Identity and Place in a Palestinian Refugee City-Camp

IDENTITY AND PLACE IN EXTENDED EXILE: THE CASE OF A PALESTINIAN REFUGEE CITY-CAMP

DOROTA WORONIECKA-KRZYŻANOWSKA

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Abstract

Though commonly assumed to be holding this status temporarily, according to current UNHCR statistics almost three quarters of refugees worldwide find themselves in a situation of protracted, long-term exile. Protracted exile poses a major challenge to earlier dominant academic theories that refer to refugee dilemmas with the metaphor of uprootedness and longing. The identity situation of long-term refugees is far more complex, yet it remains understudied. This article contributes to the understanding of protracted displacement through the case study of al-Am‛ari, a Palestinian refugee camp located in the West Bank. Since their establishment in the aftermath of the 1948 war, Palestinian refugee camps have been symbols of national suffering and served as commemorative sites dedicated to pre-exilic locations in parts of historical Palestine. However, the interpretation of this suffering, as well as of camps’ commemorative functions, changed over time and was marked with the perceived tension between commitment to places of origin and growing domestication of, as well as attachment to, al-Am‛ari. The coexistence of these seemingly contradicting sentiments can be explained with the concept of “mediated locality,” defined here as a structure of feeling territorialised in a place that acts as a symbolic representation of another site, to which individuals or groups feel attached. The empirical basis for this concept draws on eight months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the al-Am‛ari camp at intervals between January 2010 and August 2012.

Keywords: Palestinian refugees, exile, refugee camp, commemoration, place, identity