The Palestinian Identity among Camp Residents

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VOL. 6

1976/77

No. 3
P. 3
Articles
The Palestinian Identity among Camp Residents
FULL TEXT

 

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.

There are at least two other serious difficulties in talking about Palestinian specificity. One is the lack of demographic and economic facts to give a solid basis both to attitudes, and to comparisons. This gap in knowledge makes it possible for a writer on population to say that conditions in Palestinian camps have improved because the rate of infant mortality has gone down. But nothing at all is known about average life expectancies, rates of widow- and orphanhood, sickness, or job migration: all arguably more important indicators of a population's wellbeing than infant mortality. Even if these demographic variables were known, they would not cover all kinds of abnormality that camp populations confront in their daily lives, such as vulnerability to attack, job discrimination, overcrowdedness, restrictions on movement.

The second problem is the more difficult one of the status and sources of subjective phenomena (attitudes, perceptions, values, sense of identity). Where Palestinians are concerned, there is bound to be considerable variation between individuals and times, given a general state of responsiveness to changes in the Arab/international environment. How far can a given phenomenon vary, over time, or between constituent units, and still be considered unitary? If perceptions sampled from Palestinians in one region of the diaspora differ widely from those in another; or if, sampled from the same group, they differ widely between two points in time, what does this mean for the interpretation of findings?

If the Palestinians had no recognized representative entity, these questions would be harder to answer. But the histories of other suppressed identities (notably the Jews) suggest that enormous disparities of language and culture can be bridged once a centralizing organization is set up. Even in the event of a mini-state, a large number of Palestinians will remain outside it, either by choice or because of its restricted area; their situation and role will remain very different from that of other Arabs with space for internal migration. Even if they take other Arab citizenship, or emigrate, their affiliations and vocations are unlikely to lose their Palestinian colour. As for the Palestinians in camps in Lebanon (who form the basis of this study), they come from the villages of Galilee; it is very unlikely that their experiences and insights will suddenly be washed away in a "happy ending."

The research on which this paper is based was carried out in one of the camps near Beirut, in April/May 1975. Before the war in Lebanon, this was considered one of the most favoured parts of the diaspora, with relatively high rates of employment, and accessibility of job training. The particular camp is considered somewhat above the average level in prosperity, and in spite of some population influx (e. g., from Jordan after Black September), it still has a high proportion of "founding families." Although the tape-recorded interviews from which the quotations in this paper will be drawn were all carried out in a short five-week period, just after the onset of the Lebanese civil war, they were preceded by fairly long periods of participant observation.

Because of the length of the interview (they usually lasted from 11/2 to 2 hours), the sample was restricted to twenty. Within this limit, we aimed at sex balance, and the widest possible spread of age, educational level, occupations, and political tendency. [1] Interviewing was carried out in informal home settings, using colloquial Palestinian Arabic, and with family members and friends present. Just over a quarter of the respondents had moved outside the camp and were living on its periphery.

The interview questions ranged over the first consciousness of being Palestinian; evaluations of different sources of Palestinianism; experiences of marginality; perceptions of the consequences of being Palestinian; effects of dispersion and camp life; choice of identity. Among the fifteen questions were two that asked for descriptions of the Palestinian people, and of changes in their character brought about by the uprooting. [2] It is mainly the responses to these two questions that are the subject of this paper.

Before looking at the descriptions, I propose briefly to review some of the reasons that make Palestinianism a sense of Palestinian difference a more definite phenomenon today than, say, ten years ago, or than in 1948.

SOURCES OF PALESTINIAN DIFFERENCE

In discussions of the Palestinians' situation in the Arab diaspora, it is rare to find any analysis of the social structure of the host countries in relationship to Palestinian social structure. The traditional use of the term "Arab refugees" gives the impression that they are an undifferentiated mass, just as the term "Arab world" or "Arab countries" diverts attention from the specific social/sectarian features of each country. To examine sect is important because of the role it continues to play in the distribution of power and resources, and in blocking the growth both of Arabism and class consciousness. That it is the interests of external powers, combined with "collaborating classes," that form the support framework for the durability of Arab sub-groups (whether based on sect or regime), is too well established to need repetition here.

At the moment in history when the majority of Arab Palestinians were coerced into leaving Palestine, the single most important factor differentiating them was urban or rural residence. Not all urbanites were middle class expropriated peasants had begun to emigrate to cities from early in the Mandate but the class line between madiniyeen and fellaheen was an ancient one, deepened by educational deprivation in rural areas. [3] Long exposed to Western influence through trade and pilgrimage, urban Palestinians had little difficulty in settling in the neighbouring cities of Amman, Damascus and Beirut: [4] Arab cities as familiar as their own. Most had transferable capital, but those who did not, had family branches or business associates. With skills in finance, accountancy, administration, teaching, manufacturing, tourism, they readily found jobs in Arab economies just embarking on independent development.

The situation of rural Palestinians in the diaspora was quite different. Not only were they unemployable in the host countries because of the stagnation of their agricultural sectors and lack of public works; they were also "lost" psychologically and socially in a way that urban Palestinians were not. Though limited forms of exchange had linked rural populations in the peripheral areas of Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon (for example, tobacco and gun smuggling between Galilee and South Lebanon), most villagers had had little contact with the outside world. [5] Pinned down in camps, restrictions on movement and poverty retarded by almost two decades their grasp of their new topography.

The majority of Palestine's peasantry were Sunni Muslims, with Christian and Druze components, but no Shi'ites. (Christians formed a much higher percentage of the urban population than of the rural.) In each of the host countries, sectarian composition and the pattern of rural/urban residence was different enough to deepen the isolation of camp Palestinians, especially since most camps were sited in rural areas. Only Jordan had a comparable Sunni peasant class, but much smaller, and outweighed by the more numerous, politically more powerful bedu. In both Syria and Lebanon, the peasant class was predominantly Shi'ite (Alawite), Druze, and Christian, while the Sunni Muslim majority was predominantly urban. [7]

Of course these raw facts of social /sectarian structure were not insuperable: camp Palestinians did form economic and social relations with the surrounding populations, did leave camps, and find jobs in cities. But these developments were held back by the initial class/sect basis to Palestinian difference: difference from fellow Sunnis in being peasants, traditionally despised by city people, [8] and difference from fellow peasants in being Sunni. [9] In weighing the relationship between camp Palestinians and the host populations, one must remember that the strength of Arabism has always been in the cities, not in the neglected rural hinterlands; provincialism and sectarianism are almost the same thing.

Accounts given by older camp Palestinians of their experience in Lebanon in the period following depatriation suggest several different sources of isolation, apart from class and sect. There were their own intense feelings of shock, mourning, and loss of self-respect, which made them withdraw from contact with others. Their special residence in camps, their loss of identity as "refugees,”  their exceptional poverty, increased their own, and others', sense of their difference. Sometimes the symptoms of their "otherness" were simply pointing, or ridicule; [10] often they took the form of verbal assault and cursing. [11] (An anthropologist's definition of pollution as "matter out of place" [12] suggests how their displacement may have been enough to create the superstitious aversion they sometimes encountered.) [13] Popular ignorance of the war in Palestine made them liable to taunts of cowardice. For about half the people interviewed who had grown up in Lebanon, first awareness of being Palestinian was related to experiences in which others usually officials, sometimes ordinary citizens -treated them with hostility.

Experiences like these would not have been enough to precipitate political Palestinianism. As employment slowly increased, camps began to look like other low-income settlements; with education, some of the more obvious signs of regional and class origins, mainly dialect and dress, began to diminish. Yet because they were composed of almost complete villages, camps preserved original peasant culture, and in some ways intensified it. A Palestinian sociologist [14] has described the camps as a "strong apparatus of social control." There was minimal external influence except for modern schooling and political control by the host government, neither of which can be classified as "re-socialization." In this situation the maintenance of custom was a way of reconstructing Palestine in the new environment, a language of cohesion with each other and with the past, a necessary affirmation of identity. Although exchange with the surrounding population increased, eventually including marriage, [15] the camps remained demographically and culturally distinct, in conformity with the general pattern of sectarian /ethnic settlement. Their distinctness was anchored in the overall "mosaic of sects" system, as well as in their own specificity, and in acts of hostility or discrimination against them.

There is strong evidence that the new generation the jeel al-nakba (generation of the disaster) felt different from their parents in numerous ways. Fawaz Turki well describes his anger at the resigned piety of his father, his revolt against custom. [16] Young people I talked with in camps were not as outspoken as this, but the gap between them and their parents was evident. [17] The fact that it is not greater is probably due to external threat, and to the way the Revolution which emerged between 1965 and 1969 re-aroused the latent rebelliousness of the older generation, for whom the whole refugee period (from 1948 to 1968) had been one of "burial" and "non-existence."

But if the young felt different from their "unconscious" peasant forbears, they also felt different from the Syrians, Jordanians, and Lebanese, even though, with the Revolution, contacts with parts of these populations began to develop. The Palestinianism of the "generation of the disaster" was not just a re-emergence of a class/regional identity, nor was it just a reaction to oppression and marginality, though both of these components are to be found in it. More than anything else, it was a rejection of passivity, and of manipulation by the Arab regimes. The older generation may have distrusted Arab leaders, but they had not found ways of acting independently.

From long before the war of 1948 Palestinian and Arab politics have reacted upon each other in ways that have left scars on both sides. These are very evident among camp Palestinians, but they are difficult to summarize briefly because of their complexity. There is, first of all, a deep distrust of the motives of Arab leaders and regimes: "Our problem is that none of the Arab states truly supports us, unlike the Vietnam situation where Hanoi helped the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. The Arab governments are all reactionary and with the Americans. "(Secondary school student, male, 18 yrs. ) Fighting a liberation struggle from "countries that do not truly support us" was often given as the Palestinians' most serious problem, more often than personal insecurity or the difficulty of finding jobs. This view parallels another which saw the complicity of "certain Arab leaders" as one of the causes of the 1948 disaster: "Palestinians had the potential power to defeat their enemy, but opposing forces. . . were too strong for them. Then, as now, Arab governments conspired against us." (Builder, male, 25 yrs.)

Similarly there was little enthusiasm expressed for any Arab leader. Though Gamal Abdul Nasser was mentioned as a figure of indisputable historic importance, there was scarcely veiled irony in the remark that, as one of the consequences of the disaster, "Nasser had twenty years of power talking about Palestine." A woman told us that camp people took Nasser's photo off their walls when he accepted the Rogers Plan, but put it back again at his death. Admiration was reserved for Palestinian resistance leaders, mainly on the grounds that "they live like the people." Scepticism about Arab leadership was pungently expressed by a woman [18] who said, "Anyone who wants to become a moukhtar (village president) makes a speech about Palestine."

In line with this attitude is the view that believing the Arab leaders was one of the historic mistakes of the Palestinians in 1948: "Palestinians belonged to the Arab nation, and believed that the Arabs would help them if they were really in danger." (Housewife, 27 yrs.)

Many gave as one of the lessons they had learnt from the disaster that "Palestinians no longer believe easily." Their anger at ineffectual or self- interested leadership combines with their experiences of "bad treatment" in the diaspora to produce critical insights. Discrepancies between words and action are particularly attacked: "If they find any Palestinian working for one of the organizations they expel him immediately. Our neighbor Abu Shafiq was sent back in his pyjamas. " (Housewife, 28 yrs. )

A woman whose adult son had been beaten by the Lebanese police for collecting money for the organizations said, "We are Arabs. Why should they treat us like this?" Another man commented, "There are Arabs who treat us worse than animals."

In reply to a question about political parties, many differentiated between parties (ahbab) and organizations (tanZimat), the first being Arab and "belonging" to regimes, the second being Palestinian. A school teacher who had grown up in the period immediately after the expulsion explained why so many of his generation had joined political parties: "I and other Palestinians joined any party that spoke about Palestine. I would have joined the devil's organization if it had included Palestine among its aims."

There was a strong psychological need in this period simply to hear the word "Palestine," and to "feel Palestine events." However, the mass of camp Palestinians stayed far from political movements of any kind, [19] their clan heads and moukhtars still often loyal to remnants of the pre-1948 national leadership. Joining Arab political movements goes with a clearly articulated conception of a Palestinian role in the Arab world (as "guides," "fire under ashes," a "warning," "constructors"). But this expansion of Palestinianism into a role as "nucleus for revolutionary change" is opposed by another view: "Syria has enough conscious, educated people, and if they don't like their government, they must change it, not me. I work always and only for Palestine." (Laundry worker, male, 42 yrs. )

This speaker had in fact gone straight into the PLA on leaving school, had later served with a commando unit, and was now discharged. He was one of those who blamed the Arab armies and leaders for defeat in 1948, and believed that if Palestinians had stayed in their country they would have been nearer to liberation now. In his view (in 1975), the Arab governments might still abort the Palestinians' struggle.

This was, on the whole, the predominant view. Almost the only person to express strongly pro-Arab feelings ("I love the Arabs now because they truly support us") had a small "consciousness-raising" role with one of the resistance groups. At this level, camp Palestinians become more aware of the need for Arab support. It was the least educated, and least organized (often women) who expressed anti-Arabism most outspokenly. But the insistence on Palestinians having an active role in their struggle went through all age levels, and both sexes.

Asked to choose an alternative identity, [20] it was only one of the oldest respondents who said he would belong to "any good, persecuted, Arab people." Two said that they felt "Arab first, Palestinian second," but the majority had no such hesitation, some even refusing to make an alternative choice. When debate broke out on this issue, it was usually members of organizations who came out for Arabism. It was noticeable, too, that identities chosen were those of small Third World nations like Vietnam (the only Arab state named was Algeria); none were countries to which Arabs generally travel, or emigrate.

Later, in describing the Palestinian people, more saw them as "different" from other Arabs than as "like" them. But while these perceptions of difference were expressed as often by the young as by the old, the young were much more likely than the old to have Arab friends, especially those in secondary school or university. Although many of them had experienced hostility or discrimination from Lebanese, they had also found friendship and support. While the Palestinianism of older campers can be seen as partly due to closure, and the trauma of depatriation, that of the younger generation proceeds from a greater self-confidence. Interaction with other Arabs, for instance in sports events or scout jamborees, has brought them back into the Arab circuit as a collectivity, as a people with its own contribution to make.

It would be wrong to pay no attention to the PLO and the resistance groups, as recognized representative organizations, in accounting for the emergence of political Palestinianism; undoubtedly the views of campers partly reflect the renaissance of Palestinian consciousness that accompanied the rise of the resistance movement, with all its ideological, literary and artistic manifestations. But it would be as wrong to overlook the experience of camp Palestinians as a source from which the movement drew its emotional force and language. If campers mobbed the movement, it was because it restored them to activity ("We refused this life of eating and sleeping only"), and offered them a subjectively true identity (Palestinian, struggler, revolutionary) in place of the false identity of refugee.

With sub-Arab identities crystallizing around the Arab states established in the wake of World War 2, it is far from surprising if a Palestinian identity crystallizes around their statelessness. Individual camp Palestinians bring to this still very open identity a multiplicity of contents and forms, some going far beyond others in the anti-traditional colour they give it (for instance "Our aim is not just Palestine, it is the liberation of the Arab human being"). But these are only wider gyroscopes around a solid core.

DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE

Since all prompting was banned, the descriptions given can be taken as spontaneous; the fact that they are relatively focused (traits all fall within a limited range), and relatively consistent between age levels, sexes, and occupations, suggests a rather high degree of group consensus on this topic. This is interesting, because camp Palestinians have highly conflicting views on most matters; and there is no single, systematically transmitted source of public information which could account for consensus. It is perhaps best explained by the intensive, non-segregated character of communication in camps.

Respondents found the question about the description of the Palestinian people the hardest to answer, and most asked for guidance. There was even greater hesitation with a question we only asked in the first seven interviews: "How would you describe a typical Palestinian?" This suggested that though the concepts "Palestinian people" and "Palestinian society" are well established, ready made typifications of social character are not yet widely current.

Most of the descriptions were given in the form of a disconnected list of characteristics, often interrupted to give brief illustrations: "Generous -if a Palestinian goes to a restaurant with someone he will never let him pay." The tense most often used was the timeless present -few people spontaneously introduced the idea of change, though many had done so earlier when describing camp conditions. The more educated respondents gave the most composed descriptions, for instance relating character to conditions, or to a dominant theme such as attachment to the homeland, or work-competence. Sometimes people indicated that they considered a particular quality as primordial, by repeating it, adding keteer (very), or by using several quasi- synonyms. This was most often done with good heartedness. But the most striking feature of the descriptions was the prominence they all gave to "core- values" of Palestinian peasant culture.

In the discussion that follows, four aspects of the descriptions are raised as having the widest interest: a) the relative absence of differentiation; b) the predominance of ideal-traits (or values), and their combination with other kinds; c) ways of relating Palestinian to Arab traits; and d) views of time and change.

a) The relative absence of societal differentiation: In describing a people, it is always possible to differentiate on a basis of class, sex, ethnicity, etc., and the extent to which people do this spontaneously is a rough indicator of whether they see their society as unitary, or composed of dissimilar parts. In this case, there was very little differentiating, and no one asked, "Which Palestinians do you mean?" The assumption was that their descriptions applied to all Palestinians, wherever they might be, and irrespective of class, age, sex, etc. Though there were some kinds of exception, this tendency to see the Palestinian people as one accords with the strong emotional urge towards unity expressed throughout the interview, as a goal, as a metaphor ("one family", "one hand", "one body"), and most of all as a reaction to dispersion. Even though it was conceded later that the diaspora had introduced new kinds of difference, most took the view that "separation unites us" and "when two Palestinians meet anywhere in the world they immediately feel brotherhood." This view is similar to the one that sees Palestinianism growing through the pressure brought to crush it; and the camps as breaking down barriers between Palestinians, even while separating them.

In general, then, respondents took "the Palestinian people" to mean camp Palestinians, and their descriptions were recognizably ones of peasants undergoing drastic change of occupation, but holding on to their traditional way of life. There were, though, a few slight indications of differentiation. For instance, change caused by dispersion was implied by the young man who said he could only describe the "quarter" (Lebanon) he was familiar with. A laundry worker said, "There are two kinds of Palestinian: those who are known, and those who also work." A school teacher spontaneously included women in his description by saying, "The Palestinian woman is also a fighter"; and a woman gave this: "The man is boss at home, but they are equal in struggle."

Though social differentiation in the descriptions was slight, other parts of the interview brought up many kinds of discrimination, possibly repressed because of the greater need for unity. Disunity of the resistance organizations, seen by most as a serious problem, was directly related to dispersion, which makes Palestinians available for recruitment to the political purposes of the Arab regimes, instead of "working only and always for Palestine." The problem of cultural diversification was recognized by the student who said, "Palestinians have taken different ideas from the countries they live in"; though another view was that "Palestinians take their own atmosphere with them wherever they go." Several people raised the danger of "forgetting Palestine," either through job migration, or marriage to non-Palestinians. In general, the most important kind of distinction that can be detected in the interviews is that between Palestinians in camps, and those outside them.

This source of cleavage came up rather often throughout the interviews, though only one person introduced it spontaneously into his description of the Palestinian people. He said: "Maybe if my father had given me a house and a car I should not want Palestine. But camp people bring up their children to remember their country." (Palestine resistance movement cadre, male, 26 yrs.)

Others were more likely to include middle-class Palestinians: "Even if he lives on Hamra or Rawsheh [21] he still lacks a country. " This kind of inclusion corresponds to the widespread view that Palestinians can help the revolution "each from his own place, some with money, some as fighters. " Yet there was a minority of respondents who persistently identified the revolution with the camps, and saw middle-class Palestinians as insufficiently committed. This came out very clearly in some comments on teachers as "consciousness- raisers. "

Another source of difference lies between Palestinians who stayed in Palestine and those who left. It is one that camp Palestinians are rather reticent about, and no one raised it in the interviews, though the older generation are now permitted back on visits, and cross-cousin marriages are beginning to take place again.

b) The predominance of social/moral (ideal) traits: When all the traits given in descriptions were listed, they could be seen to fall into three main categories:

1) social/moral; 2) intellectual/practical; 3) political. Of course this classification is very crude, and has no theoretical value, since traits are social constructs: a language for talking about, and prescribing, people's behaviour. But it provides a useful handle for discussing an interesting feature of these self-descriptions: the way they combine traditional peasant values with more modern and work-oriented traits. Though self-views do not "prove" anything, they go some way towards suggesting that the line drawn by many American writers on modernization between traditional and modern man is too dichotomous.

The fact that most of the traits given were ideal rather than typical is understandable as a reaction to defamation, the interviewer's outsider status, and the long "burial" of the Palestinian identity. Partly, too, it is attributable to the public language used for serious subjects. Only one of the respondents spontaneously included a weakness in his description. [22] No one described domestic or private aspects of Palestinian character, except in a few cases where the interviewer specifically asked for these. [23] Ideal traits were given three times as often as both other kinds put together. Discounting synonyms, there was a high degree of consistency in responses; very few traits were mentioned only once or twice, and more than half were given by 25 percent or more of the sample. Moreover it was impossible to tell from internal evidence whether descriptions came from young or old, male or female, politically active or "average." Peasant values such as honour, or generosity, were just as likely to appear in the transcript of a PFLP militant as in that of the oldest respondent.

Ideal traits listed by 25 percent or more of the sample were these: courageous, unyielding (10); [24] good hearted, humane (8); generous, hospitable (6); helpful, sharing (4); forgiving, not vindictive (4); straightforward, honest (4) maintains traditions (4). [25] Although social/moral qualities far outnumbered intellectual/practical ones, there was also consistency in this category: all could be grouped into two main clusters: educated - intelligent - thoughtful - understanding - experienced - discriminating (13); and active - practical - constructive - hardworking - ambitious - successful (8).

Clearly political traits were less often mentioned-strangely, considering the high level of political awareness shown throughout the interview. "Attached to country" was only mentioned by three people, and "politically conscious" only by three. Others were "struggler"; "revolutionary" (4); "determined" (4); "independent" (2).

It is not the traits in isolation to which I want to draw attention, but to the ways they were combined in the descriptions, and to comments made upon them. Although the distinction between traditional and modern traits should not be pushed too far, it is striking how thoroughly integrated these two sets are in camp Palestinians' self-views. To illustrate the "mix", here are two excerpts:

Good hearted and forgiving. You can hit him and then calm him down. Doesn't hate. Active, practical. There's nothing he can't do, however difficult. Loyal. Finishes his work honestly, whether paid or voluntary. Helpful .. (Laundry worker, male, 38 yrs. )

 

Revolutionary. Struggling. Ambitious for national unity. Courageous. Believes in others. Able to do anything. Helpful -if I have a problem my friend tries to solve it with me .. (High school student, male, 18 yrs.)

Women were just as likely to include political qualities as men, for example:

Good. Honorable, honorable above all. Continues the struggle. All his actions are for the liberation of Palestine, sells his possessions to buy arms. No weak point ... (Wife of a fedai, 28 yrs.)

Peasants in many different parts of the world see themselves in terms of contrast to city people: good, but ignorant of the world. This characteristic trait complex - "good-innocent-trusting-ignorant" - appears in several of the transcripts; but beside it appears the other type of traits - "intelligent- ambitious-successful"- that give an idealized picture of the entrepreneur, artisan, or industrial worker. Perhaps the second set reflects the occupational change imposed by the diaspora; certainly most respondents gave as an explanation for Palestinian achievement their loss of land: "The most important change was that Palestinians had to find a way to live, to survive ... This is why they desire education, and will work at anything in order to educate their children" (Laundry worker, male, 42 yrs. ). But, in fact, trade and crafts were already firmly entrenched in Palestinian villages before 194, and such was the hunger for education that villages without schools were raising funds themselves to build them. [26]

At first sight all the moral/social traits given appear "good," but further scrutiny shows that, in fact, some are perceived as sources of danger. This was particularly the case with "goodheartedness," the second most frequently mentioned quality. Of those who listed it, half saw it as excessive, and as making Palestinians vulnerable: "Because we have good hearts others can deceive us easily. If we can control our goodheartedness no one can defeat us. The Palestinians in 1948 were innocent victims. . . " (Housewife, 35 yrs. ) Another quality also seen as dangerous was the "trusting-open-believing" cluster, and this was often given as a way in which Palestinians had changed ("Now we no longer believe so easily"). Goodheartedness, on the other hand, was viewed as still in need of control.

None other of the social/moral traits was criticized in this way, and while some of them courage, readiness to sacrifice, determination, endurance fit the needs of the liberation struggle, there are others peacefulness, generosity, honorableness that seem less relevant, or even in contradiction to it. Obviously people do not discriminate analytically between parts of an integrated value system that helps to anchor them in space and time. Yet the fact that certain virtues are seen as excessive shows discrimination in process, leading to a revision of values in the light of historical experience.

To a large extent, the self-descriptions confirm S. Franjieh's [27] view of camp Palestinians as culturally conservative, their attitudes little changed from when they were small peasant land-owners and cultivators. Apart from the traditional color of the trait lists, and the emphasis put on social /moral values, four respondents, all under 30, gave "keeps his traditions" as a basic Palestinian trait. Later, asked to comment on change, most people said that though change had been great, their "basic personality" had remained the same.

Several comments could be made on this view. First, Franjieh overlooks the extent to which camp Palestinians have played the role of an ethnic proletariat in the Lebanese and other host economies. [28] That their experience of economic exploitation has radicalized them was evident in many parts of the interviews; that it has not done so further is largely due to their absorption in national struggle. [29] Second, conservatism in the camps, for instance in regard to women's activities, is not the only trend observable, though it is still the most obvious. Third, conservative attitudes can change very rapidly in times of crisis. Fourth, conservatism reflects not only indigenous camp culture, but also missionary currents outside the camps; religious foundations are prominent among those offering aid, scholarships, etc. Finally, among all the other functions that a formal, explicit conservatism may perform, is that of "covering" people forced to live on others' territory, aware that scrutiny of the displaced is seldom charitable.

c) Perceptions of Palestinian traits in relation to Arab ones: It was significant that, without being asked to do so, most people set Palestinian traits into some kind of relation to Arab traits. Of these, only two saw Palestinians as essentially like other Arabs, with slight differences. All the rest emphasized their difference.

The commonest form of relationship was to describe Palestinians as "more. . . than other Arabs." This was done in the case of generosity; courage; readiness to sacrifice; faithfulness; and education. The last characteristic was particularly emphasized:

Compared with other Arabs, Palestinians have more university graduates maybe even more than some European countries. And they put their education to work in social fields like medicine and engineering. (Laundry worker, male, 42 yrs.)

 

The Palestinian loves education, is ambitious. Even Lebanese admit that Palestinians are intelligent. They love to study in spite of their bad situation, and their level of education is higher than the general Arab level. (Resistance cadre, male, 26 yrs. )

The main reason for Palestinian difference was seen as their predicament: "Their bad situation, their difficult life, has made them different from other Arabs. Their feelings are stronger. Israeli bombings of the camps only make us more determined to reach our goal at any cost. The Palestinian woman is also a fighter. "(Teacher, male, 30 yrs. )

The sequence of ideas here shows clearly that Palestinian "difference" is not one of core traits, but of their intensity. Determination in the face of attack has made them exemplary Arabs in the eyes of this respondent.

Palestinians were also seen as a "human resource for the Arab world" by the building worker who emphasized work-competence as a Palestinian quality. Their role as constructors and modernizers in the diaspora is a constant source of pride for camp Palestinians, even though they see this work as lost to Palestine.

d) Treatment of time and change: Though few people brought up the idea of change of character spontaneously, when the question was asked, [30] response was strongly affirmative. Most said that there had been much change, and all except one took optimistic views of its direction. Terms like "progress", "improvement", "education", "consciousness," were frequently used. Loss of land and agricultural occupation was given by several as the moving force behind change of character, but there was no noticeable nostalgia for agricultural work as such, though there was for a familiar landscape, and the produce of the earth. A typically evolutionary presentation is this one:

Of course their character has changed. Everything changes, change is natural, change is for the better. Now there is more consciousness. Palestinians used to think that Nasser would give them Palestine on a plate. Now they understand that they must have a role in the return. Their personality has improved too. Now they take part in meetings, sports, activities. Before 1965, the [Arab] governments prevented this. (University student, male, 27 yrs.)

Specific changes most frequently mentioned were: more educated; more conscious; less believing ("If anyone says 'I'll fight', I'll want to see him fight before believing him"). But there was also a very strong tendency towards emphasizing continuation of "basic personality." A trait that was often mentioned as remaining just as strong as in the past, or even stronger, was hamas (literally enthusiasm, or active patriotism). In comparing the new with the old generation, many people said that they were not only more conscious, and more educated, but also more attached to Palestine. Altogether eight people expressed this sort of combination of change and continuity: "Old traits have remained, and suffering (or change of occupation) has added new ones"); or "Palestinian traits have become stronger. " No incompatibility was seen between new kinds of achievement in construction, technology, science and peasant traditions: "Our culture has been preserved - our clothes, embroidery, food and has been shown to the world in exhibitions. There are changes too -we are scientific now."

Comparisons between the old and new generation were frequent, and parallel comparisons were sometimes made between the Rebellion of 1936 and the Revolution of 1965-1969:

Today's Revolution is an educated revolution. The other was unplanned. They fought without training. But now the Revolution is based on planning, on scientific thinking. Today's organizations are directed by educated Palestinians. (Laundry worker, male, 42 yrs. )

 

There is a big difference between the two revolutions -a radical one. The whole people didn't participate in the first revolution, it wasn't spread throughout Palestine, and it wasn't organized. But now the Revolution is organized, and conscious. (Secondary school student, female, 18 yrs.)

It is much easier to contain conflict in verbal formulas than in real life, and conflict between generations is frequent in Palestinian camp life, a fact that was reflected in the interviews. Often it arises over the competing demands of political and family commitments. A young man who praised his father because he had allowed him to go for military training, although as an only son he could have got exemption, said, "I wish every father were like my father." Another said, "The old want to keep the young at home."

For girls, parental opposition to political activity is likely to be much more severe than for boys. A girl told us:

At first the family objected to my going to meetings. My mother is closer to me than my father, so now, whenever there is a meeting, I try to make my mother agree that I should go. Then my mother makes my father agree. Now I have some freedom, but two years ago I couldn't leave the house at all. (Student in 4th secondary, female, 17 yrs.)

In most cases of serious conflict, mediators appear to find solutions and avoid breaks in family or community relations. Because of skill and long experience, the cohesiveness of both these basic social units is generally preserved, and the flow of communication between all members kept free. The success of mediation is just as striking a feature of Palestinian camp life as frequency of conflict, and cannot be attributed only to external threat, or lack of escape routes, since it is already clearly evident in peasant culture before 1948. Even when they can afford to move out of camps, ties with kin and neighbours remain strong and close. I met in the camps families that had migrated years before to the Gulf, but still returned each summer. In spite of poverty, visiting between camps is surprisingly frequent; all of the interview sample had kin in other camps in Lebanon, and all had kin in four or more other regions of the diaspora (including 12 with kin in Israel). With growing literacy and travel, communication with kin was now more frequent than it had been during the early refugee period. There are thus strong social and cultural bases to a Palestinian identity.

CONCLUSION

To recapitulate the main points: the development of a Palestinian identity has several bases: 1) a history that diverges sharply from that of other Arab peoples; 2) a situation of displacement, dispersion, poverty, oppression, and control by non-Palestinians; 3) ambiguity in Arab support, discrepancy between verbal support for "the cause," and treatment of Palestinians; 4) the development of other sub-Arab identities (Jordanian, Syrian, etc.) around regional regimes and interests; 5) the establishment of the PLO and rise of the resistance movement; and 6) indigenous factors, such as the solidarity of kin and neighbour networks among ex-rural Palestinians, their historical experience of self-reliance and survival. [31]

Although the sample on which this paper is based was small, and restricted to one camp, in one region of the diaspora, the kinds of difference that exist between one region and another (status, employment and training possibilities, degree of political control, insecurity), are not as important to Palestinians as the overriding feeling that "Wherever he is, a Palestinian is homeless. " Others around him are protected by their government; he has no protection. Differences of opinion on any point are likely as to be just as strong within a single camp or a single family as between camps or regions.

As to middle class Palestinians, the divergent attitudes towards them among the camp Palestinians interviewed reflects reality: some of them have become assimilated to, or clients of, other Arab regimes; some have simply "dropped out"; others remain militant. It is noticeable, however, that even with the militant, a socio /cultural /communication gap divides them from camp Palestinians. But the intermediary class of camp intelligentsia and professional workers helps to bridge this gap, even when they no longer live in camps.

A possibly more interesting question than the relationship of middle class to camp Palestinians in the diaspora, is that of camp Palestinians outside Israel to Israel's "Arab minority. " The question can be focussed by comparing two contrasting views: that expressed by Franjieh in the paper referred to earlier; and a paper on Palestinian identity by K. Nakhleh. [32] From Franjieh's viewpoint camp Palestinians cannot be a revolutionary class because they have not been proletarianized, and have kept their peasant value system; only Palestinians in Israel can be expected to play a revolutionary role because of their total subordinate class position in the Israeli economy.

Nakhleh's identity paper suggests that though, theoretically, Palestinians in Israel formed a subordinate class, in fact, between 1948 and 1967, they were totally fragmented and demoralized, with no sense of corporate solidarity or identity at all. After 1967, with the suddenly renewed contact with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank (now under Israeli occupation), and through them, with Palestinians in the wider diaspora, their renewed sense of Palestinian identity reanimated them, and their reaction to Israeli domination was radically altered. Change of sense of identity soon led to acts of resistance, and those favoring an assimilationist position sharply decreased in number.

In Franjieh's and Nakhleh's viewpoints, we have a classic confrontation between idealist and materialist positions. In both cases the stands taken are somewhat a prioristic: Franjieh says that "a tour" of the camps near Beirut is enough to convince anyone of their conservatism; Nakhleh's main empirical underpinning is a small survey carried out from the Hebrew University (1969). Growing resistance inside Israel could be used to support either view.

Perhaps, after all, there is not such a great difference in the situation of working class Palestinians inside or outside Israel.

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

1 Age spread from 17 to 60, 8 over 30 and 12 under 30. Sex balance: 7f, 13m. Occupations: retired carpenter; ex-policeman; bank clerk; laundry worker (2); teacher (3); self-employed builder; Palestinian resistance movement organiser; housewife (3); university student (3); school student (4).

2 Q 8: "How would you describe the Palestinian people? What are their most outstanding characteristics (siffat, mayizat)?"

3 By 1948 only half of Palestine's villages had elementary schools. Secondary schools only existed in cities, and a few "rural centres. "See Matthews and Akrawi's chapter on Palestine, in Education in the Arab Countries of the Near East, American Council on Education, Washington, 1949.

4 Y. Sayigh gives figures for transfer of Palestinian capital and skills in Implications of UNRWA Operations, MA thesis, American University of Beirut, 1952. The greatest number of persons went to Beirut, the richest to Amman.

5 N. Nazzal, "The Zionist Occupation of Western Galilee," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring 1974), pp. 58-76 and E. Shoufani, "The Fall of a Village," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer 1972), pp. 108-121, both well describe the political isolation of Palestinian villages.

6 See A. Zahlan and E. Hagopian, "Palestine's Arab Population," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer 1974), p. 36.

7 A. Hourani, Minorities in the Arab World (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 7.

8 In the early refugee period the Sunni Muslim people of Sidon used to call nearby Ain Hilweh camp "the zoo."

9 As a small boy in a south Lebanese village, one of the interview sample had dipped his finger in a pan of tomato paste being prepared by a woman of the village. The woman had cursed him and thrown the paste away, not because he was a refugee, but because he was not a Shiite.

10 A woman in her mid-50s from a small camp in South Lebanon: "When we left the camp, children used to point at us calling 'Look at that Palestinian!' Often we would return weeping."

11 Curses are shrewdly worded to give maximum impact. Favorites are: "Go to your country!" and "Go and fight those who threw you out!" In Arabic the direct curse is far less wounding than those aimed at the victim's identificatory group, father, country, and "best and oldest of the Palestinians."

12 M. Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge, 1966).

13 "We used to knock on every door for work, but people turned us away as if they feared we would bring them bad luck," woman of 36.

14 B. Sirhan, "Palestinian Refugee Life in Lebanon," Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Winter 1975), pp. 91-107.

15 Of all forms of social exchange marriage is generally most resistanto change in the Arab area, with in-group marriage still preferred by most parents. Economic exchange has always taken place between groups otherwise hostile to each other.

16 The Disinherited (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972). See particularly p. 155.

17 Turki tells how his mother reproached him for putting on a Lebanese accent. Food and clothing are also areas of conflict, with young people in urban camps influenced by Lebanese tastes and fashions.

18 Women in Palestinian camps form a linguistic sub-culture, much more outspoken and more rebellious than men.

19 Someone who had been politically active before the Revolution told us that, to limit his influence in the camp, the Lebanese authorities spread the story that he belonged to a "party."

20 Q 15: "If you were not Palestinian, to what other people would you want to belong?"

21 Hamra and Rawsheh are high-rent areas of Beirut, with a high proportion of foreigners, including Palestinians.

 

22 "Palestinians have one quality I don't like. They are quickly roused to activity and their activity dies down just as quickly": School student, male, 18 yrs. A fault mentioned elsewhere was egoism, or pretending to be more capable than one really is.

 

23 Asked about domestic traits, one of the laundry workers gave this charming vignette: "They love promenades and picnics, spend a lot on food."

 

24 The figure in brackets is the number of times this trait, or a synonym, was given.

 

25 "Keeps his traditions regarding women" was twice specified.

 

26 Between 1941 and 1945, villages raised p1,300,480 for schools (Matthews and Akrawi, op. cit.).

 

27 S. Franjieh, "How Revolutionary is the Palestinian Resistance?" Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1972), pp. 52-60.

 

28 H. Mundus, al-'Amal wa al-'Ummalfi al-Mukhayim al-Falastini (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1974), gives details of employment of Palestinians in the industrial zone near Tal alZa'tar. But the 1971 Lebanese Survey data show only 11.8 percent of camp Palestinians in industry, with 21.1 percent in agriculture, 13.6 percent in construction, 23 percent in "services", 14.4 percent in trade and hotels, and 15.7 percent "unspecified." Of all those employed 80 percent are paid on a daily basis.

 

29 One of the girl students had joined the Communist party, under the influence of her brothers, and because "the Communists are for the poor, and the Palestinians are the poorest of the Arab people." Later she had been converted to Fateh.

30 Q 9: "Do you think the character of the Palestinian people has changed as a result of the experiences they have undergone since 1948?

31 Exploited by the state and by city merchants, the peasantry developed their own forms of arbitrage, system of land use, and social relations.

32 K. Nakhleh, "Cultural Determinants of Palestinian Collective Identity: the Case of the Arabs in Israel," New Outlook, October/November 1975.