Refugee Camp alchemy

Growing up in the Shuafat refugee camp in Jerusalem is growing without understanding the language of those who live on the other side of a huge gray wall. It is walking along narrow streets on the walls of which are glued posters of martyrs who are sometimes your friends. Shuafat is the only refugee camp in the city of Jerusalem. Most residents have blue IDs that allow them to work in Israel on the other side of the wall through a checkpoint but do not allow them to vote. This possibility of going to work on the other side is causing many Palestinians to pour in and apartment blocks are sprouting up like mushrooms without a license and in chaotic conditions where safety standards are set aside. For fifteen years, drugs of all kinds have appeared in the camp, followed closely by weapons. Regular settlings of scores are causing casualties and Israeli authorities seem to ignore this crimes. The Palestinian Authority does not have jurisdiction in this area but the Municipality of Jerusalem does not do its job either: the garbage collection is not done and the inhabitants are obliged to burn their garbage on site. At the corner of an alley, a man of a certain age opens the sewage pipe in front of his house. Electricity cuts are frequent and access to drinking water is not systematic. This refugee camp was established in 1965 by the Jordanian authorities and the United Nations to house Palestinians from the Old City of Jerusalem. They were 20,000 at the start and it is estimated today that between 60 and 80 000 people live in this area of lawlessness considered by the Israeli authorities as a «terrorist pool». Almost daily clashes take place: assault rifles and tear gas against fronds and Molotov cocktails. According to ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel) more than 80% of children live below the poverty line in this camp. In a small room in the Palestinian Child Center of Shuafat refugee camp, twenty-year-old rapper Mohammed Hamouda is sitting in front of a rudimentary computer and mixing sounds. For him, «outside, it’s the jungle. To survive, you have to fight, it’s the culture of violence. Even at age 7 or 8, you have to show that you are not afraid.» Hamouda learned English through YouTube and that’s how he discovered hip-hop culture. In his neighborhood, it is the identification with the Afro-American culture of ghettos that has allowed the development of a new form of expression. The main activity of Hamouda is to teach rap to a dozen teenagers in the camp. They come several times a week to write their lyrics, sing them and record them. «I try to explain to them that creativity is more important than violence. At first they only had that in mind. We talk a lot about how their feelings. Little by little the lyrics of their songs have changed. Now they talk about frienship and more positive things.»

Thanks to Kenneth Krushel

Shuafat Refugee Camp Surrounded by the Separation Wall in East Jerusalem.

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Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Many buildings have not been finished.

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Hamouda 22 years old, in the recording studio of the Palestinian Child Center, in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

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DIn the Palestinian Child Center, Hamouda and his students are heckling.

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In the recording studio of the Palestinian Child Center, Hamouda asks his students to concentrate on writing the lyrics of their songs.

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Ahmad records his piece in the Palestinian Child Center studio.

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Not far from the "Palestinian Child Center", bullets perforated the facade of a store probably during a settlement of account related to drug trafficking.

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Hamouda, Nour, Ahmad, Suhaip and others are preparing to make a video for their latest song in the streets of Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

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Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

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Children will throw garbage cans in an alley of Shuafat refugee camp. The walls were recently by local residents "to make it less sad".

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Ahmad and Suhaip inflate balloons in an alley of Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

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At the entrance of the Palestinian Child Center, 15-year-old Ahmad and his friends joke with Zare, the daughter of Abouchir, director of the center.

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The separation wall in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. Wastewater rises to the surface. The municipality of Jerusalem is supposed to manage this part of the city but it is the inhabitants who are obliged to solve this kind of problems considering the inaction of the authorities.

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Sara, 22, takes a selfy at the Palestinian Child Center. She is one of the volunteers who helps to organize the activities for the little ones.

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Hamouda lives with his parents. In the background, photos of his father who was a football coach.

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Hamouda pauses in the gym at the Shuafat refugee camp and looks out the window where the separation wall is visible.

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Hamouda celebrates the wedding of a resident of Shuafat refugee camp.

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Shuafat refugee camp seen from Israeli settlements.

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Children head for the separation wall in Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.

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