The Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries

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Identity is needed to explain individual compliance with, or opposition to, power, as a mediating link between structure and subjectivity. The death of the subject and of the author may accurately reflect the perceived crisis of Western culture and the bottomless anxieties of its most privileged subjects — the white male authors who presumed to define it.

But it remains to be demonstrated that their deaths constitute the collective or generic deaths of the subject and author Fox-Genovese , p.

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Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries a Quarter of a Century On

Latina autobiographers do not create a monolithic self, but rather present the construction of the self as a member of multiple oppressed groups, whose political identity can never be divorced from her conditions. The subject created is at once individual and collective Torres , p. The vulnerability of refugees to the alienating effects of labeling has been well recognized by refugee studies scholars such as Roger Zetter. I doubt that such a collection was handed down ready-made from the leadership.

Also between people inside the camps and those scattered outside in predominantly Lebanese milieux? In other words, how did class, gender, age and residence inflect expressions of Palestinian identity? There were different degrees of association with the Resistance between parents and children, between different families in the camp, and between out- and in-camp Palestinians. When some women activists from outside the camp visited the home where I was staying, there were questions after they left about their marital status.

These were indications that the identification between camp people and the Resistance was not as total as people told me it was. I regret now not having done more to find out about the social locations and debates these differences were based on. While Fateh preached the equality of all Palestinians in loss, those in camps saw clearly the vast gap between themselves and Palestinians who had prospered in the Gulf, or Jordan, or Lebanon.

The Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries - Reut Institute

Surely the Palestinianism of camp refugees was to some extent constructed against the educated, middle and upper class refugees who had partly assimilated into the host countries. Though stateless and impoverished, Palestinians in the camps rediscovered pride in being bearers of a more authentic Arab culture than their Lebanese neighbours. The reality of such representations of the host society and culture is not the issue here: In the case of Lebanon, we have plenty of stories of oppression of camp Palestinians by the Lebanese mukhabarat , as well as social exclusion by some sectors of Lebanese society.

By constituting the refugees as unassimilable outsiders, the Lebanese state enhanced the privilege of citizenship even to those groups who, historically, had been opposed to the creation of a Lebanese entity. How was this reversion articulated to the modernity that most Palestinians aspired to after ? Did they all welcome a restoration of peasant customs and hierarchies, for example the authority of senior men?

Did anyone question the bargain implicit in Resistance rhetoric, between the promise of return and the subordination of camp refugees within the national movement?

From Peasants to Revolutionaries

To what extent did their re-found, re-created Palestinian identity itself compensate for the pains of exile? For three years Israeli forces occupied all of South Lebanon, where the majority of low-income Palestinians are located, installing a huge concentration camp, Ansar, through which most men over the age of 16 passed, and recruiting collaborators.

In the central area, the Lebanese state conducted search and arrest campaigns, restored checkpoints around the camps, and closed the PLO office. Those who ventured outside the relative protection of the camps risked police detention, or kidnapping by the Lebanese Forces. But in reality it was worse, since in quite large parts of the Lebanese people had been sympathetic towards the refugees, whereas by the majority in all sects was united around the accusing slogan Kharabu beladna they destroyed our country Brynen , p.

I cannot write about these changes with the authority of a researcher making a special study of identity at the time, since my focus was elsewhere. My observations on this topic are therefore second-hand and anecdotal. I will select three changes that were readily observable and commented on by social activists and political cadres at the time: The Fateh dissidents spoke directly to this sense of betrayal, particularly since several Fateh military commanders were said to have deserted their posts during the invasion Sayigh , p.

Loss of faith in the leadership of the national movement was deep, and affected all structures left behind by the Resistance, such as the Popular Committees and NGOs. But they had no revitalizing message, nor the means to fend off the general impoverishment and isolation of camp people.

This came out in phrases such as: At the end of the longest and hardest siege of Shateela, a political cadre proclaimed: By identifying Palestinians with resistance to power, this cadre underwrites what post-colonial theorists have postulated about the oppositional potential of subordinate identities. There was a return to village-based insurance funds which had lapsed during the days of the PLO because of subventions. Village memory books were produced in increasing numbers Khalili , p. But I question whether this apparent restoration of village origins went deep, or engaged younger generations.

An anthropologist currently working in Shateela camp observes that children may know the name of their original village or town in Palestine, but little more than that; and prefer to learn their history from television rather than from the stories of their grandparents.

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The link with a place of origin in Palestine, and remembering the Nakba, seems to have weakened as elements in Palestinian identity, leaving people more space to create their own narrations, or choose silence Allan This trend was visible and audible in stricter performance of prayer and mosque attendance, frequent invocation of God, the wearing of Muslim dress by women, and a new religiosity among young men.

Secular nationalists analysed it as a reaction to the defeat and losses of , or, alternatively, as protection against current dangers. However, it seems likely to me that the return to Islam went deeper than that, and formed an identity choice implicitly critical of a failed secular nationalism.

This is interesting because it points to a complex interaction between the structural, the social and the subjective. Through extensive interviews with Palestinians in refugee camps, she provides a deeply-moving, grassroots story of how the Palestinians came to be who they are today. In their own voices, Palestinians tell stories of the Nabka and their flight from their homeland. Sayigh's powerful account of Palestinians' economic marginalisation the social and psychological effects of being uprooted and the political oppression which they have faced continues to resonate today.

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Reissued with an extensive new foreword by Noam Chomsky, which brings the story that Sayigh tells up-to-date in the context of the Hamas victory and the war in Lebanon, this book is both a fascinating historical document and an essential insight into the situation in the contemporary Middle East. The Peasant Past 2.

The New Reality, - 4.

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The Palestinian Revolution 5. Epilogue Glossary Bibliography Index.


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