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  • Adriana Curto

Kingdom of Women: Ain al-Hilweh

A kingdom of women. Strong, determined, intelligent, yet trapped. They’re the women of the Palestinian refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh, located just south of the Lebanese port city of Saida. The camp was established in 1948 following what Israeli’s call The War of Independence and what Palestinians call Al Nakba or “the catastrophe”. Ain al-Hilweh is the largest refugee camp in Lebanon, originally built for 20,000 people in 1948 but has swelled to around 120,000 people due to the permanent nature of life in the camp as well as the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon. The camp has gained a reputation for being called “the zone of unlaw” because Lebanese armed forces have little control of the territory and fugitives often hideaway within the camps inner networks. In addition, the widespread flow of weapons and extremist activity has brought violence into an already existing humanitarian disaster, leaving its inhabitants with virtually no foreseeable way out. 

Watching this documentary for the first time in Beirut, I visualized Ain al-Hilweh an hour away from my desk at the Lebanese American University (LAU). It didn’t really seem possible as I took in the tragic conditions filmed that people are living in at this moment. A place where children grow up with a lack of education, families are deprived of basic needs, and no one by law is allowed to return to their homeland.  This documentary is a collection of testimonies from women, aunts, grandmothers, and daughters through their experiences in the camp following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The camp was destroyed, its men were imprisoned and out fighting, so women took over. The film depicts life through shocking conditions but it also highlights empowerment through necessity and notable gender roles in times of violence. Using animation and cartoon scenery, the film does an amazing job of telling the story of Palestinian women’s lives in Ain al-Hilweh.

The film is a little less than an hour, but if you do watch be sure to look out for famous Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali’s widely circulated cartoon character “Handala”, a Palestinian child with his back turned to his viewers. He is the Palestinian symbol of defiance.

Attached is the link to watch. Arabic with English subtitles.

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