The economic setting

The economic conditions for Palestinians are quite different in each of the places where the fieldwork was carried out. Rashidiyya in Lebanon and Baqa'a in Jordan are located in rural areas where agricultural work is a main income source. Askar and Wihdat are situated inside towns, Nablus and Amman respectively, thus giving the refugees other possibilities of employment. In addition we find differences in the legal status of Palestinians in the three areas.

What is common, though, and quite important when it comes to adaptation, is that in both Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank, there is a considerable informal sector functioning beside the state controlled formal economy (Richards and Waterbury 1990). By informal sector we mean that part of the economic activity which is not controlled by the state. The refugees take part in the informal sector, either because it is more profitable due to their exclusion from the formal sector, or simply because no other work is available.

The balance between the informal and formal sectors has several implications for economic adaptations. Informal activities disconnect the refugee population from the host country's state apparatus, and can therefore be seen as an obstacle for assimilation or incorporation. In Lebanon, for instance, Palestinians are barred from getting jobs in the state bureaucracy. In the West Bank the difference between official and non-official activities indicates, to a large extent, whether the Israeli administration is in control of the activities or not. However, as long as there also exists a huge informal economy among the native population, not only among the refugee population, the irregular economy of the refugee population is not necessarily a sign of segregation between Palestinians and host country population. Only to the extent that the refugees organise their activities separately from the host country's informal economy, we are able to define the economic activities as incorporating or segregating factors.


In general the Lebanese authorities do not issue work permits to Palestinian residents. The exclusion of the refugees from the legal labour market effectively obliges them to enter the informal sector of the economy, which is especially large, due to Lebanon's long-standing laissez-faire economy and the government's weak position during the past two decades.

In the civil war period of 1975-89 considerable capital was channelled through Palestinian national institutions, covering areas from social services to industrial production, as well as through political organisations. There was thereby a Palestinian economy separate from the Lebanese. By the end of the 1980's it was estimated that two thirds of the Palestinian work force was employed by the Palestinian national institutions, like the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the industrial co-operative Samed (Sayigh 1994a:109). This financial source has decreased lately due to PLO's financial crisis after the Gulf War of 1991. In addition, the political focus of the PLO was changed from Lebanon to the Occupied Territories whereby the PLO reduced the economic involvement in Lebanon. The loss of PLO funds, in combination with the severe crises in the Lebanese economy, with inflation out of control and an unemployment rate of 35%, has left the refugees in Lebanon in a especially miserable and rapidly deteriorating situation (Regional Surveys of the World: The Middle East and North Africa 1994:619)


Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship have legal rights as native East Bank Jordanians, and Palestinians are in many ways an integral part of the Jordanian economy. In some sectors, like in bank and finance they are even the dominant part. Palestinians do not hesitate to claim that "we built Jordan", and that they are the driving force in the economy. At the same time many say that getting a job now is more difficult if you are Palestinian. In the state administration Palestinians believe that Jordanians get jobs easier than Palestinians, because employment depends on wasta - a personal contact inside the system. The existing wasta-system is a segmenting aspect of the economy, because Palestinians usually have their own network of contacts. In the private sector the network of personal relations seems even more important, especially in small firms where acquiring jobs often occur through the networks of friends or relatives.

One area of the Jordanian job market where Palestinians clearly are excluded, is the security-related field. In military academies, students are accepted only after personal interviews, giving the authorities the opportunity to prevent Palestinians from climbing in the system.

The West Bank

The West Bank economy is one of dependence. Israel is the largest market for goods and services, as well as the most important employer of the West Bank labour force. The intifada from 1987, and later the Gulf crisis of 1990 led to a sharp decrease in West Bank exports. Since the border closure of March 1993, the access for West Bank Palestinians to the Israeli job market has been limited. But Palestinian workers still cross the "green line", which devised the occupied territories from Israel, to work in Israel, where jobs are better paid than in the West Bank. According to unpublished data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics the number of Palestinian workers in Israel fell from a level of around 120,000 right before the border closure to about 65,000 one month later. Through contact with Israeli employers, Palestinians can obtain the required labor card. But around 50% of the workers cross the border illegally, daily or weekly.

Nablus used to be the industrial centre of Jordan until the loss of the West Bank in 1967. The local manufacturing industries of soap, shoes and furniture gives employment for a part of the Askar Camp residents.

In the West Bank there is a huge informal sector of the economy, illustrating that the Israeli administration is not in control of all fields of the production. One good example is the taxi-system. In Askar Camp there are around 30 taxis - none of them registered, in contrast to most service-taxis going to nearby towns, licensed by the Israeli authorities.

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