Editor’s Note: Martha Gellhorn was a famous war correspondent and journalist and at one time the wife of Ernest Hemingway. Her lengthy 1961 report on the “Palestinian refugee problem” was based, as very few media reports have been, on actual visits to a series of camps. We recommend that you read what Gellhorn wrote in its entirety, as reprinted in October’s Mosaic Magazine. It can be read online. Here we offer an excerpt focusing on her visit to a refugee camp composed only of Christians. Next month’s Outpost will include an excerpt on her visit to Arab camps. Little would seem to have changed since she wrote: there are more people in the camps and the education in hatred is even more virulent.
In the so-called “host countries,” Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, UNRWA runs fifty-eight refugee camps. The camps in Egypt are not in Egypt but in the Gaza Strip, which is Palestine; Egypt is the de facto mandatory power, the land and the government of the Gaza Strip are Palestinian. The majority of camps in Jordan are also on what was the territory of Palestine, now annexed to Jordan.
UNRWA has never yet been allowed to make a total proper census of its refugee population, so statistics about the number of ex-Palestinians are nothing except the best estimate possible; UNRWA itself says this. UNRWA calculates that, at the end of June, 1960, 421,500 refugees were living in their camps, almost double their camp population ten years ago. The advantage of living in a camp is that life there is rent free; and for the poor, the standard of housing and sanitation in an UNRWA camp is better than that of the native population.
Of UNRWA’s fifty-eight camps, I visited eight–in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Jordan. The plan and facilities of every UNRWA camp are alike; they differ only in size and are better or worse depending on whether they are newer or older and on the character of the people who live in them. Each camp has its clinic and school (or schools), warehouse center for distributing rations, “supplementary feeding station,” where hot meals are served to those who need them, village bazaar street with small shops, market booths, cafés. The bigger the camp, the bigger the bazaar. I also went round two hospitals, two vocational training schools, and was received in two private homes, having been invited by refugees.