The Haifa Sports Club is a dirt football pitch that houses 1500 men, women and children in 400 tents.
Palestinians have been living here since 20 April this year, all evicted from their homes.
Dr Husain al-Shaikh manages the refugee camp, one of the many Palestinians to be born and raised in Iraq.
“In six months, we have only succeeded in reducing the number of people here by 300. That’s good news for the 70 families who are now living in real homes again but terrible for the rest of us.”
Al-Shaikh says the vast majority of Iraqis were very kind to over 30,000 Palestinians tenants. Nearly all were allowed to remain in the properties that Iraqi law prevented them from buying.
Many children have began to
“People have gotten used to life here, even though it is really awful. Women and children particularly suffered during the summer when there was no electricity, water and the weather was scorching hot. Many were sick then, but as winter approaches, things have improved.”
The manager is optimistic about emptying the camp by December, but his views are not shared by the many living in extremely cramped conditions.
Take me home
Adila al-Mahmud was born in 1923. As I entered her tent to talk to her, she began to cry and begged me to get her out of the camp.
“I want to go home – to Palestine.” She said she still recalls the day her family, friends and neighbours were thrown out of their own country in 1948.
Adila fears dying in a tent, she
“I remember it as if it were yesterday. Planes came and shot at our village, and many soldiers came and pushed us out. My village was called Jiba, but the Israelis made it impossible for us to live there – I don’t know if it even exists anymore. But we didn’t live in tents then.”
Initially, Adila was very happy in Basra and then Baghdad. “Iraqis treated us very well and have been very kind. But the last seven months – I’m sad to think I am likely to die in a tent and not in my village.”
Thrown out three times
For some, this is the third time they have become refugees.
Darwish Ahmad is originally from Yafa [Jaffa], he too became a refugee in 1948 at the age of nine. At first, he went to Nablus but then made his way to Kuwait where he lived for decades.
Even the simplest tasks are made
But with Yasir Arafat’s failure to condemn Iraq’s invasion in 1991, the Kuwaiti authorities made it clear to Darwish that he and his family were no longer welcome.
He fled to Baghdad after the first Gulf War where he was provided with a flat at a reduced rent. Palestinians were not allowed to own property, cars or telephone lines but they were treated with kindness, he adds.
Darwish, his wife and two sons now live in a tent no bigger than a car – two electric fans, a stove, four cushions and a television represent their total wealth.
“In my prayers every day, I just ask Allah to let me die in Yafa – I don’t even care about living in these filthy conditions now. My wife is a Palestinian born in Iraq – even she wants to return to our real home.”
Looking to blame
“Israel and Britain pushed us out of Palestine and then Israel and America pushed us out of our house in Iraq. If the invasion hadn’t come, we would not be living like animals at the moment.”
“We would laugh if it weren’t so terrible – America says it came here to rebuild Iraq, but since they arrived we’ve been living in tents.”
Aida Muhammad was forced out
For some Palestinians though, it is the first time for them to become refugees.
Will to prevail
Aida Muhammad was born in Iraq and lived in the same house for more than twenty years.
But on 19 April, the property’s owner told Aida and her family to leave. “He said he would burn it down with us in it if we didn’t leave at once.”
“We have moved so far from where we used to live that I have lost contact with all my old friends. My five children have all had to go to different schools. My husband has gone to Sweden, he hasn’t got nationality yet, but I hope he gets it and we can leave for ever.”
“The only thing that has not deserted me is my faith in Allah that Palestinians will one day take back their rights – in this world or the next.”