Sunday, September 07, 2014

Refugees Reshape Their Camp, at the Risk of Feeling at Home

Children played in a plaza in Al Fawwar, West Bank. Public spaces like the plaza are almost unheard-of in West Bank camps. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

AL FAWWAR, West Bank — Up a rutted alley, mothers in head scarves, seated under flapping cloth canopies, sip tea and weave baskets. They’ve gathered in a dusty, sun-bleached square, not much bigger than a pocket park, made of limestone and concrete, shoehorned into a warren of low, concrete and cinder-block houses. The square isn’t much to look at.

But, years in the making, it has stirred some profound debates here at this old and deeply conservative Palestinian refugee camp, about hot-button topics like the role of women and the right of return. Along with headline sites like Tahrir Square in Cairo and Gezi Park in Istanbul, it’s another example, small and off the radar, of how even the most unlikely public space can become a testing ground for entrenched political authority and the social status quo.

Public space like the plaza in Al Fawwar is mostly unheard-of in Palestinian camps across the West Bank. Architectural upgrades raise fundamental questions about the Palestinian identity, implying permanence, which refugees here have opposed for generations. The lack of normal amenities, like squares and parks in the camps, commonplace in Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank, was originally by design: Camps were conceived as temporary quarters. The absence of public space was then preserved over the years to fortify residents’ self-identification as refugees, displaced and stateless.

(More here.)


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