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The Political Cultures of Palestinian Refugees: Right to Rights and Right to Return

Salih, Ruba and Richter-Devroe, Sophie (2015) The Political Cultures of Palestinian Refugees: Right to Rights and Right to Return. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Forthcoming)

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Abstract

For over sixty years, Palestinian refugees have been victims of two inflexible standpoints. On the one hand, Israel has adamantly refused to be accountable for the tragedy of the Nakba and has only been ready to accommodate, on historical Palestine, the return of a symbolic number of first generation refugees. On the other hand, many host countries (with the exception of Jordan, where most Palestinians have access to citizenship rights, but are subject to more subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion), as well as the Palestinian leadership, have endorsed the claim that tawtin (naturalization) and even tatwir (development) would constitute a de-facto assimilation of the refugee populations and are incompatible with their right of return. Meanwhile, the long-standing right of return, enshrined in international law since 1949, is still far from accomplished. The progressive abandonment of the refugee issue by the Palestinian Authority and the marginalisation of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a site for the national claims of all Palestinians have shed further light on the unsuitability of the old narrative that opposed “rights” to return. Moreover, the recent release of the Palestine papers has, if anything, confirmed the lack of any serious plan that would bring justice to four generations of displacement and statelessness. In this context, Palestinian refugees are facing a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, they need to keep alive their identity and specificity as refugees (bearing the duty of representing the quintessential character of the Palestinian question), which requires them to normatively perform the role of the marginal subject, living in a condition of “permanent temporariness.” On the other hand, they need to find ways to exit their economic, political and social marginality in order to take the construction of their present and future predicaments in their own hands. This book, based on two and a half years field research and visits across Lebanon, the West Bank and Jordan, and over a hundred interviews , offers a paradigm-shifting perspective on the Palestinian refugee issue. It argues that academic debates and political approaches that oppose “rights” to “return” ignore not only refugees’ realities on the ground, but also, and more importantly, their diverse and creative narratives and political strategies for reconciling “right of return” with “right to rights”. In an innovative and thought-provoking manner, the book accounts for how refugees are increasingly seeking to partake simultaneously in two projects and discourses, that of right of return (Haqq al-Awda), and that of participation here and now. In order to keep alive and politically visible the refugee tragedy and “the right of return”, Palestinian refugees seek to integrate, rejecting assimilation, and display political narratives where integration and return are compatible and desirable. In fact, a recurrent argument articulated by Palestinian refugees themselves is that the more politically, economically and socially integrated they can be, the more they would be likely to achieve the social and political capital, which is critical to mobilize for the right of return, in creative ways. The monograph will suggest that Palestinian refugees are trying to think in terms of a post-national form of citizenship (not the classic top-down tawtin), which would allow them to achieve rights and entitlements where they live, without giving up their individual right of return and their membership claims in a Palestinian nation. By formulating new political strategies that reconcile rights with return, Palestinian refugees may challenge both the state of denial and abandonment in which they have been left by their national representatives, but also the deeply rooted, exclusionary nature, of their host states’ conceptions and practices of citizenship. The book therefore suggests that the Palestinian refugee question, which emerged almost concomitantly with the birth of Arab host countries as modern nation-states, offers formidable grounds for analysing the constitutive aporia, contradictions and precariousness of nationality, citizenship and rights in the Middle East for refugees and non-refugees alike. Studying refugeehood and displacement in this new light is crucial, given the exceptional recent geo-political changes in the region. Youth, men and women across diverse religious, secular, political spectrums occupied the Arab streets, claiming human dignity, rights and democracy and demanding new state/society configurations, thus breaking with old political narratives and stagnating power relations. Palestinian refugees’ political narratives, practices and imaginaries form part of these new creative political proposals from below; they offer an intriguing case study of how ordinary people, often the subalterns, do politics in the Middle East today.

Item Type: Authored Books
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Centre for Gender Studies
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Depositing User: Ruba Salih
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2014 08:41
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/18303

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