The founding of the Israeli state in 1948 followed the expulsion of around 750,000 Palestinians from the coastal region and the plains of Palestine towards the east, many of them crossing the borders to neighbouring Arab states. The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) supplied land for these refugees and finally ended their plight. Altogether, 61 refugee camps were set up. One of them is the Deheishe refugee camp, which was founded in 1949 on an area of roughly 430 dunums (about 1 square kilometre) within the city boundaries of Bethlehem in the West Bank.
The people who gathered in Deheishe originated from more than 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron. Deheishe is one of the refugee camps that was created as a temporary humanitarian solution to the problem of accommodating those expelled Palestinian families. Perched together in tents the refugees suffered extreme conditions throughout the year. Towards the end of the 50s the UNRWA started to build very simple living units: A single room of 10 square metres, 10 cm thick and 2.45 metres high walls, a steel roof and a floor made of rough concrete. The most distinct characteristics of these "buildings" were that it got bitterly cold during the winter season and unbearably hot during the summers. For these reasons, more and more refugees started to build their own houses so as not to live in the UNRWA-shacks any longer. Yet, the number of difficulties has not decreased since then and today the nearly 15,000 inhabitants living in Deheishe with a total no of 3000 families. The number of shelters in Deheishe camp is 2800. The inhabitants of this densely populated camp are facing - like in other refugee camps worldwide - severe everyday problems:
- The refugee camp, today housing more than three times as many people as originally planned, is extremely overcrowded.
- A rapid annual population growth between 2 and 5 percent makes the situation worse.
- Parks, playgrounds, libraries, market places do not exist.
- Public buildings are old and cannot be extended due to their site; public administration is disastrous.
- Water and electricity supply is insufficient.
- Sewage water disposal is malfunctioning.
ENVIRONMENT AND HYGIENICS
- There are by far not enough sewage water pipes; leaking sewage water tanks present a great hygienic hazard.
- Trash piles up in the streets because waste disposal is nonexistent.
- A high level of air pollution and little air circulation are the main cause for health problems concerning the pneumonial system within the camp.
- Electric cables are most often not safe and lie unsecured along and above the streets.
- Underground water pipes throughout the camp are very old, hence leaking and limited in their original function.
- Medical equipment and medications are missing.
- The fees for medical treatment rise while fewer costs are being taken over by the UNRWA.
- One specialist for women, babies, and heart and stomach diseases is responsible for 150,000 refugees.
- The schools are poorly equipped and too small. As a result, lessons are held in two shifts per day (morning and afternoon).
- The classrooms are overcrowded (more than 50 pupils per class), making efficient teaching impossible.