The Palestinian Identity among Camp Residents

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VOL. 6


No. 3
P. 3
The Palestinian Identity among Camp Residents

If anyone had asked a Palestinian before 1948 to describe "the Palestinian people" he would probably have given one of two widely different responses. He might have said that they are Arab, and therefore like other Arab peoples. Or he might have said that each region, city, class or sect is so different that it calls for a separate description. Many camp Palestinians today, especially the less politicized, say that camps are composed of "many different classes of people." And most still use the concept Arab as a point of departure in describing themselves. But today, after nearly three decades of dispersion, the conceptual space between an abstract Arabism and particularist knowledge of small social units has become filled with experiences that support the idea of Palestinian difference.


Few people would contest that the Palestinian experience in modern times has diverged widely from that of other Arab peoples. The original sources of difference lie in a history and situation that depart so far from the normal that they can be termed "continual crisis." It is clear, too, that this divergence both increases with time, and has the effect of intensifying Palestinians' need for normality: reintegration on an equal footing with the Arab "family" of states. And in a further turn of the screw, this intensification of need adds its own momentum to their divergence. Any discussion of Palestinian difference must first be set in this kind of dynamic, interactive framework, not in one that is static and topographic.


Rosemary Sayigh is the author of a forthcoming work on the Palestinians.