Paid employment in host country

The following cases show different ways of adaptation to the different local economic conditions, and give a picture of how Palestinians participate as labour-power in the different fields of the local economy.


The south Lebanese camp of Rashidiyya lies in a fertile agricultural region that provides the refugees with working opportunities. The Palestinians in the camp have their own plots where they grow food-stuff for consumption or informal exchange activity. The area was previously leased by the state to Lebanese land-owners, who in turn rented it to refugees. In addition, agricultural fields are the main income source for numerous day-workers, who are picked up and driven to the fields in the morning by a foreman. One of them, 22 year old Rami, makes around 6 USD pr day from this employment. In summer he works 3-4 days a week, during the winter season when the citrus trees are picked, he works daily.

The lack of work permits for Palestinians in Lebanon does not prevent refugees from establishing their own companies, like an example from Rashidiyya shows:

63 year old Abu Rashid from the Galilee, has managed to build up his independent business. His brothers are currently his companions in their two joint companies: a company which sprays pesticide in agricultural fields and citrus plantations, and a company which rents citrus-plantations owned by Lebanese on a yearly basis. The latter is called daman-business.

Abu Rashid has only four years of schooling and worked as a day-labourer in the fields from 1948 until 1959 when he was engaged as a regular employee by two Lebanese land-owners. He worked mostly with spraying, and gradually became responsible for the whole spraying operation in a large plantation. After 14 years he had learnt everything about spraying. He bought a spraying motor together with his two brothers and a fourth Palestinian friend with their saved money, and started a private company in 1973. At the time the motor cost approximately 9,000 USD in 1994-currency. The company invested in another motor in 1975. The company has standing orders in different plantations and agricultural fields throughout the district.

All regular workers in the two companies are currently family members. Abu Rashid has 5 daughters and 5 sons, his brother Ali has 7 sons and 4 daughters, his brother Nader has 3 sons and 5 daughters. A large number of the sons and the males that are married into the family, along with the male grandchildren of age, work in the spraying company which is an all-year business. Each member receives a daily income between 15,000 - 20,000 lira (9-12 USD).

The spraying activity is an excellent advantage for Abu Rashid's other activity, the daman-company, which rents fields for farming. When he sprays the fields, Abu Rashid gets a good impression of which plantations would yield the best produce, and is thus able to rent the best fields. In the daman-company Abu Rashid and his brothers function as employers; they engage foremen who are in charge of finding seasonal workers both Palestinians and Lebanese - for the picking.

While the foremen are both Palestinians and Lebanese, most of the workers are Palestinians. Working in the field is viewed as low status activity; Lebanese who replaced Palestinian workers after the Israeli invasion in 1982 cost their employers almost double the wages of Palestinian workers (Regional Surveys of the World 1994: 619).

Abu Rashid's business is a good example of a well incorporated activity. His work is a very common activity among Lebanese in south Lebanon. In the area there are numerous Lebanese owned pesticide spraying companies, doing the same work as Abu Rashid, but he is the only Palestinian dealing with Lebanese customers. This means that even though he is outside the state-controlled formal economy, he is inside the informal Lebanese economy. In other words; he is not incorporated in the state economy, but very well incorporated in the informal Lebanese economy.

Another interesting point is that Palestinians in the camp are considered as cheaper labour-force than Lebanese, thus revealing a segmented labour market between Palestinian and Lebanese nationals in the agricultural sector. While the entrepreneur Abu Rashid is an example of economic incorporation, the common Palestinian land workers, with a salary half of the Lebanese worker's income, are incorporated into the Lebanese economy quite differently.

A third point to be noted is the way Abu Rashid organises his business through his family network. His kinship relations constitute the bulk of the regular work force in his companies.

Connected to the agricultural field is the sector of trading vegetables at the marketplaces downtown and inside the camps. The market prices in the camps are usually lower than outside because much of the vegetables and fruits that reach the camps are not first quality. The following example shows how the market in the Wihdat Camp in Amman functions:

The 25 year old unemployed Walid and his brother work on an irregular basis, selling fruit and vegetables at the market in Wihdat. Although this is among the biggest market places in Jordan the vendor activity is illegal. The market blocks the main road and makes it impossible for regular vehicle traffic to enter the camp from the main square where the market is situated. UNRWA has complained to the Ministry of Palestinian Affairs, because UNRWA-services like garbage collection are hindered in entering the camp through the market quarter.

The police raid the area now and then, but at a relatively high cost as tension and frustrations gets a short outburst, and the minute police leave, the sellers are back in the street. Understanding the need of small market places UNRWA started organising a system where each shelter unit had their "door" bab in an area close to the market. But the majority, and predominantly the poorest families, sold their share. Now these "babs" are replaced by different commercial stores, while those who sold their "babs" are back on the street as vendors. In order to cope with this a system of licenses for selling was tried. But to implement this system supervision is needed, in the absence of permanent presence of the authorities the majority of vendors who sold their bab are not deterred from selling without a license. Instead the vendors have developed their own system; they have organised to keep "intruders" away from the best places to sell.

Walid's household belongs to this latter category. His father sold their bab. Walid tells that one of his relatives was taken to jail as the police tried to clean the streets. Once they took the carriage Walid had rented and kept it for 6 months. But it does not keep them from selling at the market whenever there is an urgent need for money in Walid's household. Then he and his brother or nephew, who live upstairs, sell vegetables or fruit on the street market.

The per hour outcome of this work is low. The working day starts at 5 o'clock in the morning. In the market place in Wihdat a carriage is rented for one JD (1,45 USD). The men walk pushing the carriage to the central market of Amman. At the central market all the farmers deliver their products which is then sold in boxes of vegetables and fruits to the highest bid, but at a price which officially should be inside a government fixed maximum or minimum charge. Two percent of the price is paid as taxes. Last time Walid went he bought 50 boxes of cucumbers. For one box carrying 8-10 kg he paid 1,8 JD (2,6 USD). At the market he sold the cucumber for 0,2-0,35 JD (1,3-0,5 USD) a kilo. He and his nephew worked until 19 PM. They didn't manage to sell all the cucumbers until the next day. They earned 9 JD (13 USD), 4,5 JD each. The per hour salary was in other words less than half a JD (0,7 USD).

Here we see how lack of alternatives pushes a family to depend on marginal activities, which renders very low outcome in the informal sector, and which the authorities are unsuccessful in getting under control. In this situation of hard competition and conflict with the police, Walid and the other vendors have organised themselves. Again we see how family members constitute the basic network for the business.

Trade and Transport

Palestinians with relatives spread all over the Arab and Western world, might benefit from their kinship relations which form a network for doing business.

47-year old Ahmed started his career as a taxi-driver after he and his wife fled from Dheisheh Camp to Amman after the 1967 War. Later he started trading cars with the help of his uncle in Germany. His uncle bought the cars, and Ahmed drove them to Amman and sold them. He made good profit by this business. After two years he was able to invest in a trailer, a piece of land, and he built his own house. He then started transporting goods across the Middle East, through the port of Aqaba to Iraq and Saudi Arabia. This business is vulnerable to ups and downs in the general economic situation. Ahmed got problems repaying his loans, so he sold the trailer and bought a smaller truck. It still wasn't enough, so he had to sell the house as well (his rich uncle in Kuwait refused to help him). He complains that after the Gulf war there has been very little long-distance transport, which is what pays. One trip Aqaba-Baghdad makes around 600 JD (870 USD), but it's three months since last time his son had this trip (only his son works now, because Muhammed himself is suffering from a bad back-pain). "Before I used to advertise in the papers, but I've stopped - there is no work anymore", he says.

Ahmed claims that he and other Palestinians are openly discriminated against by the port authorities in Aqaba, where there is a queuing-system. "Often we have to wait for a long time, while Jordanian drivers with good connections with the port office get loads right away. These days, due to small amounts of goods, we don't go there and wait. We are on a telephone list, and they call us when it is our turn. So now it's difficult to know when Jordanians are cheating in the queue", he complains.

The driver believes that Jordanian colleagues are cheating in the queue, but he is not sure, and he cannot prove it. He shares a widespread conviction among Palestinians that they are systematically discriminated against when it comes to obtaining jobs and education in Jordan. When a Palestinian is refused a job, he will most likely claim that his origin was the reason, even if he cannot document that he was better qualified than the Jordanian who got the job. True or not, this suspicion towards the authorities or Jordanians in general is a disintegrating factor in itself.

Crafts and home production

Along a narrow street in the al-Taj suburb of south Amman there are five carpenter workshops on a row, making furniture, doors and building materials. One of them is newly established. The man in charge is 33 year old Fuad, who for many years worked in his brother's workshop. Four months ago he established his own, and he hopes that he will manage to run the project.

He lives in another Palestinian suburb just outside the Nasr Camp, with his wife and four children. He has rented the room for the workshop, and equipped it through credits granted by the equipment agent. He has also started the work with four employees; one is his nephew, the others are Palestinian friends, but he is still waiting for the license from the municipality to open the workshop formally. He is a bit excited about the outcome, because he has a political record; he has been a fighter in the Fatah forces in Lebanon, and was two years in Jordanian prison, after he was arrested under an illegal border-crossing some years ago. The secret police still has his passport, but he believes that he will get the permission to work now. "The situation has improved after the democratisation process started in 1989 following the parliamentary elections", he says. For a workshop like this he will have to pay 150 JD (217 USD) yearly in taxes. If he has more employees, he will have to pay more taxes, so the best is to employ your brothers, he explains. In addition, there is a special 10 JD "intifada-tax" for the government. His customers are both Jordanian and Palestinian, most of them are residents in the mixed neighbourhood of al-Taj.

Fuad is optimistic about the prospects for his business: "We had more than enough to do when I worked with my brother, so I know the market is there", he says. He is strongly in need of money because he has a private loan of 2,000 JD (2,900 USD), which he borrowed to pay for treatment for his mother in a private hospital before she died two years ago.

Fuad is following the pattern of family business; he got to know the market through his previous work with his brother who assisted him in establishing the new workshop. If he receives the license from the municipality his production will be a part of the formal Jordanian economy. He will register only three of the four paid workers though, in order to pay less taxes. He claims that tax evasion is a common way of doing business, also among Jordanian shopkeepers. His irregular part of the production is in that case a sign of that Fuad's activity is incorporated in the Jordanian economic system, which is a combination of a formal and an informal sector.

A less well paying business, though a common informal sector, is women's home based production.

Umm Nasser, a widow living in the suburb of Taybeh in south Amman, is a case in point. Since her husband died in 1967, she has made her own money by selling her impressive embroidery works, dresses and table clothes to her neighbours, who call her the best tailor in Taybeh. But most of the income of the household today comes from others in the household. The illiterate woman shares her rented five room flat with two daughters, three sons, one daughter in law and two grandsons. Four of them are working, so her home production is not the only source of income. Both daughters, Dana, 33, and Rima, 29, are working as secretaries, the youngest son Said, 27, is a salesman, and the wife of the oldest son Nasser is working in a ladies' saloon. Two of the sons, Nasser, 37, and Auni, 28, are not working for the time being. Umm Jamal's own salary is only 40-50 JD (58-72 USD) pr. month, Said makes around 75 JD (109 USD), and Rima, Dana and Nasser's wife get around 150 JD (218 USD) monthly each.

Everybody pays 40 percent of their income to common family expenses - except Taher, because he is saving money to bring his Moroccan wife to Jordan. In addition, other relatives, and neighbours come with money from time to time, usually during occasions, like Ramadan and "Id. Umm Jamal's customers are all Palestinians, because the whole Taybeh neighbourhood is inhabited by refugees originally from Dora, Umm Nasser's own village, most of which was occupied in 1948, the rest in 1967.

Umm Nasser's family shows how the collective attitude is a way of sharing scarce resources, not only for daily expenses, but also more basic life-time investments like weddings: Auni is going to marry this summer. Most of the costs will be paid by his brothers because he is unemployed,.

During periods of economic hardship, Umm Nasser has taken advantage of the very good social network in Taybeh, established on the basis of the common origin of most residents in the neighbourhood, who originally come from the village of Dora. The neighbours offer her gifts because they feel a responsibility for caring for their kin.


As the younger generations of Palestinian refugees are relatively well educated, they are active in the social service and education sector. In Jordan and the West Bank refugees are employed in governmental schools and health institutions.

Haitham, a 54 year refugee from Jaffa, living with his family in Askar camp, is working both as a teacher in a UNRWA-school and as a driving teacher. He started teaching after he was refused as a pilot in the Jordanian Air Force, according to himself because of his Palestinian identity. Others in the family are also working in the social sector. One daughter works as a nurse, another, educated as a social worker, is an UNRWA welfare officer. The latter is still unmarried and lives with her parents. This family is quite well off, not at least because UNRWA pays approximately double the wages which are paid for comparable governmental jobs. The refugees have an advantage when it comes to obtaining the attractive UNRWA-jobs, because the organisation prefers to employ refugees21. Haitham's eldest son, Ziad, runs many activities at the same time; he worked as an electrician in Israel at the same time as he took courses to become a driving teacher like his father. When he passed the exam, he stopped working in Israel and started working at his father's driving school. The work as a driving teacher is even better paid than UNRWA-jobs.

As we can see, this family is making a surplus of all these well paid jobs. A sign of how well off they are, is that the single daughter spends the whole UNRWA-salary of 315 JD (457 USD) monthly as she likes. Haitham decided two years ago that time had come to make a major investment; after four decades in the camp he took the step to move out. With the help of his savings he bought a house and 1,25 dunum of land, and built another storey, for the total cost of 100,000 JD (145,000 USD). Within some weeks the family will move in.

The story of Haitham is an example of a successful strategy of combination of different activities, some of which have underpinned the other; working in Israel, studying, working as a teacher, starting a driving school, and, at last, investing in land and house.

Remittances from abroad

Since the beginning of the oil boom, well paid employment in the Gulf has been an attractive option for Palestinians. After the Gulf crisis, around 300,000 returnees (Guide to UNRWA, April 1994:6), of whom the huge majority were Palestinians, came back from Kuwait to Jordan after being obliged to leave.

A common strategy was to save money for later investments in land or education. In some cases the whole family moved to the Gulf, in other cases only one in the family went there for a period, while sending money back home.

The new suburb of Umm Nuwwara in Amman was established in 1992, built specially for the Gulf returnees. The residents are disillusioned by the sudden change from a relatively wealthy life in Kuwait to their poor life in Jordan. The shopkeeper Auni in the main street, originally from a village close to Hebron, went to Saudi Arabia in 1961 where he worked as a teacher. He kept in touch with his family, and went to see them every summer. After the occupation of the West Bank, his family went to the Souf camp in Jordan, while he went to Kuwait, also working as a teacher. He sent one part of his salary to his family, and saved the other part. In 1976 he had saved enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house without taking up loans. He continued working in Kuwait, but had to return to Amman in 1990 where he now lives with his wife, a cousin who also works as an UNRWA-teacher, and six children. Today he has his daily work in the small shop he opened by the savings from Kuwait.

Another option for increasing a household's economic assets is to migrate to the West in order to find work. This is more difficult than finding work in the Gulf, due to the strict visa-practices by most western countries. Also it is a more expensive option. The far distance also means that the contact might not be very regular. Abu Ghassan's son who is studying in the Philippines, considers going to the US when he finishes this year. His father doesn't want him to emigrate, but if the son goes there, he says that he knows for sure that the son will send money to him and the rest of the family.

A third option for acquiring "external" remittances is the West Bank. Many of the 1967-refugees left their farmed land behind, which later was run by their relatives. The Jenin-resident Nayef was working in Algeria at the time of the 1967 War, and was thus barred from returning to his family. He settled in Amman where he lives with his wife and seven children. He has received remittances from his brother regularly who farms the land. The amount changes according to the harvest; last year Nayef's share was 700 JD (1,015 USD).

Receiving remittances from abroad is affecting the refugees' ties with the host country. When their main income source is from outside, the refugees become less economically dependent on the host country.

Land investments

The influx of refugees from the occupied territories has driven the land prices in neighbouring countries upwards. Many Palestinians have managed to take advantage of the land price increase by buying and selling land, often buying from locals and selling to other Palestinians.

The retired bulldozer driver, Abu Ghassan, was one of the lucky ones, when he, after he had been working some years in Saudi Arabia was able to buy two pieces of land in 1976. He built a house on one of them, and moved with his family out of Nasr camp. Ten years later, he sold the other piece, which had cost him 4,000 JD, for a price of 13,000 JD, thus making a good profit, which was used to send his brightest son to the Philippines to study civil engineering.

Abu Rashid and his brothers in Lebanon (mentioned on page 66) also invested money in land. Instead of spending all the profit from the pesticide company on their daily expenses, they chose to buy a piece of land outside Tyre. The brothers built a four-storey building, and succeeded in selling the apartments in 1986, profiting thereby from the land bought some years earlier.

Investment in land or other property differs in certain aspects from other types of economic activities. The outcome is based on a long term strategy more than most other income generating activities. Furthermore, refugees who own land in the host country, establish economic ties in the area they reside in which those without property have not. Investment in land is thus an activity that attaches the refugees to the locality, and therefore might affect their future mobility.

Depending on UNRWA and Charities

Those refugees who are not able to meet their basic needs for food and shelter, are defined as Special Hardship Cases by the UNRWA, and receive rations from the organisation. Out of the 2,9 million registered refugees by the end of 1993, 166.987 are registered as SHC-clients (Guide to UNRWA, April 1994). UNRWA's criteria to be accepted as a SHC are strict, and all SHC-cases are subject to detailed investigation by UNRWA staff.

70 year old Zeinab in Askar Camp in the West Bank has headed her household since she became a widow 15 years ago. Zeinab has received SHC-support for some periods. She has eight daughters and three sons. Today two sons and two daughters are living in her house. One of the daughters (36), came back home in 1991, after she had worked ten years as an English teacher in Oman. She is still looking for work. The other daughter (32) is a nursery teacher, but is not able to find any work. One of the sons (45) receives his own SHC-help because he has diabetes and has psychological problems. The other son, Abbas (24) was clever at school, but is currently without work. Zeinab tells that Abbas, after he was beaten badly by Israeli soldiers in 1989, left for Amman to continue his studies, where he received 100 JD (145 USD) from the PLO office. His two sisters working in Oman paid for his studies until they both returned after the Gulf War. Until Abbas returned home in 1992, the family received SHC-support. When he came back, Zeinab lost the SHC-status she had for two years, because Abbas was over 18 years old and was supposed to be able to work. But he did not find any work, and the family could not afford to let him finish the studies, specially after his sisters came back from the Gulf and UNRWA cut the welfare program. Today, Zeinab's family is dependent on economic help from her married daughters who are not living at home. The daughter bring food to their mother's household each day, and sometimes give her money. Abbas does not feel good about the situation: "It is the boys" obligation to provide for their parents, but with our family it is the girls who help my mother most", he says. Zeinab explains that she always encouraged the children to study, because they did not have the option of farming the land which they lost when they left their village near Jaffa in 1948. "But we could not afford to give all the children education. So it was the youngest girls who got the best education", she says.

In Zeinab's case we see a type of combined strategy with long-term goals; two daughters were sent to the Gulf to work. The surplus from the salaries was invested in education for the other children. The daughters who worked in Oman sent home money regularly and paid for the education of their brother Abbas. Zeinab harvested the fruits of the investment in the education of her youngest two daughters until the Gulf war broke out in 1991. When the daughters were forced to leave the Gulf, Zeinab stopped receiving overseas revenues and her household increased by two unemployed members. Abbas was also forced to stop his studies because his sisters could not pay for him any longer. Having an 18-year old son no longer studying, Abbas was theoretically able to feed the household accruing to UNRWA's guidelines. Zeinab therefore did not fill the requirements for receiving UNRWA's SHC-support any longer and lost it.

Zeinab, however, uses her kinship to gain access to resources outside her own household. Three daughters, married and living outside Zeinab's household, bring both food and money in order to maintain the material and physical needs of their mother's household. Such food transfers do not reveal the redistributive mechanism active in preserving the self-sufficiency of a certain household (Moore 1988:61-62). Food is transferred from an external household, in our case-Zeinab's daughters, and redistributed at the point of consumption in Zeinab's household.

The case also illustrates two other points. First, SHC-support is useful to a certain point, but this support proves ineffective when the basic transfers provided by other household members terminate. Second, daughters are as important as sons when it comes in implementing combined strategies of economic adaptation. Whether sponsoring the education of their brothers or feeding their kin, females support their parents' household despite marriage and the establishment of separate households.

Activities in political and national institutions

Some political groups pay well for their employees, making political activities as a source of income. In addition to regular salaries and pensions, PLO has traditionally provided funds for families of martyrs, imprisoned or deportees, and it has provided politically active and good students with scholarships abroad. These funds, which especially dominated the Palestinian economy in Lebanon, have been reduced due to PLO's financial difficulties since 1990. But Palestinian institutions still exist in Lebanon: Abu Hassan from Nablus and Abu Fadi from Gaza are both working in the PLO-administration of Rashidiyya camp. As 1967-refugees they are paid special attention to by the PLO because they are deprived of the basic UNRWA-services. Abu Hassan guards the camp entrance, while Abu Fadi works in the Palestine Red Crescent Society's (PRCS) hospital in the camp. PRCS is one of the main employers among the national institutions run by the PLO.

There are still well paid officials at the different PLO offices and embassies around in the Arab countries. A Fatah-veteran, working with security-related issues in Amman, says he earns 500 JD (725 USD) monthly. Another top official of the PRCS would not tell how much he earns, but he pays 2,000 JD (2,900 USD) a year on his house in Amman, which he rented after he came from Kuwait four years ago, and he uses another 2,000 JD (2,900 USD) yearly on his children's private education. Now, when the Palestinian National Authority is building up an administration apparatus in the self-rule areas, many political activists both inside and outside the territories expect to get a position in the self-administered areas.

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