Disclosure in Palestine papers that negotiators gave up fight over refugees is greeted with disgust in Bethlehem camp
A section of Israel’s separation barrier runs alongside the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP
In a crowded room in Aida refugee camp, Abu Khalil sipped sweet tea before listing reasons why he will never give up his right to return to his family’s pre-1948 home.
“My home, my land, my mosque, my identity, my dreams. Everything I live for. You want me to give up all these things for a state?” All Palestinians agree, he said; there can be no compromise.
Certainly in this refugee camp at the edge of Bethlehem, where boys today played football in the shadow of the huge concrete wall which cuts it off from Jerusalem, it was hard to find any dissent.
The collective memory of the Palestinian homeland, before the State of Israel was born amid anguish and bloodshed in 1948, is bequeathed like a treasured heirloom through generations. The disclosure that Palestinian negotiators were prepared to make big concessions on this, the most visceral of issues, was greeted with disgust among the refugee population.
For Amar al-Masaid, 28, history was something he lived with every day. “Our country was taken by force,” he said, amid jumbo boxes of cornflakes, tins of spam and chocolate Santa Clauses in his family’s shop. “They invaded us. They are a colonial power. We will never make any compromise. We will never sell our land. It would be better to stay with the Jews under occupation that give up our rights.”
His family had fled from Deir Aban in 1948; his father still has the deeds to the land they lost. “If you ask a little baby in these camps where their home is, they will answer you,” he said.
On cue, seven-year-old Dahoud and his sister Ranim, five, arrived to buy dried coconut, sent by their mother. Where did they come from? “Palestine,” said the boy; his sister whispered “Al-Maliha,” an Arab village south of Jerusalem until 1948, now home to a huge Israeli shopping mall and sports stadium.
According al-Masaid, the refugees live in a prison. Look around you, he said gesturing at the wall looming a couple of hundred yards away.
Nearby, 63-year-old Mousa al-Masaid, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh, was passionately dismissive about the recent disclosures of negotiations. “I don’t care what they say on al-Jazeera,” he said. “All I care about is going back to my homeland. You want me to give up my land for peace? To hell with peace! I would rather live under the rule of monkeys than give up my land for peace.”
The Palestinian negotiators did not represent him, he said, and had no right to bargain away his homeland on his behalf.
In the view of 73-year-old Um Mahmoud, the negotiators had not sold the rights of the Palestinian people but given them away. “Whatever they give up, the Israelis give nothing in return.”
She remembered as a child being forced to flee her home near Jerusalem. “They [Jewish soldiers] came in the middle of the night, shooting at us. At first we slept in caves. I was terrified.”
From their refuge, the family could see their former home. “Every morning we were full of hope that we could go back. We still have that hope, and we put our trust in Allah.”
In Ramallah – the stronghold of the ruling party Fatah – hundreds of Palestinians today greeted their president Mahmoud Abbas, returning from a trip to Cairo, in a show of support.
“The Palestinian principles … have not and will not change and the first of them is that East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine,” Abbas told the crowd. “No one in the world can make us give up on a centimetre of our land, the issue of the refugees or the issue of Jerusalem.”
The documents published by al-Jazeera and the Guardian were fake, he said. Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, meanwhile confirmed earlier that the documents were authentic.
In Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, called for protests over the issue of Palestinian refugees.