They Are Humans Too…

“That the Jews and Arabs who lived in peace for hundreds of years, have become enemies because of this Zionist ambition to have a country of their own.” Palestinian refugee residing in Gaza

Text and Photographs by Per-Olow Anderson

Human suffering is nothing new to me. As a photo-journalist I have encountered many times during the newspaper and magazine assignments that have taken me to seventy-four countries in the past twenty years.

But none of my experiences was more shocking to me than my introduction to the plight of the more than one million Palestine Arab refugees in the Middle East, whom I first saw in April, 1956, on my arrival to Gaza on an assignment for a Swedish magazine.

Palestinian children who were born in their ancestral villages shortly before being forced into exile in Gaza.

The Palestinian Arab refugee exists in misery and despair in crowded camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gaza strip—in caves in Palestine, squatters’ rows near large Arab cities, and the slums of cities themselves.

I have seen the squalor of their tents and mud huts sprawled on rocky hillsides and in bone-dry, dust-brown valleys. I have felt their grief and suffering, heard their bitter memories and frustrations, and their tense and emotional cry: “Justice, justice! All we ask is justice!”

What is justice in their particular case, and why has it been denied to them for so long?

A special school for students with tuberculosis (L). An amputee victim of the Israeli war, now repairing shoes in Gaza.

When the United Nations sanctioned the creation of the of the State of Israel in 1948, it did not intend that that the Arab population of the territory given to the Jews should be expropriated, expelled, and forced to flee. But this is what actually happened. Nearly a million Arabs whose ancestors had lived for countless generations in Palestine lost their lands and homes and became penniless refugees, to make way for Jewish refugees, who themselves been forced by Nazi persecution to flee their homelands.

Woman beside her makeshift dwelling(L). An old man in a tuberculosis ward (C). A young girl with her English lesson book.

The world has extended its help and sympathy to the Jewish refugees. Everything possible was done for them and the conscience of humanity was so stirred that it approved of their being given a Jewish state of their own.

Ironically and tragically, however, the world is attempting to right the injustice to one people sowed the seeds of injustice to another. The Palestinian Arabs, whom the Jewish refugees displaced, also became victims of war and terror. For them, the world set up only a relief agency, to hand out a dole and to carry out a plan for resettling them in other Arab lands, against the wishes of both themselves and of the countries to which they were to be assigned.

Life in a Gaza Refugee camp. The sign reads (L)”Ament B’allah” or In God I Have Faith.” The Khan Yunis refugee camp.

Nothing has been done to answer the desire of the Palestinian Arabs for repatriation to their former homes, or to compensate them for the loss of their property or to enforce the UN-imposed boundaries that would have divided Palestine almost equally between Jews and Arabs.

I cannot see why—after nine years—the world still has not solved this problem. I cannot understand how the world at large came to forget these people who, in terms of human suffering, are paying an agonizing price for a mistake for which all of us are responsible.

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