conspicuously dominate hilltops on both sides of the road.

Several kilometers after the military checkpoint outside Nablus — the last of three we passed — the road dips sharply into the strikingly picturesque valley at the foot of the Palestinian village of Lubban al-Sharqiyya. Rounding the curve, the servis (shared taxi) drives through the middle of Rahalim, one of the newest nahalim (Israeli paramilitary outposts) in the West Bank. Rahalim was established in response to the October killing of a settler at the site.

On one side of the road, the soldiers lounge in army tents on land confiscated for “security reasons” following the incident. On the other side, a small group of women settlers, heads covered in the manner of Orthodox Jews, sit at a picnic table adorned with a vase of wild flowers and drink tea. In front of them a handmade signpost marks their “new home.” Although the land was technically confiscated for military purposes, the Israeli authorities agreed to allow ten civilians to reside at the camp following militant settler pressure. Government approval for a new civilian settlement has not yet been granted, but Palestinians report that many more than ten settlers have already taken up residence there. On the adjacent hill the vast settlement of Ma’ale Levona creeps across more land formerly belonging to the Palestinian villages of ‘Arroura and ‘Abwayn. Umm Jamil’s words provide an appropriate caption for this scene of soldiers and settlers. “Peace won’t happen because there are those who want it and those who don’t,” she says. “Look what happened when our children brought olive branches to soldiers in the camp during the peace conference. The soldiers cursed them and shouted at them. So the children fled and started throwing stones.”


[1] UNRWA regularly distributes food rations such as skim milk, rice, flour, canned corned beef and sugar to families designated as hardship cases — families without a single male over 18 who is not studying full time and is mentally and physically capable of earning an income.
[2] The only exceptions were parts of East Jerusalem.
[3] For detailed description of the series of measures accompanying the “war curfew,” including the pass system, see No Exit: Israel’s Curfew Policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, June 1991). As noted by JMCC, “Not only did the curfew outlast the war, the nature of the curfew and the additional measures implemented by Israel during the curfew belie Israeli claims that it was imposed for reasons necessitated by the outbreak of the war.”
[4] Israeli authorities issued green identity cards to select Palestinians on “security” grounds, prohibiting entry into East Jerusalem and Israel. At the end of June, 15,000 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories held green cards (JMCC, Weekly Report, August 16-29, 1991, p. 5). Haykal estimates that about 170 men in camp held green identity cards at the end of November 1991.
[5] Acquiring these permits requires a request to the Civil Administration from an Israeli employer. These work permits specify the location(s) within Israel and Jerusalem, and the times for which the pass is valid. Illegal entry may lead to immediate arrest and/or the imposition of a fine.
[6] Each month an average of nine to ten days are lost to curfews and four to strike days.
[7] No Exit, pp. 1, 8.
[8] While no comprehensive figures are available, many educators fear that the number of dropouts is on the rise. The more than 2,200 elementary and preparatory students in Tulkarm camp’s five schools have lost roughly 65 percent of the last four academic school years. When the 1990-1991 school year came to a close in June, camp students had attended less than a quarter of the regular 210-day academic year due to curfews and military closures. UNRWA was able to negotiate with the Israeli military authorities for an extension of the school year until August 15, which allowed them to complete 112 days of classes — still far short of the minimum 170 days required by local law. Interview with camp officer, November 1991; al-Quds, August 13, 1991.
[9] Interview with Muhammad Haykal, November 1991; JMCC records.
[10] JMCC, The Stone and the Olive Branch: Four Years of the Intifada from Jabalya to Madrid (December 1991), p. 9. This would appear to be a result of the decline in the number of massive demonstrations and shift toward clashes of a smaller-scale.
[11] Observers have characterized the intifada as a period marked by a clear shift to a more active challenging of the occupation. See, for example, Salim Tamari, “Limited Rebellion and Civil Society: The Uprising’s Dilemma,” Middle East Report 164-165 (May-August 1990).

How to cite this article:

Sharry Lapp "Aftermath," Middle East Report 175 (March/April 1992).

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