The Daily Life of Kawther Salam

  ..: Memories: UNRWA Relief for Palestinian Refugees :..
November 25, 2006

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These are my memories of the "humanitarian relief" of the UNRWA after the Palestinian Naqba. I was between 6 and 14 years old when these things happened. Later, I investigated about irregularities with the UNRWA assistance several times between 1982 and 1995. The situation with the food has become somewhat better since then, but I am sure that children are still treated like what I describe here in the schools for Palestinians operated by the UN. The situation in the various refugee camps, like Al-Fawwar south of Hebron, or Al-Arroub north of Hebron, is far worse. They can appropriately be described as populated garbage heaps converted into concentration camps by the Israelis, surrounded by barbed wire and 60-meter security zones.

To this day, the only means of subsistence of the inhabitants of these camps, is this "relief" from the UN. Each one of these concentration camps is a mark of shame for the UN, which has done nothing to alleviate the situation but done everything to keep things like they are. What a contrast to how the employees of the UN live here in Vienna, with their inflated, tax-free salaries for doing nothing but pushing paper and showing nice manners.

I was born as a Palestinian refugee. When I was six years old, my mother registered my name in the UNRWA school, a school which was far away from our house. She said that I could not go to the nearest school, which my friends from my neighborhood were attending. She said that I was a refugee and I had to go the UNRWA school, where the Palestinian refugees sent their children.

I cried and I told her I wanted to be with my friends in the same school. She told me that my father was a poor person and could not pay the tuition fees for a normal school.

During the first week of my attendance at the UN School, the teacher ordered us to pay some money. I told her: “My mother said that the UNRWA school does not take money from the students”. Because of this, the teacher told me to raise my fingers, and that I should get permission from her before talking. She beat me on each hand with the long stick, and asked me for my name.
I answered her while I was crying:
“My name is Kawther Salam”.
Are you a refugee or a Hebronite citizen?
“I am a Hebronite.”
Salam Al-Natsheh or Salam Abu Seneneh ? (There are two branches of a Hebronite Salam family, not related to us)
“I don’t know !“

The teacher shouted at me to stop crying or she would beat me again. She said “So you are a refugee. Go and ask your father about the name of his town ! Ask him to give you 10 Quroosh too !“ - about 15 cents at that time - “and bring us your refugee card.”

On my return home I didn’t eat. I went to bed. I was thinking about the questions of my teacher, and why she had beaten me.
What did she mean when she asked me if I was a refugee or a Hebronite citizen?
What kind of card had my teacher asked me to bring her?
My father should answer these questions I told myself, but he was still not at home.
Should I ask my mother? No. Why not? Or perhaps I should ask her.

Crunchy beetles in the lentils from the UNRWA (pic source)

When I arrives home, my mother was busy cooking lentils, as always.
Why I should eat them? I hate lentils to this day. They were full of small stones and bugs. The small black bugs were crunchy like potato chips, and I stopped eating them once I understood what they were. I went to my mother. Before I could open my mouth she asked me what it was with me. Had the boys of my class beaten me ?

I answered “No, but the teacher wants our UNRWA card and 10 Quroosh.” My mother jumped in astonishment, she asked me why they wanted our supplies card. “No, I will not give you this card. We need to eat, lentils and bread”, she said.

I said: “I hate eating these lentils, they are disgusting.” My mother became angry: “So ask your father to bring us better food which you will like to eat too !”

My father returned home that night. My mother had the white card in her hand. I always see this card with my mother. She cared about this white card more than about us. It was the UNRWA card, the refugee card. She always hid it in a safe place, between her clothes, in the small wooden box. At the end of the month, my mother took out this card and went somewhere in the city where a crowd of thousands of people holding the same white card gathered, waiting.

That was the truth. This white card was the supplies card from the UNRWA, which gave us the the right to receive a montly ration of rotten and otherwise spoilt food: the lentils which I detested so much mixed with stones and small insects, flour full of worms, broken rice mixed with starch stones, worms and tiny black bugs, yellow sugar, bean, rotten dried fish full of insect eggs and dead maggots, decomposed butter which my mother had to boil twice, salt and mix with spices so it was possible to eat it at all, the bags of dry milk two years over their expiration date, the strange soap which made lice appear two days after using it, the blankets which had a penetrating chemical smell which would not go away even after washing them several times …

My mother had to spend two weeks after we received this kind of “relief” from the UNRWA office working to make it edible. She had to take out the worms, the stones, the garbage and the insects from this “International HUMANITARIAN RELIEF”, before she could store it until the next time she went to the UN for more of the same.

This was the only relief which all the Palestinians refugees received who were supplied by the UNRWA , after the Arabs and Europe brought us the disaster of “Al-Naqbah”, the “Independence” of the Jewish State.

I will never forget this white card and the U.N. “relief”.
I will never forget the worms, the small black bugs and the insect eggs in the UNRWA “relief” for the refugees.
I will also never forget how they spread DDT on our heads at the UNRWA elementary school. The head mistress of our school said that the DDT was for prevention from lice. I had no lice. The smell of the yellow powder stayed for over two weeks on me. One of the older girls from the school died after the DDT was put on her head for the second consecutive year.

When I was in the UNRWA school near the old hospital in Hebron an old man called Abu Subhi had to come during the 15 minutes break to take us to UNRWA restaurant which was on Wadi Al-Toffah street. This man was very fat. He had long whip. While he was walking us down the hill and over King Faisal Street, Abu Subhi would beat us on our legs all the long way until we arrived the restaurant. At this UN restaurant they were giving us food which not even the dogs accepted to eat.

When I finished the elementary UNRWA School and was transferred to the preparatory UNRWA school of Wadi Al-Tofah. The director of the school was Miss Raia. In this school the teachers usually beat us in a horrible way. I remember the geography and history teacher, Naama, from the Al-Arroub refugee camp. She had a big wooden stick which she used to beat us on the backs of our hands. She gave us private work, "hand work", to do for her mother. This teacher taught me to hate the subjects of geography and history. Our teacher of Arabic at the same school was a man called Muhammad Tawfiq from Suer. He once held a chair over the head of my colleague, Nisreen. Our science teacher was Maha, and she behaved like a jailer, she always held a cane and would beat us over 8 times on one hand. During my the attendance of UNRWA schools, both elementary and preparatory in Hebron, I and my classmates were tortured like prisoners, insulted continuously, our teacher used to refer to us as donkeys, goats, animals, shameless girls, ...

Also, the teachers detailed two girls to clean their classroom for two weeks, We had to raise the 30 heavy banks made of wood and metal frames to clean under them, each thursday we had to wash the classroom with water. The woman supposedly in charge of cleaning the school (and who was paid to do so) was a friend of the headmistress, she brought the teachers and the headmistress food and did some private things for them.

When I became a journalist in 1982, I visited the UNRWA offices in Hebron and Jerusalem; I investigated the scandal of supplying the refugees with unveiled flour and powder milk.

I still remember the director of the UNRWA office in Hebron Mr. Hosni Shahwan, who answered my questions. I also remember Dr. Muhammad Uodeh who answered my questions related to UNRWA medical treatment. All the patients of the UNRWA clink were receiving the same kind of medicine and tablets. It’s not more than three or four kinds of tablets for all kind of sickness, sometimes these tablets were invalid. 

I hope that the situation has changed at the UNRWA schools at Palestine and I hope the Human relief in a better situation now. According to recent information, the UNRWA has limited their relief in the sector of the medical treatment, education, and the humanitarian relief. People now get supplies once each four months. I hope that the UNRWA is now supplying the Palestinians with food supplies which are in good state.

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