Social ties between refugees and hosts

Although we have described the camps as "places apart", there are marked differences in the relation between the host population and the refugees. An important factor is whether the refugees had previous contact with the inhabitants of the area to which they fled, or whether refugees were strangers in their new environments. When the latter was the case, refugees regrouped themselves in camps where they recreated new social communities among themselves. However, social ties were established with inhabitants in the host-society, mainly through economic activities.

Maher, for instance, was employed as a driver for a rich Palestinian in Nablus who was himself not a refugee. With time, the relationship evolved into one of patron-client in which Maher became an indispensable worker who helped the rich man in all practical matters, especially since the rich man did not have children. Maher was thus "treated as a son" by the rich man who granted Maher the sum of 35,000 JD (56,000 USD) which enabled him to buy the apartment outside the camp. Having a peasant-background and being a 1948-refugee in the West-Bank, Maher was not able to bolster his economic ties by establishing closer social relations, such as marriage, with the rich man's family in Nablus. Different social class backgrounds clearly prevented the constitution of stronger social ties, maintaining the relationship on a lower social level.

The case of Omar, presented in chapter four, illustrates however, how closer social bonds were established through marriage between a 1948-refugee and a native Arab Israeli, precisely because both had common social class-backgrounds. Through his work in Israel, Omar was presented to the niece of a fellow construction worker who himself was a native inhabitant of Israel resulting in an engagement between the Arab Israeli's niece and Omar was concluded. Economic bonds initially established as a result of refugee and native inhabitant working together were thereby bolstered and transformed into strong social ties.

In Lebanon, the relationship between Lebanese and Palestinians living in the south has been one of both peaceful and hostile relationship. The common socio-economic lower-class rural background, and until the beginning of the 1980s, mutual objectives in Arab political issues in general, and in their struggle against Israel in particular, constituted basic elements in the relationship between Palestinians and the Lebanese Shi'a in south Lebanon. The political and military growth of the PLO caused escalation of conflict between the two communities resulted, however, in a deteriorated relationship between Palestinians and the population in south Lebanon. The Shi'a accused the Palestinians of exploiting their hospitality and turning the "Palestinian revolution (into) a Palestinian business in Lebanon" as one contemptuous mukhtar (village leader) indicated (Norton 1987:60). What was long perceived as a "natural alliance" between the two communities was severely deteriorated following the Camps War in 1986/87 when Rashidiyya and other Palestinian camps were besieged for six months by the Shiite Amal milits.

The case of the Palestinians in Lebanon indicate that common social-class background as well as political objectives between the refugee population and the host-society was not enough to prevent military confrontation between the two communities. There are several external political factors which explain the evolving of hostile relationships between the two groups which we do not need to enter into here. Suffice it to indicate that socio-economic and political commonalties between the two groups eventually developed into a competitive relationship whereby the host-community, the south Lebanese, reached a point where it did not accept the development of an independent Palestinian military organisation, and resented that Palestinians had access to an elaborate welfare and health system offered by UNRWA which were denied to Lebanese. It is not unusual to hear Lebanese complaining about Palestinians who receive international assistance, while nobody is concerned about the Lebanese. This imbalance was obvious in the late 1970s and during the 1980s. The case suggest therefore that the economic and social advantages which the refugee community enjoys, have had a long term disintegrating effect on the social relation between refugees and the host population. However, the change in attitude from welcome to mistrust is well documented from studies of refugee situations in other parts of the world (Kibreab 1991).

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