The horrors that are a daily reality of life in West Bank

David Nicholson
David Nicholson

Leaving the safety of your home in Kirkcaldy to spend time in a bullet ridden refugee camp isn’t how most young people would choose to spend their summer.

But for 21-year-old David Nicholson it was a dream come true and an experience he says he’s keen to repeat.

David, currently studying social sciences at Fife College, travelled to the war torn West Bank in July to spend over two weeks at Lajee Center in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem where 5000 Palestinian refugees are crammed into a space just 200 by 400 metres.

He said: “I’ve long been interested in the Palestinian conflict and I wanted to go to get a better understanding and to see the reality for myself.

“It’s a two week programme and the purpose is to show the reality of the situation for the people living there.

The tasks that David and his co-volunteers undertook included playing with the children, visiting local homes, meeting families, speaking to young people who had been imprisoned, and visiting various organisations and other refugee camps across the West Bank, all the time under the constant threat of danger from the Israeli military.

He said: “It’s horrific - there’s no other word for it. It’s a brutal occupation and it’s an apartheid-like system that exists there.

“The day after I arrived there was a full blown clash in the camp. I saw someone getting shot. They were firing at children.

“The whole camp was under siege with tear gas getting fired and the same night the Israeli military sent in a skunk truck.

“It’s the equivalent of a water cannon but instead of firing water it fires out a sewage like toxic chemical so it’s the most repulsive smell imaginable.

“This is where children are playing, they sprayed people’s homes.

“The smell lasts for about two weeks and if people are sprayed with it they have to go to hospital.

“This happened in an area which is supposedly under UN control.”

David said the people living in the camp are under an enormous amount of stress.

“What you don’t see is the daily humiliation and control; being held at a checkpoint for two hours and strip searched, arbitrarily arrested having their homes searched, having their water cut off, deciding where their children can play, getting searched when trying to get on a bus.

“All that was much greater than I expected.

“Another stark moment was when we were out in a rehabilitation hostel in Bethlehem seeing a 16-year-old boy whose leg had been blown off by a missile.”

Back home in Lakeside Road, David, who is the secretary of the Fife branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, says he’s proud that Fife Council flew the Palestinian flag earlier this year - but wants it to do more.

He said: “Flying the flag was massively important in terms of solidarity.

“Small acts like that have a huge significance in showing those people that whilst they are living under a brutal occupation, while they are being massacred living under apartheid type laws, whilst some people just stand back and watch, the people of Fife didn’t.

“But now we will be calling on Fife Council to join the five other councils across Scotland in the ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement.’

“We want to see a boycott policy in all Council buildings and for them to actively divest from Israeli companies.”

Despite having no firm plans as yet, David says he would he would go back “in a heartbeat”.

“It was an invaluable experience, just seeing how brutal it is. It’s made me want to re-dedicate myself to the cause and I want to share my experience and to show what it’s really like to others.”