In May 1948, Israel declared its independence. Palestinians such as Hafida Khatib refer to this moment as the “Nakba” (catastrophe). Hafida and her family fled to Lebanon, a country that has never felt like home.
Hafida remembers her family’s small house. She still has the key, but the house no longer exists. Today, she must contend with renting a dark apartment. Lebanon does not allow Palestinians to own land or housing.
Following the outbreak of the Arab–Israeli War in 1948, 19-year-old Hafida Khatib and her family fled from the Palestinian village of Dayr al-Qassi to neighbouring Lebanon. “I have lived in Lebanon for 70 years, but I’ve never forgotten Palestine,” says Hafida, who is now almost 90.
Today she lives in the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp, which lies in the south of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut. Camp residents like to quip that not even a coffin fits through its narrow streets. Many houses are run down and at risk of collapsing. Three years ago, Hafida moved into a small ground-floor apartment after her leg was amputated because of complications resulting from diabetes.
Hafida’s apartment would be hard to find without someone leading the way through the cramped maze of homes. The camp was originally intended to temporarily shelter Palestinians, but it still exists today, having become a home for several generations of refugees. It has grown: official figures put the number of Palestinians living in the camp at more than 18,000. The more recent influx of Syrian refugees most likely means that 40,000 people now live here. About half of the residents are younger than 25 years old. And camp life is all that many know.