It is a Life of Desperation: Palestinian Refugees in Jordan

Author: Claire Thaliana | Date: April 2015

Jabal al-Hussein refugee camp in Jordan.  Photo: C. Thaliana

This message came from Umm Ahmed, a Palestinian grandmother who’s lived her whole life in the Jabal al-Hussein refugee camp in Jordan. She was recently able to visit her daughter in Palestine for the first time after seventeen years of being denied by the Israeli embassies. She asked me to get bring the message home about the injustices Palestinian refugees face every day. This story is my attempt to do just that.

Economic Conditions

“It is a life of desperation.” Each of the ten people I interviewed said that at some point when I asked about the economic conditions in the camps. The youth in particular face unemployment, low wages and an impossibly high cost of living, and can’t raise the money they need to leave the camp even if they want to. These issues can ultimately be traced back to the disparities in legal status between Palestinian refugees and Jordanians in Jordan. Less than half of students make it through secondary or professional school, and those lacking Jordanian citizenship are given lower consideration for scholarships and jobs in their fields than Jordanian citizens with less education. Exploitation of low-wage workers is common, and labor laws in Jordan are rarely enforced.

Meanwhile, the cost of living has drastically increased in the last few decades, and even more since the Syrian crisis.

Let me tell you a truth about poverty everywhere, for poverty is in my lived experience too – it means making terrible choices when all the other options are gone. Saeed (pseudonym) a young married man with several children, painted a clear picture of day-to-day living in the camp. Young people just want to buy a coffee or cigarettes, but can’t afford even these simple pleasures in their circumstances. So they ask older people for money… but it’s humiliating.

After a long time of living every day in desperation, youth get to where they don’t feel anything. And then they say they wish it were a chaotic situation like Syria, so they could move about and steal what they needed. One even said that if he could join one of the terrorist organizations he would, because they would provide a living for him, but if he had any other way to feed his children and cover his expenses, he would be the first one to fight against such organizations.

We’d live under a tent in the rain as long as we could live in our homeland.

Access to Healthcare

The intermittent employment people face in the camp also affects their access to healthcare, since health insurance is only available to employed people. Refugees with Jordanian citizenship can access the same healthcare system as Jordanians but those without citizenship are in a vulnerable position. UNRWA clinics cannot help in emergency situations. One young man related how his wife had a miscarriage because he could not obtain the necessary 30 JD in time to have her admitted for a complication. The Jordanian government provides some medical aid to refugees with citizenship, but this ends up stratifying refugees by legal status.

Right of Return

Under international law, refugees displaced by military engagements have the right to return to their homeland, but this right is systematically denied by the Israeli government and has been ever since the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe,” the term for the Israeli takeover of the 1948 territories) displaced at least 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-49. Though families have lived out their lives in the camps, people overwhelmingly told me they would exercise their right of return and live in Palestine given the chance. I also heard several older people exclaim with exasperation after years of being denied entry into Palestine that they just wanted to visit – their homes, their villages, their families who are still there.

The stories I heard from people who were unable to visit their family members in Palestine made me sick with rage, especially since I, with no family or cultural connections to Palestine, have the privilege to cross those borders any time I want. Umm Ahmad, the same woman who couldn’t visit her daughter for 17 years, said that her husband was unable to attend his brother’s funeral, nor can he visit is 90-year-old mother in ‘Aqa. Also in Jabal al-Hussein, a woman named Su’ad Abu Sharma told me that she’d been denied a visa consistently from 2000-2013; when she finally visited her family she stayed one extra day, and for that reason she’s being denied again now. Because of this, she was unable to attend her brother’s funeral. This would be painful for anyone; no one should have to live cut off from the ones they love.

Under international law, refugees displaced by military engagements have the right to return to their homeland.

Messages for the West

I asked each interviewee what messages they most wanted me to carry back to a Western audience. People had two main messages which I’ll go into in detail.

First, people wanted to correct the Western story about Islam and Palestinians. Islam as a religion teaches peace, social justice and harmony with others; terrorists represent only themselves and not the Palestinian people and certainly not Islam. Palestinians don’t hate Americans either, only our government as it gives unmitigated support to the Israeli state while it commits human rights abuses. People often joked that if they thought the American people were like our government I would not be allowed into the camps.

Finally, in the words of a lady I interviewed in Jabal al-Hussein Camp, “No more talk! It’s time for direct action.” We need to support people on the ground. Monetary assistance is great, and it should take such forms as funding businesses and providing scholarships to local universities, but the most important thing we can do is fight for the Palestinian right of return. For Westerners, that means the struggle is here in our home countries as well – it’s time to hold our elected officials accountable for being complicit in Israeli oppression, and keep fighting until all our governments recognize the Palestinian right of return.

Solidarity Through Filmmaking

Author: Daniel Roberts | Date: September 2015

1Ahed and brotherAhed struggling to pull her brother away from a soldier in their village of Nabi Saleh.  Photo: Bilal Tamimi

Earlier this year I went to Palestine for my second stint as a volunteer with ISM. When I made the crossing via the Allenby Bridge from Jordan I was taken out of the normal line and into a little room for questioning. I had an hours worth of questions, soldiers went through my phone and laptop. My previous experience in ISM had prepared me for this and I was ready. There was one point where I really thought by the tone of the questioning and their rude treatment that I wouldn’t be allowed in. Border soldiers are trained to keep out activist and journalist that have any pro-Palestinian leanings. My cover story was that I had a friend who was a pro-Israeli skater and that I was doing some filming for a skate video that was featuring the Tel Aviv skate scene. I had his cell phone number. He is a well-known guy so I believe that’s what helped me get in.

Being part of an ISM community means breaking bread daily with people who share the same heart and drive about Palestine, and discussing how we can make a positive change.

I had a few other friends that I recruited to volunteer with ISM. As they completed their training in Ramallah I had a chance to catch up with ISM friends. Often times living in the US I feel very isolated in my passion for Palestine. The narrative is very pro-Israel at home. A recent survey by The Brookings Institution on the American public view on Israel and Palestine found that 55% were in favor of Israel’s side of “the conflict,” 39% were neutral, with only 6% leaning towards Palestine. Facing that kind of cultural bias can be a daunting task in our efforts of educating, reporting, and raising awareness about what’s truly going on. One of the things that I enjoy about ISM is that like-minded people from around the world come to the occupied West Bank because they are passionate about the Palestinian issue. Being part of an ISM community means breaking bread daily with people who share the same heart and drive about Palestine, and discussing how we can make a positive change. I’ve had housemates that have ranged in age from retired to straight out of high school. It was great being back in Palestine with a supportive community.

Trying to sum up almost two months of experiences in a short article can be difficult. I’ve learned that within the ISM group we as individuals have the ability to use our individual gifts to contribute to the overall efforts. One of the core priorities of ISM is documentation. This is from the ISM website “documenting and reporting to local and international media about the daily life under apartheid and countless human rights and international law violations by the Israeli military. The need for documentation is not just to show that there are illegal and unjust actions going on, but also to provide a real means of evidence for accountability to the police and courts, case by case.”

Parts of our daily activities were interviewing Palestinian families and publishing stories, videos, and photos after incidents of violence perpetrated by illegal settlers and IOF incursions. During my first experience with ISM we had discussed making a short film focusing on one village to better document what daily life in Palestine is like. Karam who is one of the main Palestinian leaders in ISM has spent a lot of time in a small village of Nabi Saleh. Every Friday he goes to the village to participate, take photos, and video the demo. He introduced us to the Tamimi family and A’hed Tamimi. When she was just 13 A’hed won the Handala Award for courage from Turkey. She was flown to Turkey with her mother where she was presented the award and met with Prime Minister Erdogan.

janna2Janna Ayyad marching in a demonstration on Nakba Day.  Photo: Rise Up International

During our trip we spent a lot of time in Nabi Saleh, gathering stories from the people, documenting night incursions by the IOF, and documenting the weekly demonstrations. Nabi Saleh in unique because it is one of the few villages where women and girls participate in the weekly demonstrations. A’hed and other teen girls leave their heads uncovered and are actively part of the non-violent protests. A’hed has long curly blonde hair and blue eye so she shatters many stereotypes of what a Palestinian looks like.

A’hed, her family, and friends had a very deep impact on me. After several viral videos, including the incident a few weeks ago when she intervened as a soldier was choking her brother she has become the poster child for Palestinian resistance against the occupation. We plan to use the video, photos, stories, and interviews to release a short film about A’hed and the unique non-violent resistance technics that Nabi Saleh uses. I believe that as the outside world learns more about the Palestinian struggle through the eye of a teen that sympathy will grow for the independence movement. Our film titled Radiance of Résistance focuses on A’hed Tamimi, Janna Ayyad, their friends, and family will be released in 2016 in film fest around the world. People can follow our facebook page for ongoing updates on the project. Our efforts would not be possible without the support of ISM in California and ISM Palestinian leaders including Karam who served in a producer role. It was amazing to have the support locally in Nabi Saleh , with Karam and the ISM community. As we look to the future of ISM, I can see us getting involved in more projects like this where we balance the daily reports, with larger film projects and stories that raise awareness on a larger scale.

Daniel is an American who has volunteered with ISM two different times. His involvement with Palestinians started in 2012 when he received a grant to teach art classes at Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.  A year later he was part of a team built the first skate ramp in Gaza.


Our solidarity community is growing and has made much positive progress over the years like the rise of the BDS campaign, an increase in campus activism and the increased visibility of Palestinian voices in the media. But we can’t can’t overlook the Palestinian economy which has been strangled and blockaded just like Palestinian lives and property. With that in mind I’ve worked with the Northern California chapter of the International Solidarity Movement (NorCal ISM) to bring you Palbox !


Palbox is a totally new way to support Palestinian farmers, artisans, craftspeople and Palestinian nonviolent resistance that completely bypasses all Israeli control. Palbox is a gourmet gift box delivered four times a year to your doorstep and includes:

  • a 25 oz bottle of Palestinian olive oil
  • 2 bars of olive oil soap
  • a bag of za’atar
  • a new, hand-curated Palestinian cultural product in each box (the first box will contain a downloadable album of music from Haidar Eid)
  • a sterling silver piece of Arabic calligraphy jewelry.

The first Palbox ships December 1, just in time for the holidays. You must order during October to receive the December 1st shipment. To order, see the NorCal ISM website:

PalBox: a new way to support Palestine‏

Palbox is a new project that supports Palestinian farmers, artists and craftspeople and benefits the nonviolent resistance in Palestine, as well.  Palbox is a gourmet gift box delivered four times a year to your doorstep and includes:


• a 750ml bottle of Palestinian olive oil

• 2 bars of olive oil soap

• a bag of za’atar

• a new, hand-curated Palestinian cultural product in each box (the first box will contain a downloadable album of music from Haidar Eid)

• a sterling silver piece of Arabic calligraphy jewelry.

The first Palbox ships December 1, just in time for the holidays. You must order during October to receive the December 1st shipment. 

Here is our 2 minute promo video below:

The challenge in creating Palbox was how to support Palestinians living in Gaza, faced with an Israeli blockade of exports. Palbox overcomes with electronic downloadables from Gaza, like music, which bypass the blockade.

Here is Katie Miranda’s 10 minute “interview” with singer, BDS activist, and  professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University, Haidar Eid, about his new album titled Gaza Blues: Hymns of Love, Death and Resistance. The album comes with the first Palbox. The reason “interview” is in quotes is that due to the inconsistent supply of electricity in Gaza, Katie could not do the interview over Skype, so she emailed him the questions and he recorded the answers.  Katie is a successful career artist and former ISM volunteer who is part of the Northern California coordination team.

Palbox is most of all an act of solidarity with Palestinians. In addition to supporting the Palestinian economy with Fair Trade principles and practices, proceeds from the sale of Palbox products go to the Northern California chapter of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent methods and principles. We cannot single handedly stop bombs from raining down on Gaza but we can vote with our pocketbooks by boycotting Israeli goods and buying Palestinian.

What if you and everyone you knew used ONLY Palestinian olive oil ? Think  what that would mean for Palestinian farmers…

Subscribe to Palbox Today and Please Share this Email Widely !

Stories from the Occupation

Author: Daniel Roberts | Date: March 2015

wall action

Photo by: Daniel Roberts


During the months of October and November of 2014 I went to Palestine to work with ISM as a volunteer. I had many life changing experiences, made some great friends, learned more about the non-violent resistance movement in Palestine, and ultimately developed a deeper passion for the people of Palestine.  Here are a few stories from my time.

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ISM Honors Kayla Mueller

February 2015 | International Solidarity Movement | Occupied Palestine

Today, 10th February, Kayla Mueller’s family confirmed she has been killed.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, coordinator of the popular committee in the village of Bil’in where Kayla joined the protests, told ISM: “Kayla came to Palestine to stand in solidarity with us. She marched with us and faced the military that occupies our land side by side with us. For this, Kayla will always live in our hearts. We send all our support to her family and will continue, like Kayla, to work against injustice wherever it is.”

Photo by ISM volunteer

Kayla Mueller.Photo by: ISM


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Strange Love: What Settlers will do for the Land

March 2015 | By: C. Thaliana

The sun glimmers off the surface of wave after wave of deep green hills, and the wind catches your breath away, carrying it over the trees. This place has a magical kind of beauty, and it’s particularly surreal to see it and know that this tranquility can be punctured at any moment by violence. Occasionally, a shepherd waves to you and directs his sheep out of the road. Given a chance, he’ll invite you in for tea and introduce you to his family, in time recounting the centuries-long history of his village.


On the horizon you see several collections of North European-style red-and-white houses clustered with walls, fences and tall grey watchtowers recalling Orwell’s 1984, all this in stark juxtaposition to the land itself. These are the Israeli settlements gradually encroaching on Palestinian land, attempting to absorb it and gain control over all of it. Settlers drive cars designated with yellow license plates, giving them access to all the roads in the West Bank that are closed or restricted for Palestinians. You watch them speed down the nicely-paved roads with music blaring, seeming not to even see the landscape around them.

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