AMMAN: Azzam Abu Malouh sits outside his humble store in a narrow alleyway inside Husn Palestinian refugee camp and talks about his lost homeland.
Malouh, who is in his 50s, recalls stories he heard from his father about their Palestinian homeland and the port of Jaffa, which they fled in 1948.
Husn Camp in Jordan, known widely as Martyr Azzam Al-Mufti camp, was established after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The camp, 80 kilometers north of the capital Amman, is home to refugees from the 1948 Nakba — when Palestinians were driven from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers and the formation of Israel — and those displaced in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza.
The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers the needs of Palestinian refugees, says the camp houses 25,000 registered refugees.
Abu Malouh is involved in social and political activities in the camp, and does not miss a single anniversary or event linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He represents the living Palestinian cause that has continued for three and four generations since the Nakba 70 years ago.
Nakba Day refers to May 15, 1948, and is remembered throughout the world as the “catastrophe” when Palestinians lost their homes and land. On Monday, dozens of protesters marking the Nakba were killed in clashes with Israeli forces on the Gaza border.
Last December, Abu Malouh and others in the camp decided to remind younger generations of their past.
They began a campaign to paint Palestinian symbols on the walls of the camp. Artists and amateurs worked to give dilapidated buildings a facelift, and street names where changed to reflect Palestinian cities and towns.
“So when you are in Husn camp and say I am going to Nablus, Gaza or Haifa, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to Palestine,” Abu Malouh told Arab News.
“We want the young people in this camp to know the names of Palestinian cities.”
Abu Malouh has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the politics of the Palestinian conflict.
“For us in this camp, our central cause is the right of return and the rejection of alternative plans, and attempts to erase the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Every child who walks our streets is reminded daily of their homeland Palestine.”
Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees of any country where UNWRA operates.
The kingdom’s 10 official Palestinian refugee camps hold almost 370,000 people, or 18 percent of the country’s total.
Constitutionally, Palestinians, whether living in refugee camps or not, have been granted full citizenship in Jordan. They are allowed to take part in political life, hold public service jobs and serve in the army. However, these privileges are not granted to the almost 140,000 Palestinians who arrived from Gaza.
Outside the camps, Palestinians make up the core of the Jordanian professional class and the majority of business owners and wealthy family businesses. Names such as Nuqul, Salfiti, Shoman, Sayegh and Masri are among wealthy Jordanians of Palestinian origin.
Ahmad Ruqub, the Palestine committee reporter in the Jordanian House of Representatives, told Arab News that more support is needed for Palestinian refugee camps, whose inhabitants live in poverty with high levels of unemployment.
“Youth are without work and homes are overcrowded as UNRWA has lessened over the years their services,” he said.
The camps were built as temporary sites in the belief that refugees would return to their homeland. But decades of overcrowding have taken a toll on the infrastructure. Streets have huge potholes, and sewage often spills into the streets, increasing the risk of disease.
Palestinians look to the UN agency as more than just a humanitarian organization. They see it as a witness to the 1948 eviction of Palestinians and the refusal to allow their return.