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Temps et espaces en Palestine

Roger Heacock

III. Histoire du temps présent

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

Unexplored problems of Palestinian identity

Rosemary Sayigh

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1When I did the research for Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries, in the early 1970s in Bourj al-Barajneh camp in Lebanon, identity seemed an obvious focus, theoretically and politically. This was a time when the refugees in Lebanon were still celebrating their sense that the Resistance movement had restored their true identity as Palestinians after two decades of being alienated under the label of “refugees”. It was also a time when memories of political repression and social exclusion in Lebanon were fresh. To record their memories as refugees and their celebrations of becoming “Palestinian”, was a project that I believed to be justified through the new authority of the advocacy current within anthropology. Looking back from 2006, I see the book as the product of convergence between the refugees’ recovery of “agency” and a moment when my own life became political and professional. At that time, and as an MA student, I didn’t understand the problematic nature of identity as a concept.

2It is understandable that national identity was as central for scholars engaged with the Palestinian problem as for refugees in camps. The 1948 Nakba erased “Palestine” from the map, and made “Palestinians” disappear as the people who had lived in that specific geopolitical and historical space, looking forward to national independence promised them by Versailles. Such a traumatic disappearance guaranteed that territoriality, history and identity would be tightly welded together in post-Nakba Palestinian nationalism. Thus when a Palestinian national identity re-emerged in the mid-1960s linked to the Resistance movement, it possessed such a forceful self-evidentiality that scholars tended not to investigate its problematic aspects. Some questions were addressed, such as the divergence between “Palestinianist” and “Arabist” tendencies in the early Resistance movement (Cobban 1984, p. 21-24), the question of its “modernity” (Budeiri 1995, p. 89-95); and differences between classes and regions in adoption of “Palestinianism” (Sayigh 1997, p. 46-57; 66-79). The Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi, who has written the most comprehensive study of Palestinian identity, presents it as the product of many different historical and cultural sources rather than simply a reaction to the 1948 Nakba or to Zionist nationalism (Khalidi 1997). Yet he assumes that Palestinian national identity is relatively unitary and inclusive at any particular moment, and does not probe connections between “identity” and dominant institutions. This taken-for-grantedness of the post-Nakba Palestinian identy has inhibited a number of questions that could have been asked, for example about the processes through which it was constructed and diffused through the diaspora, and how it was subjectively adopted, evaded or modified by Palestinians of different classes and in different regions.

  • 1 After the PLO evacuation of 1982, a friend with Fateh bitterly told me, “They left us as nothing bu (...)

3Behind the assertions of complete “oneness” between the Resistance and the “masses”, there certainly lay complex debates on the meaning of the newly resurrected Palestinian identity that could have didactic value for Palestinian self-understanding today. That the bitter experience of refugeedom was a central component of the Resistance identity is supported by the flow of camp refugees to early military training centres (Cobban 1984, p. 40-41); also by assertions of people in camps of how by becoming fighters, or “strugglers”, they had cancelled out the shame of the “refugee” label (Sayigh 1979, p. 166-7). Less explored are the origins of Fateh’s decision to invest the Resistance with the symbols of peasant culture and identity – the hatta and aqal, the dabkeh, the diwan, and the restoration of the prestige of the wujuha’ (village notables). We can see that this “ruralization” of the Resistance helped certain strategic aims: it resonated with camp inhabitants who were in their majority of rural origin, mobilizing them as source of fighters; it responded to theories prevalent in the 1960s that viewed the Chinese revolution and Algerian and Vietnamese liberation wars as based on peasants as the revolutionary class. Where the Palestinian Resistance movement was concerned it underwrote the reproduction of the Palestinian class structure in exile, masking the real dominance of the Resistance by the urban middle class, and the subordination of camp-based refugees. It also recalled a glorious moment in Palestinian history, the Great Revolt of 1936-1939, of which rural mujahidin were the backbone. Praise for the activism of peasant Palestinians was the underpinning to Fateh’s promotion of national unity in the diaspora, aimed at muting class conflict. But doing fieldwork in Shateela camp after the evacuation of the PLO in 1982, I often heard criticisms of the national movement leadership that could be interpreted as class-based, even if not phrased in terms of class.1 Even before 1982, anthropologist Julie Peteet also found evidence of class consciousness when listening to women activists, sometimes openly expressed as antagonistic (Peteet 1991, p. 32, 81, 85).

  • 2 Theorizing about post-colonial literatures, Ashcroft and Ahluwalia (1999) note the close link betwe (...)

4Asking necessary questions about the historic construction of Palestinian identity is not made easier by post-structuralism’s critique of the identity concept based on the proposition that it implies essentialism and a false fixity. In American academia particularly, the term “identity politics” was used pejoratively against Edward Said and other post-colonial scholars in an effort to stem their growing influence. Said’s own position on identity is helpfully complex. While rejecting “parochialism” and nationalist orthodoxy, he indirectly defended the identity concept through principles defining the engaged yet critical intellectual. Particular points in this defense are: i) Said’s affirmation of “worldliness, exemplified in the moral need for the critic to position him or herself in affiliative networks of opposition to power, based on definitions of positionality that link one to similar others;2 ii) through his insistence that the existence of inequality and suffering in the world implicates everyone’s identity as either complicit or resistant, and on the public intellectual’s duty to criticize political and cultural hegemony; and iii) his reminder that third world peoples have aspirations to emancipation, liberation and modernity, enlightenment ideals that post-structuralism has metamorphosed as myth or fiction (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia 1999, p.19). Identity is needed to explain individual compliance with, or opposition to, power, as a mediating link between structure and subjectivity. Post-structuralism’s critiques of the concept of identity can be seen as part of its failure to situate itself in the real world.

5Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese notes the suspect timing of post-structuralism’s annihilation of the subject at precisely that moment when long-suppressed identities of race, ethnicity, gender, and class were beginning to “voice” themselves:

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 1988, p. 67, quoted by Torres 1991, p. 273).

6The identity concept has been rehabilitated theoretically and as force in the real world by post-colonialists and feminists, particularly by feminists of colour. Latina writer Lourdes Torres, in an essay on the construction of self in Latina autobiographies, reclaims the value of “identity politics” for women excluded from publishing. She notes:

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 1991, p. 274, my italics).

7Another Latina writer, Paula Moya, challenges post-structuralism’s de-legitimation of concepts such as “identity” and “experience”: “The mistake lies in assuming that our options for theorizing identities are inscribed within the postmodern/essentialism binary – that we are either completely fixed and unitary, or unstable and fragmented selves” (Moya 2000, p. 136). Moya unfolds a “realist” theory of identity as “neither self-evident, unchanging and uncontestable, nor …absolutely fragmented, contradictory and unstable.” Her definition of identity is not “flat” but incorporates the idea of identity change through struggle, since “oppositional struggle is fundamental to our ability to understand the world” (Moya 2000, p. 139). Using these defenses of the identity concept, we should be in a much stronger theoretical position to investigate Palestinian identities over time, and in all their regional, class, and gender variety of expression, than if we merely assume “a” Palestinian identity as producer/product of national struggle.

8Looking back at “Palestinianism” in Lebanon in the 1970s, I think the link between “identity” and “agency” is one we researchers should have looked at more closely, as well as the oppressive effects of the “refugee” identity imposed by the international community. The vulnerability of refugees to the alienating effects of labeling has been well recognized by refugee studies scholars such as Roger Zetter. Zetter underlines the effects of “settlement schemes” (i.e. setting up camp spaces and habitat) in creating the refugee label, disaggregating original identities and social relationships, and installing bureaucratic management that prioritizes material need and programme delivery while suppressing more difficult political aspirations such as repatriation (Zetter 1991). The self-descriptions of Palestinian camp inhabitants in the 1970s add cultural colour to Zetter’s analysis. Terms such as “non-existence”, “burial”, and “death” were used to describe people’s experience as “refugees”. In contrast, they used metaphors of rebirth and restoration of humanity to describe how they felt as “Palestinians”, elaborated in feelings such as “pride”, “joy”, “like wedding days”, and actions such as “clutching the gun” (Sayigh 1979, p. 164-168). They typically described themselves as “on the road to return,” signifying reversal of the exodus of 1948. Though their expressions of identity reflected Resistance slogans such as “struggler”, “one who sacrifices”, “steadfastness”, they also included self-attributes such as “educated”, “honest”, and “hard working” that probably emanated from the camp refugee experience in Lebanon.

9In other words, Palestinian identity in the camps in the 1970s was far from being merely a unitarian label, but was more like a “home base” from which people created an anthology of identity metaphors out of individual and collective experiences. I doubt that such a collection was handed down ready-made from the leadership. Rather it should be seen as a grassroots “Palestinianism” created within camp communities, more elaborate in contents and associations than the identity disseminated by the Resistance movement. In retrospect, I wish I had used that moment to discover more about processes through which “Palestinianism” was amplified and elaborated by people in the camps.

10We could also have asked: what differences were there in relation to “Palestinianism” between social strata within the camps, between parents and children, between men and women? 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? Stretches of living in Bourj al-Barajneh camp made me aware that some families believed the feda’yyeen were wrong to provoke the Lebanese state. 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. I found that many women – especially younger ones – longed to join the Resistance, but were not allowed to do so by their parents or brothers. 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.

11We might also ask in retrospect to what extent the post-1948 Palestinian identity was constructed through “othering” Lebanese and Arab host populations. Camp Palestinians often referred to Lebanese citizens as “sons of a state”, a designation implying both the “tribal” structure of Arab states, and a refugee desire to be embraced by a similar filiative structure. 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. 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. Differentiation of the Palestinian social and cultural heritage from that of the Lebanese was a frequent topic in camp discourse, focusing more often on the behaviour of women than the citizen/non-citizen contrast. 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: what is theoretically interesting is the reaction to displacement and humiliation as “refugees”, one of creating a collective sense of “self” that could be a source of pride.

  • 3 The term “difference machine” is borrowed from Engin Isin who uses it to characterise the ancient O (...)
  • 4 This was a favour that camp Palestinians never sought, and that after 1989 was explicitly refused t (...)
  • 5 There were exceptions: all Palestinians suspected of politics seen as dangerous to the Lebanese sta (...)

12Then there is the question of the effect of host policies on Palestinian identity in the various diaspora regions, and what these policies show about the regimes themselves. 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. Lebanon also acted as a “difference machine” vis-à-vis the refugees, separating out destitute rurals from middle class urbanites, and Christians from Muslims.3 At least in the first two decades, before the rise of the Resistance movement, Christian and middle-class Muslim Palestinian refugees found it comparatively easy to obtain Lebanese nationality.4 Harrassment by the mukhabarat was restricted to the people of the camps, whereas middle class, urban Palestinians were encouraged to feel they had a stake in the existence of Lebanon as given.5 Such differentiation disaggregated pre-1948 cross-class relations and blocked a sense of community from developing in exile. It seems possible that the harshness of refugee experiences in Lebanon – whether on a class or sectarian basis – may have contributed an extra nuance of self-affirmation to Palestinian identity there.

  • 6 See Swedenburg for an analysis of the Resistance construction of Palestinian “peasant-consciousness (...)
  • 7 There has been some debate among researchers as to whether culture in camps remained “peasant-based (...)

13Another question concerns the origins of the “peasant” identity that the dominant Resistance group, Fateh, adopted and disseminated. How was this reversion articulated to the modernity that most Palestinians aspired to after 1948?6 How was its adoption decided by the Resistance leadership, and programmatically enacted? We know that the majority of people in the camps were of rural origin, but even in Palestine they had been undergoing “modernizing” changes. How did they receive this “push” towards a past that many of them talked about in terms of “backwardness”? Did they all welcome a restoration of peasant customs and hierarchies, for example the authority of senior men? Was there, in fact, a “gap” between rural customs that the refugees themselves had carried on and those that the Resistance movement celebrated in its discourse?7 Since the people of the camps knew that the leaders of the Resistance were urbanites, were they carried along by the adoption of the peasant dress and naming customs?  Did anyone question the bargain implicit in Resistance rhetoric, between the promise of return and the subordination of camp refugees within the national movement? To what extent did their re-found, re-created Palestinian identity itself compensate for the pains of exile?  

Post 1982: Palestinians without the PLO

  • 8 Speaking in the West Bank about Palestinians in Lebanon, I have sometimes encountered the idea that (...)

14Those left behind after 1982 when the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon did not become less “Palestinian”, but they became Palestinian in changed, more fragmented and individual ways.8 Change was imposed by the difficulties of surviving in an actively hostile environment, without protection from the PLO or any Lebanese political or sectarian group. 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. One expression used to describe the situation at that time was “Back to zero” (ie. to 1948). But in reality it was worse, since in 1948 quite large parts of the Lebanese people had been sympathetic towards the refugees, whereas by 1982 the majority in all sects was united around the accusing slogan Kharabu beladna (they destroyed our country) (Brynen 1990, p. 182; Sayigh 1994, p. 196-227).

15Obviously this situation produced changes of identity, both at the epiphenomenal level and at the level of subjectivity. 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: one, a distancing from the PLO; two, a re-surfacing of Islam as identity and practice; and three, a re-vision of the “refugee” identity.

16After 1982 – and especially after the massacre of Sabra/Shateela – the departure of the PLO was seen by many as betrayal, and expressed in terms such as dasharuna (they abandoned us). A Shateela friend explained the evacuation of PLO leaders and fighters as due to the fact that they did not have families to defend in Lebanon – in other words, to him they were “outsiders”. Such feelings were also expressed in a new irony around Resistance slogans such as sumud (“steadfastness”) or thawra hatta al-nasr (“revolution until victory”). 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 1997, p. 561-573). 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. Nuclei of loyalty to Arafat’s Fateh indeed remained, as did all the Resistance factions. But they had no revitalizing message, nor the means to fend off the general impoverishment and isolation of camp people. Punishment inflicted on the people of the camps in Lebanese or Syrian state reaction to moves made by the Palestinian leadership outside deepened the distancing between PLO and “Lebanese” Palestinians not directly affiliated with Resistance groups.

17It would be wrong, in my view, to interpret this distancing from the PLO as loss of “Palestinianism”. Rather, these region-specific experiences gave “Palestinianism” in Lebanon new historical inflections, and an added regional specificity. This came out in phrases such as: “We Palestinians in Lebanon are the losers;” “We gave martyrs for nothing;” “All we are is widows and orphans” (said by a woman); and “All we are is bodyguards” (said by a man). Palestinian identity in Lebanon became that of people who stayed when the Resistance left, who “paid for Arafat’s mistakes” – I am quoting here, not making a judgement. I note that during the “battle of the camps” (between 1985 and 1987), a sense of pride in being Palestinian was palpably restored. At the end of the longest and hardest siege of Shateela, a political cadre proclaimed: “We will remain a thorn in the throat of America and Israel” – evidence of a popular Palestinian capacity to use new metaphors and new historical contexts to re-invent national identity, and reminding us that identities are never monolithic. By identifying Palestinians with resistance to power, this cadre underwrites what post-colonial theorists have postulated about the oppositional potential of subordinate identities.

18In the aftermath of 1982, village and regional identities reappeared to some extent, as a weak source of protection and resources. 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 2004, p. 15-17). 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. 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 2007).

  • 9 Some of these in Shateela called themselves al-mashayikh. Among signs of their piety was a refusal (...)

19After 1982, the religious level of identity in the camps rose to a new prominence. 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.9 This return to Islam was evident in the immediate aftermath of 1982, long before Hamas acquired representation in Lebanon. Secular nationalists analysed it as a reaction to the defeat and losses of 1982, or, alternatively, as protection against current dangers. A woman friend in Shateela who had cast off her activist jeans and T-shirt to don the ziyy Islami told me that the religious level of her identity was available to her “like a mask”, and did not in any way diminish her Palestinianism. 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.

20Another less obvious change in the aftermath of 1982 was a partial restoration of the discredited refugee identity, and re-association with UNRWA. This is interesting because it points to a complex interaction between the structural, the social and the subjective. As UNRWA offices were restored inside the camps, and UNRWA’s camp service officers regained authority, elements of the informal leadership, traumatized by the sudden loss of PLO protection, felt they had no other recourse but the Agency against the many enemies around them. This reaction was more evident among Palestinians old enough to remember the time when the Agency “looked after” Palestinians even if it did not represent them politically. But this reaction was not a simple return to pre-1970 refugee dependence; rather it took the form of an argument that the “refugee identity” embodied rights and claims supported by UN declarations, and therefore should not be abandoned lightly. Later this argument would evolve into the A’idun/Al-Awda movement, opposed to the Oslo Accords and calling for the return of the refugees to their homes according to UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) Resolution 194. At the level of politics and identity, it signalled a re-affirmation of the centrality of the refugee issue to the Palestinian cause, a refusal to be forgotten for the sake of a limited state.

21Does this reassumption of refugee consciousness mean that Palestinian identities “outside” are increasingly diverging from those “inside”? Had the national leadership’s expectations from the Oslo Accords been fulfilled, identity difference between those participating in state-building in Palestine and those excluded from it might have sharpened. But the promised state has not appeared even on the horizon. Having witnessed the frustration and insecurity of people in the still occupied West Bank and Gaza, as well as the intensity with which the people of the camps in Lebanon follow news of the Second Intifada, I doubt if difference between them is more than superficial.


Allan D., 2007: “The Politics of Witness: Remembering and Forgetting 1948 in Shateela Camp”, in Sa’di A. and Abu-Lughod L. (eds.), Nakba – Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory, New York, Columbia University Press.

Ashcroft B. et Ahluwalia P., 1999: Edward Said: The Paradox of Identity, London, Routledge.

Ashcroft B., Griffiths G., et Tiffin H., 1989: The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, London and New York, Routledge.

Brynen R., 1990: Sanctuary and Survival: The PLO in Lebanon, Boulder, Westview and London, Pintner.

Budeiri M., 1995: “The Nationalist Dimension of Islamic Movements in Palestinian Politics”, Journal of Palestine Studies24/3, p. 89-95.

Cobban H., 1984: The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Destremeau B., 1993: “Le statut juridique des Palestiniens vivant au Proche-Orient”, Revue d’Études Palestiniennes 48, Summer, p. 35-62.

Fox-Genovese E., 1988: “My Statue, My Self: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women”, in Benstock S. (ed.), The Private Self, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press.

Hanafi S., 2005: “Being in the Camp, Being Outside” in Kolor: Journal on Moving Communities 5 (1). Retrieved from

Isin E., 2002: Being Political: Genealogies of Citizenship, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Khalidi R., 1997: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, New York, Columbia University Press.

Khalili L., 2004: “Grass-Roots Commemorations: Remembering the Land in the Camps of Lebanon”, Journal of Palestine Studies 34/1, p. 15-17.

Mohanty C. et Jacqui A. (eds), 1997: Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures, New York and London, Routledge.

Moya P., 2000: “Postmodernism, “Realism,” and the Politics of Identity: Cherrie Moraga and Chicana Feminism”, in Moya P. and Hames-Garcia, R., Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Peteet J., 1991: Gender in Crisis: Women and the Palestinian Resistance Movement, New York, Columbia University Press.

Sayigh R., 1979: Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries, London, Zed Books.

Sayigh R., 1994: Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon, London, Zed Books.

Sayigh Y., 1997: Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993, Oxford, Oxford University Press and the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Sfeir-Khayat J., 2008: L’exil palestinien au Liban, Le temps des origines (1947-1952), Karthala/IFPO, Paris.

Swedenburg T., 1990: “The Palestinian Peasant as National Signifier”, Anthropological Quarterly 63 (1), p. 18-30.

Torres L., 1991: “The Construction of the Self in U.S. Latina Autobiographies” in Mohanty C., Russo A., et Torres L. (eds): Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Zetter R., 1991: “Labelling Refugees: Forming and Transforming a Bureaucratic Identity”, Journal of Refugee Studies 4 (1), p. 39-62.


1 After the PLO evacuation of 1982, a friend with Fateh bitterly told me, “They left us as nothing but bodyguards”. This was at a time when stories about the luxurious life style of some Fateh leaders were spreading through the camps in Lebanon.

2 Theorizing about post-colonial literatures, Ashcroft and Ahluwalia (1999) note the close link between displacement, identity-consciousness and place, illuminating a basic element in post-Nakba Palestinianism.

3 The term “difference machine” is borrowed from Engin Isin who uses it to characterise the ancient Occidental and Oriental city (Isin 2002).

4 This was a favour that camp Palestinians never sought, and that after 1989 was explicitly refused to all refugee ID card-holders by the post-Civil War Lebanese constitution.

5 There were exceptions: all Palestinians suspected of politics seen as dangerous to the Lebanese state were threatened; after the rise of the Resistance movement, students became targeted. But whatever measures they took, the Lebanese authorities were viewed as over-tolerant by rightist Lebanese nationalists. During the civil war of 1975/76, the rightist militias attacked all Palestinians in their area – as brutally against Christians and the middle class as against Muslims and camp-dwellers–– so much so that they helped create a new sense of a national refugee identity that had not existed before. Later Amal militia attacks (1985-87) reinforced this effect, as did the Ta’ef Accords of 1989, which excluded Palestinians permanently from any political role in Lebanon.

6 See Swedenburg for an analysis of the Resistance construction of Palestinian “peasant-consciousness” at both popular and leadership levels, and why nationalism has been strong enough to transform pre-1948 class consciousness and post-1948 class reality (Swedenburg 1990).

7 There has been some debate among researchers as to whether culture in camps remained “peasant-based” or became increasingly urban. As a sociologist Sari Hanafi argues that camps have become “slum areas” and “should be approached by scholars in a manner similar to…the suburbs of Paris” (Hanafi 2005). Jihan Sfeir, an historian, sees the idea of “peasant-refugee-militant” as a myth (Sfeir-Khayat 2008). Anthropologists would call for more nuanced interpretations of cultural processes in camps, with more attention to camp environments (urban or rural), to occupation and income levels, and to cultural debates omnipresent among camp populations. I can speak for traces of rural discourse and practices in Shateela, an urban camp, in the 1980s.

8 Speaking in the West Bank about Palestinians in Lebanon, I have sometimes encountered the idea that they have all taken Lebanese nationality, or “become like the Lebanese.” It is hard to account for such a mistaken idea except through the structure of the Palestinian diaspora, with its tightly controlled borders that constrain movement between regions.

9 Some of these in Shateela called themselves al-mashayikh. Among signs of their piety was a refusal unusual among Palestinians before – to shake hands with women. There was a clear generational boundary involved in the new piety, confined as it was to young men of student age, with fathers or older brothers in the Resistance movement. At least this was the case in three families I visited often.


Anthropologist, Beirut, Lebanon.

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