The establishment of communities

The humanitarian problems among the refugees increased in the period after the flight of 1948. The international community responded to the mass influx of refugees by establishing UNRWA in 1949. The Agency established camps, provided humanitarian relief and health services to Palestinians who had lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the war. Relief aid was not restricted to those living inside camps, but was also provided to persons living outside camps. As time went by, the camps developed into more permanent institutions.

Although the flight in 1948 tore apart social bonds, the resulting distribution of the Palestinian population was not completely random. Much of the order in the distribution appears to be related to the different social backgrounds of the Palestinians. Some were villagers, others townspeople, and they had diverse educational and occupational experiences. Two case studies depicting different life-stories should make us able to deepen our understanding of the processes of social reorganisation and the construction of new communities. The first concerns a family that moved to Askar on the West Bank:

Latifa was about 20 years old in 1948. Her family came from the village of Jamasin, near Jaffa, and were peasants. She had been married to her patrilinear grandfather's cousin, and they had two small girls. According to her, it was the old generation that had decided what they should do in 1948. "Jews killed Arabs, and Arabs killed Jews. These were bad time. We went because all the others left," she says. They lived in Qalqilia the first year, but did not feel safe from the Jews who lived not far away, so they decided to move on. In Rafidia village in Nablus they lived about two years. "We stayed in tents, like the bedouins. It was a hard life, our eldest daughter died there. When UNRWA came to Rafidia and asked us to go to the newly established Askar camp, we went", she says. "If you were poor you would go, if you had money you would not go. We had no money, and no place to go", she explains. Their decision to settle in the camp was taken with other people from their family and village. Her husband worked in farming in the Jordan Valley during their stay in Rafidia. He worked hard, and the living conditions were poor. In Askar camp her husband reunited with his family. He started working with a trolley, transporting different goods from the main road to people's houses.

While Latifa and her family were peasants, the second case is that of city people:

Dr. Ja'far was born in Jerusalem in 1941. His father was a successful merchant in West Jerusalem. The family fled in 1948 to Hebron, where they stayed in the house of Ja'far's grandfather. Ja'far went to study in Cairo, and graduated in 1967 - in the middle of the Six Day War. His family stayed in Hebron, where they are still living together with Ja'far's mother. Ja'far was not allowed to return to Hebron because of the Israeli occupation, he settled therefore in Amman where he worked as a doctor. A year later he went to Saudi Arabia. He was offered a job by the Saudi Health Minister who was visiting Amman. In Saudi Arabia he met his wife. In 1978, Ja'far came back to Amman together with his wife and children, and opened a private medical clinic. He worked for seven years in the clinic before the family again returned to Saudi Arabia. They stayed there until they were forced to leave during the Gulf War in 1991.

The most important difference between the two cases is the nature of the assets individuals and households could muster following different crises. The resources of Latifa's family were tied to their land, while that of Ja'far's family was more intangible, and therefore, paradoxically, more durable. When Latifa and her family became dispossessed of their land, they had literally no place to go: poor peasants did not have the widespread network of the educated city elite or merchants. Therefore, they "lived in tents in the olive-groves". The camps offered a way to be reunited with some of their kin and former neighbours. This is partly revealed in the settlement pattern in the camp of Askar in the West Bank. The refugees residing there originated predominantly from 25 villages and towns in the Jaffa and Haifa area. In Latifa's part of the camp, most people came from Jamasin, the same village as Latifa. In the camp, their neighbourhood carries the name of their place of origin. In this respect Askar is not exceptional; the same pattern is found in many other camps. In some cases the neighbourhoods are named after the residents' original villages in Palestine. In Rashidiyya, for instance, the quarters are named "harat Kweikat", "harat Alma", and "harat Fari'a" referring to the names of Palestinian villages in the Galilee. In these quarters many houses are currently inhabited by extended families who are related to each other through intermarriage.

A study by Ennab (1989) corroborates the picture of the camps as partly structured along pre-existing lines. According to him, the motives for choice of camps for those who arrived in the period between 1948 and 1966 was influenced by different factors: 41 per cent made their choice on the bases of social ties, i.e. the presence of relatives, friends or people from the same place of origin. More than 33 per cent had been forced to move from their first place of refuge, and a further 21 per cent made their choice for economic reasons. From 1967, economic motives became dominant: 45 per cent of the respondents moved in search of bettered economic opportunities. Resettlement due to social ties accounted for 41 per cent of the respondents, while 8 per cent were resettled by force, mainly because of the Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank (ibid:115-117).

The city dweller Dr. Ja'far was in another situation than that of Latifa, because he could go to his grandfather's house after the exodus of his family in 1948. There he joined part of his family. But the difference is more one of resources than of principle: both settled with kin, the difference lay in the situation of the kinsmen. When Ja'far in 1967 for the second time was forced to abandon his home, he was able, due to his profession as a doctor, to obtain work in Saudi Arabia. In 1991, a third political event over which he had no control, the Gulf War, caused his departure from Saudi Arabia. He was dismissed from his job and asked to leave the country along with thousands of Palestinians who were no longer welcome in the Gulf following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Ja'far was again able to restructure his life and start anew working as a surgeon in Amman. The most important assets in Ja'far's coping strategies were the widespread residence pattern of his kin , his professional network, and his highly convertible education as a medical doctor.

On the more general level, differences such as those between Latifa and Ja'far appear to have reproduced and perhaps expanded a pre-existing pattern of social differences between refugees. The camp populations were composed mainly of former peasants and bedouins, poor and without land after the exodus, who had little education. The city neighbourhoods, in contrast, were composed of refugees with some kind of pre-existing network to the area. Our findings are supported by the conclusions drawn by Salah in a doctoral dissertation where the neighbourhoods of Wihdat and Baqa'a were compared with neighbourhoods outside the camps. She concludes that there exists a high correlation between educational level, place of origin and refugee resettlement (1986:198-199).

Nevertheless, the camps should not be portrayed as a simple reproduction of pre-existing social ties. They are also meeting places of people from diverse origins, especially geographically. For instance, while villagers of Abbasiyya fled as a group, they did not all end up in the same camps. Further, as the history of Abu Ghassan showed, some left the camps after a while.

A study of eight refugee camps in the West Bank indicates that there has been three main waves of settling in camps. Only 36% of heads of household living in refugee camps arrived during the period 1948-50. A further 48% arrived between 1951 and 1966, a period where many were transferred from unofficial to official camps (Ennab 1989). This is also brought out by the camps in our study: Wihdat in Jordan was established in 1955, and Rashidiyya was enlarged in 1964 in order to house Palestinian refugees transferred from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. The camp of Baqa'a in Jordan was established in 1968 and had the function of gathering people living in different localities in the Jordan Valley after they fled from the fighting in 1967.

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