In July 2017, Jamal, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian refugee from Syria, launched a three-day hunger strike in a housing complex for refugee minors on the Greek island of Crete.1 He observed that his stay in the complex had exacerbated the isolation he had suffered since fleeing the war in Syria: “It was as if I were an animal; all I was doing was sleeping and eating.” He wanted to return to Athens, where he could communicate with other Arabic speakers, seek employment and/or educational opportunities, and have more autonomous mobility and agency over life decisions. After several unsuccessful pleas with the complex administrators, Jamal grew increasingly desperate for resolve. Likening the complex to a prison, he came to ruminate on the resistance methods of Palestinians held captive in Israeli prison cells. Inspired by the forty-day hunger strike of Palestinians in Israeli prisons that took place just a few months earlier, Jamal waged his own hunger strike and, on the fourth day, successfully secured his return to Athens—affirming within and without himself the power of political agency as a Palestinian refugee.2
Jamal recounts this memory proudly, chuckling as he tells me the story against the backdrop of many other stories that are more painful for him to describe. Born as a Palestinian refugee in Syria, Jamal was only eleven years old when the uprisings began in 2011. He could not know what was to come in the years ahead: a grassroots uprising that became one of the bloodiest wars of our time and a catastrophe that decimated Syria and dispossessed millions of Syrians and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian-Syrians alongside them. In early 2016, Jamal’s family determined it was best for his own safety to flee the country. At sixteen, Jamal boarded a plane in Damascus destined for Qamishli, located in northeastern Syria, which has been partially under the administration of the Rojava forces since 2012.3 For over a month, Jamal stayed with Kurdish families as he attempted to cross the border to Turkey. After six failed attempts, Jamal grew exhausted and cynical about his future. Then, on March 18, 2016, he successfully crossed the border to Sanliurfa (Urfa), Turkey.
Immediately after crossing the border, Jamal was kidnapped by what he referred to as a “mafia” on the Turkish side of the border, along with the other refugees he had crossed with. They were all held captive for ransom. The smuggler Jamal had hired to secure his passage across the border paid the kidnappers, and he was released two days later. He then made his way to Izmir, Turkey, where he waited out the high winds to embark on his next, more treacherous crossing to the shores of the European Union (EU). On March 29, 2016, Jamal successfully crossed the Aegean Sea and arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos.
Jamal recalls the boat ride from Izmir to Lesvos being relatively peaceful. He described stroking the water, with a certain ease of mind. Despite a brief encounter with a Coast Guard vessel that sent high waves that jostled the dinghy, Jamal stated that it was on account of “good luck” that he did not encounter the kinds of major catastrophes that many refugees often face during maritime crossings. Unfortunately, however, Jamal arrived in Greece just nine days after March 20, 2016, when the EU-Turkey deal effectively shut down the northern Greek border with Macedonia. This was the main Balkan migration corridor to Germany and the Netherlands, which were two of the only EU countries still granting services and asylum to refugees.4 This deal left thousands of refugees who had arrived on the Greek islands after March 20 trapped; they could no longer continue their journeys and were also faced with the imminent threat of deportation. Jamal’s arrival to Lesvos left him perilously stranded on the island for almost a year.
Since embarking on the voyage, Jamal has endured many of the same struggles as other refugee communities who have also fled countless crises to arrive at the shores of the EU. However, he also likens this experience to his own status as a Palestinian refugee in Syria prior to the start of the war and to the collective experience of Palestinian refugees across generations and geographic dispersions.5 Herein lies the convergence of two forms of refugeehood—on the one hand, the longevity of Palestinian indefinite statelessness resultant from Zionist settler colonialism since the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), and on the other, global refugee subjectivities caused by multiple systems of oppression driving massive waves of contemporary displacement worldwide, including as a result of environmental degradation, economic precarity, war and violence, and political repression.
Nina Glick Schiller and Ayşe Çağlar advance a multiscalar approach to understand “social relations of dispossession and emplacement,” which recognizes that “hierarchy does not connote fixed relations of territorially-based power but highlights situated networked relations of unequal power and processes of dispossession.”6 Borrowing from their work, I describe the convergence of these varied—but interrelated—forms of refugeehood as multiscalar dispossession to illustrate how Palestinian refugees orient themselves in relation to global state and nonstate actors, other refugee communities in local, regional, and global contexts, and other Palestinian refugees across time and place. In this essay, I incorporate the testimonies of Palestinian youth, born into refugeehood in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria, who became newly displaced. These youth have embarked on maritime voyages, what I refer to as death voyages, to and through Greece in the last four years alongside refugee communities from other ethnic, national, and racial backgrounds and political subjectivities. A multiscalar analysis of their past and present dispossessions allows for an understanding of Palestinian-situated refugee knowledge that offers important lessons on refugee survival, community and home-making, political agency, and solidarity praxis while simultaneously demonstrating how Nakba is not a fixed event but a consistent characteristic that shapes Palestinian experiences some seventy-three years after their initial dispersal.
The essay is based on scholar-activist ethnographic research and interviews I conducted as a volunteer in various refugee support programs in the Greek island of Lesvos and Athens from 2016 to 2019. I utilize pseudonyms for my interlocutors to protect their anonymity and wellness. In section one, I situate Palestinian refugeehood in relation to global refugee subjectivities and analyze why Palestinians are made an exception within the legal category of refugees. I argue that this status derives from the international communities’ complicity in Zionist settler colonialism rather than distinctions of refugee experiences. In section two, I trace the systems that refugees navigate upon their arrival to Greece. I shed light on how the lived experiences of Palestinian refugee youth embarking on the death voyages combined with their protracted refugeehood have shaped their outlooks on politics, community, home, and their practices of solidarity with other refugee communities in Greece. In section three, I examine how the new catastrophes that have forced emerging generations of Palestinians to flee Palestine or their host states have made them intimately acquainted with the experiences of Palestinian refugees across time and place. I argue that the catastrophes Palestinian refugees have and continue to endure across time and space are experientially bound with the initial dispersal during the 1948 Nakba.7
Multiscalar Dispossession: A Deterritorialized Approach
International attention in the form of scholarship, activism, and media has recently been focused on refugee issues as a key social phenomenon.8 Yet Palestinian refugees have remained relatively absent from popular discourses on contemporary global displacement and, more specifically, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.9 I argue that this is in part because of their distinct legal status as refugees under a separate agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which I will return to, and due to the extraordinary measures taken by the international community to prohibit their right of return to their homeland in efforts to preserve the ethnic/religious exclusivity of the Israeli state. Rather than advancing notions of Palestinians as exceptional, I find it valuable to illustrate how the struggles of Palestinian refugees resemble those of globally displaced people, and that any distinctions lay in their legal classification as a stateless class and in the longevity of the Palestinian struggle and inability of international actors to secure durable solutions.
On a parallel track, with growing scholarly, activist, and media attention on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Palestinian refugees, many of whom are enduring catastrophe and embarking on maritime voyages, have been absent from emergent political debates on realizing a just solution in/for Palestine.10 This is in part because discourse on Palestine has been increasingly limited by the 1993 Oslo Accords framework, which has territorialized the Palestinian struggle in the hopes of realizing an independent state on only a fraction of historic Palestine, which would permanently exclude Palestine’s 5.5 million refugees.11 Much of the dialogue within scholarship on Palestine is focused primarily on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.12 Works that do engage the refugee question focus primarily on refugee communities and camps within Palestine and Arab host states.13 Few discussions have acknowledged the new exoduses and catastrophes new generations of Palestinian refugees are enduring, which mirror those of former generations and other globally displaced refugee communities. This essay aims to disrupt the hardened territorialized inside/outside binary of the Oslo Accords by discussing new waves of Palestinian refugees arriving in Europe, and specifically Greece, as an integral part of the Palestinian nation and its prospective decolonial future.
Refugees in Crisis: Situating Palestinian Refugees in the Global Context
Though new waves of Palestinians going to and through Europe endure many of the same struggles as other refugee communities, the absence of UNRWA’s presence outside the Arab region, the initial inability or unwillingness of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to handle Palestinian cases, and the ineffectiveness of Palestinian embassies, have made Palestinian refugees enduring multiscalar dispossession fall through the cracks of international legal regimes that have already failed to provide efficient solutions, proper humanitarian assistance, and legal protections for over seventy years.14 In this portion of the essay, I examine the depths of disaster that have unraveled within the last decade, creating the largest waves of displacement in modern history, and I place Palestinian refugees in relation to global refugee subjectivities while sharing how and why the international community marks their case as exceptional.
At the close of 2018, the UNHCR reported a record-breaking 70.8 million displaced people worldwide.15 The Othering and Belonging Institute states that the main drivers of forced migration are violent conflict, structural exclusion, elitist economy, and unsustainable development.16 In other words, war and the militarization of border zones, the global right turn and nationalist populism, capitalist plunder and extraction, and environmental degradation have all been leading causes of the contemporary crisis.
As critical geographer and border studies theorist Reece Jones argues, the very existence of a border “produces the violence that surrounds it.”17 Building upon his work, I argue that the crisis of such mass dispossession is caused by violent border regimes that seek to uphold colonial, nationalist, and corporate interests that are shaped by capitalism.18 The number of displaced people worldwide has steadily increased since World War II due in part to the advancements made by war technologies, neoliberal capitalism, and racialized worker disposability—but especially as a result of the growth of violent border regimes. Forewarning that we should expect to witness an uptick in global displacement, in 1979, Michel Foucault stated that “population migrations necessarily become [more] painful and tragic and are inevitably accompanied by deaths and murders.”19 The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs reports that thirty-seven million people have been displaced as a result of the US post-9/11/2001 wars, including from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines.20 The 2008 economic crisis catapulted global movement, particularly from Latin America and Africa.
As political movements spiraled across the globe in the wake of the recession, they were accompanied by physical northbound movement of unparalleled rates. However, popular discourses paid little attention to the growth of displaced communities and to the international community’s compliance in a world system that has caused such vast displacement.21 UNITED for Intercultural Action, a coalition of hundreds of European organizations and groups “against nationalism, racism, fascism, and in support of migrants and refugees,” reports that between 1993 and 2019, “at least 36,570 refugee deaths can be attributed to the ‘Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe.’”22 The Missing Migrants Project has reported that in 2019 alone, 3,170 people worldwide have gone missing after embarking on migration voyages.23
Five years after the 2008 economic crash, the relative silence regarding global displacement was broken with news of a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, that killed approximately 268 refugees.24 Two years later, on September 2, 2015, photographs circulated of a three-year-old Kurdish-Syrian refugee child, Alan Kurdi, whose tiny body washed up on the shores of the Greek island of Kos. In 2017, news broke of migration smugglers in Nigeria colluding with Libyan agents of a slave market ring. Scores of sub-Saharan Africans fleeing smoldering crises toward Europe were instead held captive and sold into these slave markets.25 By June 2018, the calamity had become understood as a global crisis by international civil society as Central Americans became trapped at the US-Mexico border with babies and children locked in cages—later maximum-security detention centers—separated from their families, some indefinitely and many slated for deportation.26
The accumulation of these tragedies has generated public outcry regarding the violence of border regimes and the failure of both humanitarian responses and state and international refugee resettlement processes and policies.27 As public awareness has grown around the global refugee crisis, Palestinians, who constitute the longest-lasting refugee population in the world and have moreover been affected by contemporary drivers of forced displacement, have been glaringly absent from both scholarly and activist discourses because of their distinct legal status and separate UN agency.
The 1948 creation of the State of Israel in historic Palestine resulted in the permanent displacement of some 750,000 Palestinians. They and their descendants are now estimated to be over 5.5 million.28 Because the Zionist project aimed to permanently expel Palestinians to consolidate a Zionist-Jewish nation, naturalize Jewish settlement in historic Palestine, and eliminate Palestinians, regional and global forces were aware of what might become—and what indeed did become—a protracted condition of Palestinian displacement.29 As Zionist militias destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns in 1948, displaced Palestinians left with their keys in hand, hoping to return when the violence settled. Instead, they became permanent refugees, never to make their rightful return.
Responding to this concern, in 1948, the international community resolved to create the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which was initially tasked with offering legal protections to Palestinian refugees and developing long-lasting solutions that would include, but were not limited to “repatriation, resettlement, restitution, and compensation.” UNCCP’s executive function was guided by UN Resolution 194, the very same resolution that protected the right to return and the choice to acquire resettlement in other places without foreclosing that right.30 Yet Muna Tareh’s work reveals the stark paradox of the UN’s approach to Palestinian refugees: “while the legal terminology adopted in Resolution 194 clearly pointed to Israel’s responsibility in the production of the Palestinian refugee problem, it did not point to the UN Partition Plan’s role in inciting the Nakba events. Rather, the United Nations justified the partitioning of Palestine under the guise of a ‘Jewish’ right to self-determination.”31
One year after the formation of the UNCCP, the international community founded another Palestinian-specific designated agency, UNRWA, which was primarily assigned to keep an accurate census count of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 (and later, their descendants) and to consolidate emergency relief services, humanitarian assistance, and social development programs that were previously offered by groups such as the International Red Cross and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).32 UNRWA was not tasked to be an international legal protection agency nor was it expected to offer political solutions for refugees. However, since the 1950s, the UNCCP has been unable to realize its own mandate and no other institution has been able to fill its role. UNRWA has remained a humanitarian assistance–based agency offering primarily educational and health services only to Palestinian refugees within the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, some seventy-three years after their initial dispossession.
Shortly after UNRWA was created, UNHCR, which operates as the main UN agency to all refugee communities globally with the notable exception of Palestinian refugees, was formed. UNHCR simultaneously operates as both a legal protection and an assistance agency and has a relatively strong commitment to comprehensive solutions. To this day, its mandate remains guided by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CSR) and its 1967 Protocol.33 As legal scholar Susan Akram illustrates, Article 1D of the Convention stipulates that its application does not apply to Palestinians and other refugees receiving services from a separate UN agency except when such services are no longer offered.34 Though article 1D suggests that UNHCR is supposed to shoulder responsibility for Palestinian refugees when UNRWA cannot, legal scholar Noura Erakat illustrates how coordination between the two agencies in moments of extreme crisis has been insufficient and arbitrarily mediated.35 Most recently, the coordination failures between the two agencies made it so that many Palestinians arriving at EU shores were told that they could not receive assistance by UNHCR even though UNRWA did not hold offices or services in the EU.
Palestinian refugees have suffered grave consequences as a result of their exceptional legal status. Because of the protracted nature of the Palestinian struggle, new communities of Palestinians became refugees after 1948 including as a result of the 1967 war, the exodus of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Jordan following the Black September Massacre in 1970, internally displaced as a result of the Lebanese Civil War and the exodus following the PLO’s defeat in Beirut in 1982. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees have also endured secondary displacement from Kuwait during the Gulf War, from Libya in 1996, from Iraq following the 2003 US invasion, and most recently from Syria as a result of the war. Because Palestinians remain stateless, host states in the region have been reluctant to receive them because of the likeliness of permanent settlement.36 All along, Palestinian refugees have been unable to exercise their right to return home to Palestine.
The extended condition of statelessness across seven decades has generated a political precarity born out of the denial of any form of rights-bearing citizenship, which in effect generates other forms of precarity for Palestinian refugees.37 The denial of the right to return to their homeland, paired with the ineligibility to work in a number of professions within formal labor markets of their host states, such as the case for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is compounded by the multiple fissures Palestinian refugees have experienced in social and political life.38 These fissures often include a multiplicity of exoduses, resulting in what many have referred to as an ongoing Nakba.39 While new Palestinian exoduses parallel those of other refugee temporalities—born out of authoritarian rule, war, and policies of neoliberal racial capitalism—the specific forms of precarity caused by multiscalar dispossession demonstrate the entanglements of varied systems of oppression. It necessitates an interrogation of why the seventy-three-year-long stateless status of Palestinian refugees has yet to be resolved in the first place.40
This longevity is caused by the extraordinary lengths the international community has gone to grant immunity to Zionism/Israel, which has been evidenced by the countless number of UN resolutions the Israeli state has violated without recourse and the scores of UN security council resolutions that have been vetoed by Israel’s allies, especially the United States.41 Thus Palestinian refugees were granted their own exceptional legal status and UN institution to rid the international community of the responsibility to confront Zionist/Israeli colonial violence head-on.42 Instead, international agencies, operating as the guarantors of Israeli settler colonialism, prevented effective and just solutions for Palestinian refugees forcing them into constant aid dependency.
The failure of the international community and Arab states to realize a durable political solution of return for Palestinian refugees and persistent immunity afforded to Israel/Zionism are in part what catalyzed Palestinians along the pathway of resistance, giving rise to the liberation movement of the 1960s. Out of deep feelings of betrayal following the Nakba, Palestinians grew cynical of placing any hope in international actors. Instead, Palestinians committed their lives to developing their own organizing modules. The Palestinian guerilla formations that emerged in 1959 alongside the PLO’s foundation in 1964 led to a vibrant refugee liberation history that centered the right to return as the core principle of the national movement and created an infrastructure for social wellness services and an ethos of communal self-reliance for Palestinians, especially those who resided in camps outside historic Palestine.43 Yet this organizational history did not shield Palestinians from the catastrophes born out of the international community’s compliance with their occupation and dispossession and the failure of refugee agencies to secure Palestinian rights.
The prolonged statelessness of Palestinians continues to shape the lives of new generations of Palestinians, thousands of whom have embarked on the death voyages to and through Europe and across the globe. As of late, the Palestinian political forces have been able to do very little to protect the Palestinian camps in Syria, to ease the chronic material economic conditions affecting the camps in Lebanon, to end the Israeli siege in Gaza and occupation in the West Bank that continually drive Palestinians out of their homeland, or to secure safe passage mechanisms and resettlement processes for Palestinians across the world.44 Further, UNRWA and other international rescue and relief agencies have not been able to offer legal protections, including safe passage routes to refugees in territories under siege.45 Most recently, the cuts to UNRWA’s financial health have seriously affected their ability to respond to mounting crises.
As of 2017, UNRWA offered a conservative estimate that approximately 120,000 of Syria’s 500,000 Palestinian refugees had fled the country.46 The main cause of this refugee plight is the war in Syria and the subsequent sieges, destruction, and violence within some nine Palestinian camps and three unofficial Palestinian camps (also knowns as “gatherings”) there. The Syrian regime’s annihilation of Yarmouk Camp—depopulating what was once the center of the Palestinian political life in exile from some 200,000 Palestinian inhabitants to just a dozen families—is one of the most potent examples of the depths of disaster Palestinians have endured.47 However, thousands of Palestinians have also fled the Gaza Strip as a result of over fourteen years of Israeli siege and over forty Israeli attacks that have devastated land, life, and economic viability.48 Palestinian refugees from Lebanon have also embarked on these death voyages, fleeing the economic deterioration and political violence of the refugee camps, which have, since the war in Syria, become even more overcrowded.49 Since the 2019 economic crisis in Lebanon, the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, and the explosion of the Beirut port in 2020, the crisis in the camps has only worsened.
Extended Palestinian refugeehood coupled with the new catastrophes has shaped the personal and collective aspirations for a new generation of Palestinian refugee youth. For one, their cynical views of international actors fortify within them the commitment to collective grassroots organizing and communal self-reliance services just as they had for the first generation following the Nakba. Second, on a more personal level, for Palestinian refugees arriving to Europe, the most important factor in deciding where to claim asylum is the speed with which they can formally acquire citizenship.50 After over seventy years of statelessness, this priority tops all others; for other refugee communities, on the other hand, social and economic integration and mobility, family reunification, and the pragmatic considerations of the least likely dangers in the death voyages may inform the driving factors in country selection.51
Constant experiences of impermanence have fueled Palestinian impatience and cynicism, which have often had colossal effects. Making decisions out of desperation and coercion is but one way that refugees endure fatalities. One of many more examples of this danger is the death of twenty-two-year-old Mahmoud Hassan Faraj Allah from the Gaza Strip, who attempted to swim from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos and drowned en route.52 His story embodies not only the lengths to which young Palestinian refugees will go for a chance at freedom and the urgency that drives their actions but also the inhumane policies of fortress Europe, and Greece in particular, that have resulted in thousands of refugee deaths beyond Palestinians.
Greece: Precarious Lives in Uncertain Times
The year of Greece  followed Italy’s year . When we [refugees] heard that the routes were more difficult to get through after Italy cracked down on its border policies . . . after it began forcibly fingerprinting refugees in Italy, [going through] Greece remained the last real option for us.53
Until early 2016, arrival in Greece was an important milestone for refugee routes.54 Sensing that the terminus of their journeys was near because they had arrived in the EU, refugees often landed on the Greek coasts celebrating their success, despite their bodies being weathered by dehydration, malnourishment, hypothermia, and, for some, more serious illnesses or injuries.55 Upon arriving on the islands, refugees received assistance from Greek and international civil society activists and INGO aid workers. After taking chartered buses from the coast to the refugee camps—some of which were former Greek prisons—refugees were able to seek medical attention, change into clean clothes, and receive a hot meal. After standing in long lines to register for refugee status, formally recognized refugee communities—which at this time included only Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Kurds, and Afghans—would receive registration cards granting them permission to travel freely and take the ferries to Athens. From Athens, most refugees would make their way to the northeastern parts of Greece by land to cross the border with Macedonia.
Refugees faced several challenges upon their arrival in Greece. Although the Greek islands witnessed an upsurge in INGO aid workers to respond to the scale of the refugee crisis, which in 2015 topped 856,723 refugee arrivals by sea,56 many aid workers lacked the proper political education, culturally relevant trauma-informed training, and linguistic abilities to efficiently assist refugees. Jamal tells of the ways the feeling of humiliation was constant upon his arrival on the island and that interactions with aid workers often did not alleviate but actually exacerbated that feeling: “You feel the humiliation in peculiar ways, maybe without any one thing triggering it; you feel humiliation when you look at the security fence, or a police station, or even an orange.”57 Narratives of INGO negligence or feelings of being triggered by INGO aid workers were a consistent part of the stories many refugees shared with me. Whether it was due to the denial of the right to have a choice over simple things in their lives, such as what to eat and what to wear, or the inability/unwillingness of aid workers to secure proper medical attention, housing accommodations, or legal assistance, refugees persistently expressed sentiments of disappointment. Palestinian refugees shared these sentiments, but many of those I spoke with also repeatedly expressed that they didn’t expect anything better. Saif, a Palestinian from Gaza, said, “We know what the NGOs are: money[making] businesses.”58
Beyond confronting the inept response of aid institutions, refugees struggled with navigating Greek and European border enforcement, which at the time had commissioned Frontex, a European and Border Control Agency, to conduct interrogations of refugees. Greece was operating as the main EU reception site for refugees and thus succumbed to pressure from the EU and Schengen (an area of twenty-six European countries that have abolished internal borders for its citizens) to do more to stem the flow of refugees as a result of the Dublin System, which is an “established criteria and mechanism for determining which EU Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application.”59 Unable to do so on its own, especially because of the major economic crisis it continued to face, the EU vowed to assist Greece with the financial cost. These dialogues are in part what eventually informed the March 20, 2016, EU-Turkey deal. Consequently, Greece tightened its border control policies and implemented more stringent population control techniques and a slew of deportations. In exchange, the EU opened quotas for increased numbers of refugees insofar as they were recognized as official war refugee populations and as long as their applications were approved while in Turkey, before arriving in EU countries.
Sea arrivals of refugees in Greece following the deal decreased significantly; 2016 witnessed 173,450 sea arrivals.60 As Greece expanded its securitization of borders, it also militarized its refugee camps. Refugees became stranded in camps with deteriorating humanitarian and sanitary conditions, which Greek state forces increasingly controlled and surveilled.61 Basil, a Palestinian refugee from Gaza who arrived on the Greek island of Leros in 2018, states that “the camps are no different than the Israeli prisons, or the siege in Gaza which I did everything in my power to escape.”62 Basil’s reference to these forms of containment is not only one of analogy. The Greek state, in efforts to securitize its borders, patronizes Israeli technologies for border control tactics, crowd control techniques, surveillance equipment, and militarized repression.63 Anwar, a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, argued that this form of collaboration between Greece and Israel was “like digging a deeper hole in our hearts as Palestinians.”64
Following the EU-Turkey deal, certain communities, especially Syrians and other exceptional cases classified as “vulnerable populations,” were granted pathways to resettlement in other European countries even if they arrived in Greece after March 20, 2016. Nonrecognized refugee communities became slated for deportation or continued their journeys through smuggling rings, which became more dangerous and expensive.65 Other recognized refugee communities, including many Palestinians, became naturalized in Greece. However, scores of legally recognized refugee communities, including Palestinians, avoided registration and naturalization in Greece, specifically because of the lack of viability for survival in Greece. Among the reasons many eligible refugees did not want to acquire naturalization in Greece was the difficult economic situation of the country at large, especially since the 2008 economic crisis, and its limited refugee integration programs.
Refugees continue to endure hardship as a result of repressive Greek policies, especially since the July 2019 elections, which brought to power the New Democracy Party, a center-right party led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Since then, the vigilante crackdown on refugee rights, mobility, and access to services has increased. Many squats—formerly foreclosed or abandoned buildings that have been taken over to house refugees—have been raided and shut down.66 Slashes to public resources for refugee assistance under the government’s new asylum law increase the difficulties that refugees face. For example, the new law has removed PTSD from qualifying someone as a “vulnerable” population and includes cuts to public health resources for refugees.67 In March 2019, the Greek Ministry of Migration announced that it would cut housing and cash assistance to refugees.68 In the wake of this decision, refugees responded by forming a new Refugee Movement in Greece, which organized several protests in front of Greek and European agency offices in Athens.
At the core of the organizing efforts for this movement were Palestinian youth, who passed out leaflets, organized community town hall forums, and galvanized solidarity among Greek and international activists.69 Palestinian refugees have led similar acts of political organizing on the islands as well. Jamal tells of a moment when Queen Rania of Jordan came to visit the Greek camps when he was still in Lesvos. He and several other Palestinian youth protested her arrival, chanting, “The camps in Jordan are much closer to you, what are you coming here to do?!” This act of collective protest demonstrates the globality of their refugee consciousness, which refuses to celebrate symbolic acts in the absence of a material change for refugees—even for refugees in another country.
Similarly, on October 16, 2019, thousands of refugees protested on the Greek island of Samos after their tents were burned to the ground by right-wing vigilante groups. Among the seven thousand refugees were 1,500 Palestinians from Gaza and Syria.70 They argued that the conditions of the camp were that of a detention center and not fit for human life. Later that month, dozens of Palestinians went on a hunger strike to protest the harsh conditions of detention centers on the island of Rhodes. Their strike followed several appeals to international humanitarian organizations, including an ineffective plea to the Palestinian Embassy.71
The feeling of betrayal by the state, the EU, the international community, and INGOs is common for many refugees in Greece. Palestinians share these sentiments along with refugees from different backgrounds, but carry with them a history of cynicism regarding human rights agencies and state actors from their experience as refugees in previous host states. As Lori Allen’s work illustrates, “cynicism, as an analytical concept, indicates something other than apathy.”72 Shared feelings of cynicism have the power to forge new collective understandings of community between Palestinians and other refugees because their support for one another is largely motivated by communal experiences of betrayal, exclusion, and pain. These shared experiences fortify refugee solidarity practices in quotidian forms. Refugees assist each other in moments of medical emergencies; they allow strangers to share meals and housing accommodations; they translate for one another and direct each other to the best people and organizations who might help them. Yet Palestinian refugees are channeling these quotidian forms of support informed by a politics of care into more organized nodes of solidarity as well.
Many Palestinian refugees who arrived in Greece brought with them a sense of grassroots community building, an ethos of communal self-reliance, and a political consciousness critical of a multiplicity of political actors and forces that have been complicit in their subjugation, such as Israel, its allies, authoritarian Arab regimes, the Palestinian leadership, the Greek state, the EU, and humanitarian industries. This enabled them to build community through and beyond interpersonal quotidian forms. Their institutional histories—organizations that have operated across nation-state boundaries—have also enabled renewed attempts to base-build in different locations of exile. Muath, one of the lead organizers of the Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development, argued that, as Palestinians, they know how important grassroots organizing is in preserving safety and wellness for all communities experiencing crisis. Muath and his peers organized with Jafra in Syria prior to their most recent exodus, and eventually began programming in a camp in Thessaloniki where they themselves had ended up as refugees. By 2017, Jafra opened a center in Athens where it offered food and aid distribution programs, children’s and women’s activities, and continued education. When asked why they started Jafra-Greece, Muath stated,
No one knows the pain we have been through other than other refugees. We thought to ourselves, why should we wait to be served by employees of NGOs who cannot understand our pain? Why should we be helpless and languish here feeling we have no purpose? Our experience with Jafra has taught us to work wherever we end up and to hold that responsibility. We accept everyone who wants to work with us. . . . We do this because we must and because this is as much for us as refugees to feel we have some hope and a purpose in life as it is for the people who desperately need aid and services. We are rebuilding our families and communities in this work.73
Reconstituting kinship, peoplehood, and community beyond the camps they were born into, Palestinian refugee youth in Greece are forging new communities that can collectively navigate their new dispersals together.
Navigating the challenges that emerge with inclusive approaches, Muath and the Jafra youth have experimented with what it means to build a space that does not reproduce the violences and exclusions refugees have already endured at state and international levels. Acceptance and belonging are thus key pillars to the vision they have organically developed together, reversing senses of alienation that are quintessentially a part of any displaced person’s experience. In the process, they have also built forms of community beyond Palestinians, including with Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Kurdish, and even Greek youth, and cultivated strong relationships and politics of care among them. This is what the youth describe as the “Refugee 2 Refugee” philosophical and methodological approach that guides their service. Indeed, dispossession of such magnitude possesses the power to form new communities and political imaginaries across national boundaries among those who have experienced multiple forms of state-sanctioned violence and the regulative exclusions of the nation-state, akin to Camilla Hawthorne and Jennifer Lynn Kelly’s understanding that “diasporic politics [that] emerge at the limits of citizenship can activate new forms of transnational solidarity that subvert, rather than work within, the discursive and material boundaries of national citizenship.”74
While Palestinian refugees have long evidenced the way collective refugeehood has fortified national imaginaries across their own geographic dispersals, they are newly becoming a part of this global refugee community with whom they share experience, aspirations, conditions, pain, and stakes.75 Ahmed, a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, who had arrived in Greece stated, “We used to think of ourselves as the only, as the last, refugees in this world still living in this way . . . and now we know that there are many more, and while we asked the world to support us and to end this life for us, instead they just turned other people into refugees just like us.”76 Thus Palestinian refugees affected by the waves of global movement over the last decade are alongside other refugees, internationalizing their understanding of power and pain.
While Palestinian refugees build vibrant forms of new solidarity and community with Greek organizers and other refugees, they also are aware of and express the particularities of their struggle as Palestinians. Their articulations, however, do not reproduce notions of some refugees being more deserving of rights and aid than others. Rather, they articulate the differences in relation to organizing histories shaped by their specific Palestinian colonial condition. Ibrahim, a Palestinian-Syrian refugee says, “We have a particular component to our cause, and we really have been living as refugees, a different kind of refugee [stateless] than what they [Syrian refugees] became now. So in some ways, we are used to having to think politically and to be active and organized, whereas for the Syrians, this is something new. The war was a major shock for them, and they are not really prepared to do this kind of work the way we are a bit more.”77
Drawing from Palestinian organizational histories and comparing it to that of Syrians, Ibrahim highlights a political and cultural distinction between two communities who had lived in the same country their whole lives before their most recent shared exodus. Whereas the Syrian regime had allowed Palestinians to organize within their own community centers, political parties, cultural programs, and youth programs, even if permitted while surveilled and censored, it had all but annihilated political oppositional organizing for Syrians. Thus Palestinians brought with them to Greece the knowledge, from generations past, of institution building, community building, crafting transnational networks, and sometimes even inheriting financial resources to reestablish themselves because of and even despite their new exoduses. These commitments to communal-based self-reliance mirror those of the first generation of Palestinian refugee youth organizers and are largely born out of a cynical viewpoint that they cannot count on anyone but one another.
Multiscalar dispossession has taught many Palestinians—wherever they grew up—that counting on others most affected by systemic oppression, rather than political establishments, is their only lifeline. But as a people dispossessed across the world, Palestinians have learned the importance of organizing to maintain the bonds of a people to one another and their history and homeland, even and especially in the absence of a state. Just as Palestinians have built national social wellness and political formations across nation-state boundaries in various phases of the struggle, Palestinian refugee youth today are attempting to do the same in Greece. They rely on the transnational networks, knowledge, resources, and past organizational experiences as blueprints or guides in that work so that their work extends beyond individualized quotidian modes of survival and interpersonal forms of solidarity.
Collective organizing in Greece has helped Palestinian refugee youth link their personal pain and crisis to other Palestinians, historically and in the present, and with other refugees more broadly. As youth build these strategies and spaces in new sites of exodus, they are simultaneously welcoming other refugee communities to partake in them and forging their understanding of peoplehood beyond the scattered Palestinian nation. As they develop emotional, social, and political bonds with refugees beyond Palestinians, they cannot help but develop a deeper familiarity with and attachment to transnational histories and experiences of other Palestinian communities.
Nakba across Time and Place
In the first section of this article, I traced how the international community, particularly the UN and state actors, have failed to realize recourse for Palestinian refugees, in part by relegating them to an exceptional case and granting Israel immunity. In the second section, I illustrated how the prolonged condition of Palestinian refugeehood, caused by their distinct political and legal subjectivity that has denied them the right to return home to Palestine, shaped the experiences of new, multiply displaced Palestinian refugees as they survive crises alongside other refugee communities in Greece. I illuminated how a particular form of Palestinian refugee–situated knowledge born of multiscalar dispossession informs the Palestinian refugee youth’s praxis of solidarity, home building, and politics of care. Here, as the concluding portion of this essay, I would like to shift my analysis to examine how the exoduses that new generations of Palestinians have endured in the last ten years shed light on the Palestinian colonial condition across time and space.
In May 2019, I assisted a Palestinian refugee from Syria in Athens in contacting the Palestinian Embassy in Greece to ask for a passport.78 The attempt was unsuccessful. Within the last six years, as Palestinians have embarked on the death voyages, Palestinian embassies across the world have been unable and unwilling to step in to offer any legal protections and/or humanitarian assistance. They have, however, at times issued nonentry Palestinian passports to refugees who hold no other citizenship.79 The inadequacies of the Palestinian leadership’s response to the new crises that Palestinian refugees endure is in part directly connected to the 1993 Oslo Accords, and its consequences, which worked to shift the Palestinian struggle from an anticolonial one to a state-building one. This switch has subsequently shattered Palestinian land as one indivisible territorial unit, and the Palestinian nation, across their dispersions, as one peoplehood with a clearly defined leadership, formerly the PLO.
The transformations that swept the region during the 2011 Arab Uprisings illuminated the depths of transformation within Palestinian political and social life caused by the Oslo Accords. As democratic zeal spread across the region with calls for regime change, Palestinian youth inside the homeland were calling for an end to the five-year-long split in national unity between dominant Palestinian factions—Fatah and Hamas—and an end to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security coordination with Israel.80 During this time, Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria joined their people within the homeland in launching parallel protests at the borders, claiming that they had not given up their right to return. The movements were quickly contained through repression campaigns and through a PA diplomatic maneuver that stabilized their leadership despite their weakness, corruption, and illegitimacy.
In 2011, the PA appealed to the United Nations in a bid for statehood recognition on only a tiny fraction of historic Palestine.81 This recognition was realized in 2012, when the UN upgraded Palestinian status from “observer entity” to “nonmember observer state.”82 Since then, all UN correspondence utilizes the term State of Palestine. This change is important because the PLO was an umbrella body that was supposed to represent all Palestinians across the world, whereas the PA was tied to jurisdiction regulations. The Palestinian political establishment and the international community hailed this moment as a step toward realizing Palestinian self-determination and a two-state solution. However, the act of recognition effectively legitimized, on international symbolic levels, the 1993 Oslo Accords framework that has had such damaging consequences for Palestinian land and life.83
The accords necessitated that Palestinians surrender many national rights and principles, including the right to return for the millions of Palestinian refugees. Even with the PLO leaders’ return to Palestine, Israeli land annexation and settlement expansion persisted, foreclosing the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. Today, Palestinians inside the homeland suffer from unabated Israeli ethnic cleansing policies, a siege in the Gaza Strip, a military occupation in the West Bank, and second-class status for Palestinians in lands occupied in 1948.
In addition, the Palestinian leadership has reached a political impasse that has left them with fewer means to resist the brutality of the occupation, realize Palestinian freedom and refugee return, or end the political feud between Palestinian parties.84 This is because the national infrastructure, once built through and held together by the PLO as an umbrella institution to all Palestinian communities from varying ideological and geographic dispersions, has been decimated.85 Following the accords, the PLO became an empty vessel and the PA became the de facto representatives for Palestinians in the international arena. However, the PA cannot, and does not claim to, formally represent Palestinian refugees outside of Palestine.86
This history is important because in the early years after the Nakba, when the international community failed to create and sustain a UN agency that could offer legal protections and realize a durable solution for Palestinian refugees, Palestinians were forced to self-organize; build their own resistance ideologies, methods, alliances, visions, and resources; and find ways to care for and service the needs of everyday Palestinians through, not after, the liberation struggle. Following 1964, the many parties, cabinets, grassroots unions, associations, clinics, hospitals, schools, and universities that composed the PLO did this work. The 1993 Oslo Accords effectively left Palestinian refugees politically homeless, decimating diasporic institutions, programs, and services, and cutting out of the equation the Palestinian refugees who had long waited and fought for the right to return to Palestine.
While the PLO had once been the viable national institution that cared for and organized the Palestinian masses to respond to imminent crisis, in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords—and particularly as a result of the new exoduses over the last decade—the political establishment perilously deserted Palestinian refugees. Before the 2011 Arab Uprisings, the PA and its statehood vision, discourse, strategies, and infrastructure politically eclipsed the PLO. However, the only thing that remained intact was the PLO’s legacy and international status, acquired in 1974, as “the sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people” and portions of its infrastructure. This was especially important for Palestinian refugees within the Arab region who, between 2006 and 2011, were largely debating how to reactivate and make the PLO relevant again as an institutional body that could properly represent their needs, interests, and national aspirations.
Following the PA’s bid for statehood in 2012, as PLO embassies transformed into “State of Palestine” embassies, it is unsurprising that they were unable and unwilling to play any role in the catastrophe befalling Palestinians through the death voyages to Europe. Both the state-sanctioned exclusions of a new post-Oslo Palestinian nationalism and Zionist settler-colonial policies of dispossession combined to annihilate the refugee question, and eclipse Palestinian refugees and their aspirations for return. Randa Farah argues that “the crowning of the ‘state’ [PA] dethroned the nation” and that this process turned refugees into “relics of an unredeemable past.”87
While the Palestinian political establishment has not been able to protect refugees or provide a political alternative, UNRWA has not been able to sustain services, especially in light of growing needs and financial shortages; nor has it been able to access territories under siege, engulfed in war, or outside their five-country jurisdiction. Palestinian refugees, whether in Gaza, Syria, or Lebanon, have been denied all forms of rights-bearing citizenship and access to adequate aid, and international legal protections. As they have embarked on the death voyages to Europe, and particularly through Greece, their historical refugee condition coupled with new drivers of contemporary global displacement have illustrated the human cost of Zionism, international immunity granted toward the Israeli state, the authoritarian character of Arab regimes, and the capitulation of the Palestinian political establishment as crystallized in the Oslo Accords.
The depths of this betrayal, the recurrence of catastrophe, and the multiplicity of actors complicit in Palestinian suffering characterize an ongoing Nakba. Referring to the siege and decimation of Yarmouk refugee camp, Ahmed Diab notes, “Rather than enduring existential crises, Palestinians learn to deal with existence as crisis. History suggests that this is the stuff of nation building.”88 The new catastrophes befalling Palestinian refugees demonstrate the way Nakba is neither an event of history fixed by place and time nor a memory passed on by generations prior, but rather a quintessential characteristic of the Palestinian condition illustrated especially through multiscalar dispossession. On May 8, 2018, a video produced by a group called “Voice of Yarmouk Camp” surfaced and circulated the internet. It featured Palestinians from Yarmouk Camp who had been displaced and were currently staying in cloth-tent refugee camps in Deir Balut camp in Afrin, Syria. The video features interviews with two Palestinian men who seamlessly outline the precarity of Palestinian multiscalar dispossession. When discussing his relocation to Deir Balut, the first man says,
It is what it is, you are witnessing. Tents, refugeehood, suffering. History will repeat itself. This is what it was for our parents and grandparents. And we are renewing the new chapter of the Palestinian people’s story. We have come back to camps [tent camps]. As if all these years have come and gone and nothing has changed. You can see with your own eyes. The disaster that our ancestors lived, we are living too. The only difference is the first one for our parents and grandparents was caused by Israel and for us, the Arab regimes. . . . Every time we hear we are a citizen [naturalized], turns out we are not citizens [naturalized]. We always go back to the camp. The camp has become the nation. Wherever we go, the camp basically is my nationality. In all of our locations of exile, it’s prohibited to set up a home, except in the camp. The camp is my nationality. It’s the truth.89
The second Palestinian man who was featured in the same video shares similar sentiments: that the experience of dispossession, loss, and destruction has become an intrinsic feature of the Palestinian condition across generations and places, and that refugeehood has become an acquired nationality. He defines this condition of perpetual uncertainty and vulnerability as one that stems in part from systemic forms of aid that continue to make Palestinians dependent on handouts of global systems complicit in their subjugation and that do not strengthen or support their desire to be truly free people. He says,
Where will our children be raised? My father lived in a camp, my grandfather in a camp, and now [I live] in a camp. Who knows where we are going? Hunger, siege, suffering, and the destruction of the camp over our heads. And then they sent us and said, “Go get help from the aid organizations.” Which ones? Who is going to look for us? There are no civil Palestinian organizations, the United Nations isn’t asking about its people, no one is asking about the Palestinian people. We have been in this condition for seventy years and no one is concerned with us. Now what? We don’t want aid, brother, we don’t want it. The dogs aren’t hungry! Don’t give us aid, we don’t want it—we are not hungry, we don’t want it. We want freedom. We want to live in a home, live in our land. Where? Where? Every twenty years they send us to new camps. We build concrete homes and they destroy them, collapse them over the people who live in them. This is what the Arab regimes are. No one wants us.90
These two narratives illustrate the way Palestinians experiencing multiscalar dispossession do not come to remember the Nakba as a past event or story passed on. Rather, they come to experience Nakba in the present—both the millennial impact of the events of 1947 to 1949 and the current Nakba that has displaced them again; that has made them articulate the linkage between the varying refugee camps they have ended up in as a signifier of their national identity.
On a parallel level, expressions of a shared inheritance of catastrophe shaped the discourses of Palestinian refugees in Gaza who survived the Israeli attacks during the 2018 Great Return March. Heema, a Palestinian youth from the Gaza Strip, said, “People inherit houses, they inherit money, they inherit dollars, they inherit tons of gold. But the Palestinian people inherit Nakbat (catastrophes), they inherit tragedies, they inherit hell.”91 Heema’s testimony illuminates the harsh reality of living under siege in the Gaza Strip, including the lack of access to work, water, food, money, and more. But again, his association between such violent devastation being a matter of Palestinian “inheritance” confirms Diab’s notion that Palestinians have had to learn how to deal with “existence as crisis.”
As these three narratives illustrate, the catastrophes befalling Palestinians, whether under siege by the Israeli state or the Syrian regime or whether as a result of political and/or economic violence, have shaped a collective experience of loss, pain, displacement, and impermanence for new generations of Palestinian refugees. None of the Palestinian refugees I spoke with in Greece, for example, saw their struggle as temporary, or individual, or resolvable through their own individual ascendance toward rights-bearing citizenship—even and especially if they still sought it to stabilize their lives in the meantime. When asked about whether they feel their new exodus is reminiscent of past Palestinian experiences, all the refugee youth I spoke with in Greece insisted it was a quintessential characteristic of what it means to be Palestinian. “It is our curse,” one of the youth shared over and over.92 Some youth argued that it was illustrative of their grandparents’ forced exodus from Palestine in 1948. Others correlated their exodus to the attacks of Sabra and Shatila Refugee camps in 1982 by Lebanese Phalangist forces,93 while some even referenced the siege and decimation of the Tel al-Za’atar camp by militias in Lebanon and the Syrian Hafez al-Assad regime. It was not necessarily an articulation of “sameness” that characterized their descriptions of the exoduses. Instead, it was an articulation of the persistence of catastrophe that shapes the Palestinian struggle and its roots stemming from the 1948 Nakba. During our discussions, many of the youth shared with me their grandparents’ Nakba stories and likened the experience to their own despite differences in actors of violence and context. The protracted nature of Palestinian refugeehood, the sense that young people were carrying the weight of history on their shoulders, is but one reason many of the refugees expressed frustration when told to “wait” and “be patient,” or when they felt that they were losing time.
In September 2017, I spoke with Hatem, a nineteen-year-old Palestinian refugee from Syria who was also an organizer with Jafra. He had told me that his brother was martyred during the war. We then spoke in detail about his life and his multiple attempts at embarking on the death voyages to Europe. We discussed why he left, what he was hoping to achieve in his future, and the many struggles he had endured along the way. He told me of the countless failed attempts to cross the borders, of the many times he was taken advantage of by smugglers or was caught by different border control groups and sent back. He spoke of all that he had lost in between the four real attempts to leave—the death of his brother, the violence his family was subjected to, and the destruction of his home. Yet for Hatem, there was one particular thing that seemed to evoke a sense of frustration and anger more than anything else. As a nineteen-year-old, Hatem was only twelve when the uprisings began. In between the multiple times that Hatem had tried to flee Syria, he attempted to complete exams for the ninth grade. He spoke of all the obstacles impeding him from completing school. At some point in our discussion, words burst out of him: “I am not like these other guys!” I asked him what he meant by that. He said, “I mean I am not like them. I love Palestine, I really do. And one day I want to do something really meaningful for Palestine. But I can’t do that now! I have no skills, no expertise, and no education. And I am here just waiting and wasting away my life.”94
For Hatem, the community service and youth organizing work that he was doing in Athens felt like a waste, because he had already lost so much time, and he felt he was not fit to offer support if he had not established a solid foundation in his own life. His desires and ambitions to contribute to Palestinian youth organizing work and service were present, but he felt ill-equipped to do anything meaningful for the community from a position of what he identified as weakness. Hatem’s anxieties about the loss of time and feeling weak, particularly his disappointment in not being able to complete the ninth grade, are common among refugees across time and place. The sense that nothing is stable, and that catastrophe may hit at any given moment, awakens desires and ambitions to be stronger, more prepared, and more secure.
While Palestinian refugees express frustration with the instability and uncertainty of their own lives, for many, these frustrations are exactly what have motivated them to forge and belong to a collective community of people who share similar experiences. Through collective community organizing, they are reversing senses of alienation as they are inventing new affective modalities of politics of care and senses of belonging and purpose. They have tapped into the arsenal of wartime catastrophes that they have personally endured to inform a new form of service and home building in the womb of exile, along with refugees of other backgrounds.
Multiscalar dispossession has produced new insights for Palestinian refugees regarding the co-constitutive operational violence of Zionist/Israeli, Palestinian national, Arab regional, and Greek, European, and international institutions. It has made them cynically critical of state and nonstate actors, prepared to rely on themselves and each other to survive, and willing to assist other refugees as they too navigate these systems of oppression. Their situated knowledge—born of a multiplicity of violences from varying actors across the globe—allows for the diagnoses of separate, even if co-constitutive, systemic modes of power.
The Palestinian refugees I interviewed likened their current exoduses to that of former generations, and they argued that they know the depths of the Palestinian experience in “real” ways. Their articulations of tragedy traverse sieges, exiles, exoduses, and wars across generations and geographic dispersals. Their connecting their own catastrophes to those of the Palestinians collectively across time and space demonstrates the persistence of Nakba as a conditioning force in their lives. Experiencing new waves of displacement alongside refugees of other backgrounds has made them see themselves as a part of the global refugee community. Because their bodies and homes—even those camps meant to be temporary sites of safety—are on the front lines of destruction, they have grown hungrier for resolve and have committed to the services and organizing that may bring them closer to it.
However, in drawing cues from Hatem’s grief—born of persistent precarity, instability, and insecurity—it is incumbent for all of us to think of what can be done to give refugees the time and space to organize their organic experiential knowledge into a sustained method and strategy. As Palestinian refugee youth in Greece persistently shared with me, the goal is refugee return to Palestine. In the meantime, they seek EU citizenship to stabilize their lives, to give the individual the power to serve the collective, and to ensure—through their exilic organizing—that they are not the cost of the nationalist rhetoric that tokenizes them in service of creating a pseudostate in Palestine that excludes them. As it has been for generations past, refugee return remains a central principle of the Palestinian struggle, and now it brings to the fore an even more necessary and urgent demand to foreground the material needs of refugees as part of that political process. The absence of available long-term political solutions must not and indeed cannot justify the negation of immediate safety, protection, and justice for refugee survivors of systemic oppression, just as the particularities of Palestinian refugeehood need not and indeed cannot limit bonds of solidarity with other refugee communities worldwide.
Loubna Qutami is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Qutami is a former President’s Postdoctoral Fellow from the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley (2018–20), and she received her PhD from the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside (2018). Qutami’s research examines transnational Palestinian youth movements after the 1993 Oslo Accords through the 2011 Arab Uprisings. Her work is based on scholar-activist ethnographic research methods. Qutami’s broader scholarly interests include Palestine, critical refugee studies, the racialization of Arab/Muslim communities in the United States, settler colonialism, youth movements, transnationalism, and Indigenous and Third World feminism.
Jamal (Palestinian refugee youth from Syria, currently living in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, May 13, 2019 (author’s translation).
See, for example, Marwan Barghouti, “Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons,” New York Times, April 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/16/opinion/palestinian-hunger-strike-prisoners-call-for-justice.html. See also Zena Tahhan, “A Timeline of Palestinian Mass Hunger Strikes,” Al Jazeera, May 28, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/5/28/a-timeline-of-palestinian-mass-hunger-strikes-in-israel.
For more on the Rojava revolution and the northeastern territories of Syria that became governed by Kurdish forces, see “The Kurds Are Creating a State of Their Own in Northern Syria,” Economist, May 23, 2019, https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2019/05/23/the-kurds-are-creating-a-state-of-their-own-in-northern-syria.
The northern Greek border was one of three main Mediterranean migration routes that were each utilized by distinct refugee communities. For more on the March 20, 2016, EU-Turkey deal, see, for example, Olivia Long, “The EU-Turkey Deal: Explained,” Help Refugees, April 5, 2018, https://helprefugees.org/news/eu-turkey-deal-explained/.
For more on the community of five hundred thousand Palestinians in Syria prior to the war, see, for example, Anaheed Al-Hardan, Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016). For more on Palestinian experiences with exile and refugeehood, see Naseer Hasan Aruri, Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return (Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2001).
Nina Glick Schiller, “Multiscalar Social Relations of Dispossession and Emplacement,” Festschrift for Gunther Schlee, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.academia.edu/40208079/Multiscalar_Social_Relations_of_Dispossession_and_Emplacement.
Many scholars have examined what they refer to as al-Nakba mustimmereh, or the ongoing Nakba. See, for example, Ahmad H. Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). In my other works, I refer to this phenomenon as a form of ontological Nakba (catastrophe). See, for example, Loubna Qutami, “Before the New Sky: Protracted Struggle and Possibilities of the Beyond for Palestine’s New Youth Movement” (PhD diss., University of California, Riverside, 2018), https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6kn3k8jk.
See, for example, “Bibliography,” The Critical Refugee Studies Collective (CRSC), accessed July 31, 2020, https://criticalrefugeestudies.com/resources/bibliography.
For an exception to this omission, see “Palestinian Refugees in Greece,” Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, accessed August 3, 2020, https://www.badil.org/en/publication/periodicals/al-majdal/item/2220-palestinian-refugees-in-greece.html.
See, for example, “450 Palestinian Refugees Live in Harsh Conditions on Greek Island,” Middle East Monitor, July 10, 2019, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190710-450-palestinian-refugees-live-in-harsh-conditions-on-greek-island/.
For more on how the Oslo Accords’ neoliberal state-building model betrayed the principles guiding the decolonization of historic Palestine, see Linda Tabar and Omar Jabary Salamanca, “After Oslo: Settler Colonialism, Neoliberal Development and Liberation,” in Critical Readings of Development under Colonialism: Towards a Political Economy for Liberation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Ramallah: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Regional Office Palestine, 2015). For more on how the Oslo Accords removed refugee return as the core issue, see Randa Farah, “Palestinian Refugees: Dethroning the Nation at the Crowning of the ‘Statelet’?,” Interventions 8, no. 2 (2006): 228–52, https://doi.org/10.1080/13698010600781040.
Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network provides excellent analyses and policy recommendations on many topics relating to Palestine and offers more coverage on current refugee issues than other outlets. Its coverage on refugee issues, however, remains relatively small compared to the other topics. See, for example, “Refugees,” Al-Shabaka, accessed August 3, 2020, https://al-shabaka.org/category/refugees/.
There are many wonderful works on Palestinian refugee communities and camps in Arab host states. However, there have yet to be sufficient works on the new exoduses Palestinian refugees are encountering. For works on camps in Lebanon, see, for example, Rosemary Sayigh, Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries: A People’s History (London: Zed Press, 1979). For more recent works, see Diana Allan, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014); and Julie Peteet, Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
See, for example, Francesca Albanese and Alex Takkenberg, Palestinian Refugees in International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).
Five and a half million of these refugees are Palestinian and registered with UNRWA. See, for example, “Global Trends,” UN Refugee Agency, June 20, 2019, https://www.unhcr.org/5d08d7ee7.pdf, 4–23.
Formerly known as the HAAS Institute, the Othering and Belonging Institute develops research and policy recommendations to advance social change for a more inclusive and just world. See, for example, “Moving Targets,” Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, September 2017, http://haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/haasinstitute_moving_targets_globalmigrationreport_publish_web.pdf, 10.
Reece Jones, Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move (London: Verso, 2016), 5.
For more on the ways the entanglements of global systems of oppression produce displacement, see, for example, Hosseun Ayazi, “Global Forced Migration and the Entanglements of Race, State, Power, Capitalism and Environmental Change,” Berkeley (blog), September 28, 2017, https://blogs.berkeley.edu/2017/09/28/global-forced-migration-and-the-entanglements-of-race-state-power-capitalism-and-environmental-change/.
“Michel Foucault on Refugees—an Interview from 1979,” Pilothoer, October 20, 2015, https://politheor.net/michel-foucault-on-refugees-an-interview-from-1979/.
“Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute, September 21, 2020, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2020/Displacement_Vine%20et%20al_Costs%20of%20War%202020%2009%2008.pdf.
In June 2011, geographer Chris Ulack warned not only that the uprisings in the Arab region should be monitored for political and economic developments but also that an impending refugee crisis was on the horizon. He stated, “Considering that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is already working with insufficient funds, Western policymakers should pay attention to these imminent crises. One need only look at the social and economic repercussions of the still unresolved predicament of Iraqi refugees to see the urgency of keeping the current situations from escalating into another protracted refugee crisis. The consequences of a prolonged refugee situation could be dire, especially as many of the countries to which the people are fleeing allow few—if any—rights, benefits, or protection for refugees.” Chris Ulack, “The Arab Spring’s Looming Refugee Crisis,” Foreign Policy, June 23, 2011, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/06/23/the-arab-springs-looming-refugee-crisis/.
“About the ‘List of Deaths,’” Fatal Policies of Fortress Europe, accessed January 2, 2020, http://unitedagainstrefugeedeaths.eu/about-the-campaign/about-the-united-list-of-deaths/.
“Tracks Deaths of Migrants, Including Refugees,” Missing Migrants Project, accessed January 2, 2020, https://missingmigrants.iom.int/. These numbers do not account for nonreported people, nor do they quantify the unimaginable violence that refugees who have survived the perilous voyages have endured in the process. They also do not account for the violence endured by those who have arrived to their destinations only to be slated for deportation or those who struggle with the difficulties of social and economic integration, mental health crises, and posttraumatic stress disorder as they attempt to rebuild their lives while and after seeking asylum.
See Anna Momigliano, “Italian Forces Ignored a Sinking Ship Full of Syrian Refugees and Let More Than 250 Drown, Says Leaked Audio,” Washington Post, May 8, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/05/09/italian-forces-ignored-a-sinking-ship-full-of-syrian-refugees-and-let-more-than-250-drown-says-leaked-audio/.
See “African Migrants Reportedly Being Sold in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libya, UN Agency Warns,” United Nations, April 11, 2017, https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/fr/node/100043193.
See David A. Graham, “Are Children Kept in ‘Cages’ at the Border?,” Atlantic, June 18, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/ceci-nest-pas-une-cage/563072/.
Responding to the failure of the UN to create an efficient plan to respond to the refugee crisis at its September 2016 “High Level Summit,” Amnesty International and other international advocacy organizations issued scathing critiques. See “Tackling the Global Refugee Crisis: Sharing Not Shirking Responsibility,” Amnesty International, October 4, 2016, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/10/tackling-the-global-refugee-crisis-sharing-responsibility/.
This figure does not include internally displaced refugees in historic Palestine or Palestinians, and their descendants, who became refugees after 1948.
For more on the central characteristics of Zionist colonialism in Palestine, see Fayez Sayegh, “Zionist Colonialism in Palestine (1965),” Settler Colonial Studies 2, no. 1 (2012): 207, https://doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2012.10648833.
Terry M. Rempel, “The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, Protection, and a Durable Solution for Palestinian Refugees,” BADIL-Briefs, no. 5 (2000), https://www.badil.org/phocadownload/Badil_docs/bulletins-and-briefs/Brief-No.5.pdf.
Muna S. Tareh, “On the Violence of Self-Determination: The Palestinian Refugee as the Ontological Other,” Arab Studies Quarterly 42, no. 3 (2020): 189, https://doi.org/10.13169/arabstudquar.42.3.0181.
Riccardo Bocco, “UNRWA and the Palestinian Refugees: A History within History,” Refugee Survey Quarterly, 28, nos. 2–3 (2009): 229–52, https://academic.oup.com/rsq/article/28/2-3/229/1584825.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CSR) and its 1967 Protocol are key legal documents that define who is a refugee, what their rights are, and the legal obligations of nation states. It was created in the context of the European refugee crisis following World War II. Though UNHCR does have a commitment to comprehensive solutions, many of the problems that exist within the organization and its policies derive from structural and foundational elements. The CRS, written in 1951, cannot account for the shifting types of refugee communities, voyages, and needs today. For more, see, for example, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
There are multiple interpretations of article 1D within the CSR, which is the contingent exclusion clause that stipulates that generally Palestinians are not eligible to seek refugee protection outside the UNRWA-mandated area, even in the case of an emergency. 1D stipulates that “the benefits of the CSR shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance. When such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons being definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this Convention.” For more, see Susan M. Akram, “Palestinian Refugees and Their Legal Status: Rights, Politics, and Implications for a Just Solution,” Journal of Palestine Studies 31, no. 3 (2002): 36–51, https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2002.31.3.36. See also “Closing Protection Gaps: Handbook on Protection of Palestinian Refugees in States Signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention,” BADIL, March 2, 2015, http://www.badil.org/phocadownload/Badil_docs/publications/handbook/update2011/country%20profile/handbook2010.pdf.
Noura Erakat, “Palestinian Refugees and the Syrian Uprising: Filling the Protection Gap during Secondary Forced Displacement,” International Journal of Refugee Law 26, no. 4 (2015): 581–621, https://doi.org/10.1093/ijrl/eeu047.
Erakat. Jordan, for example, has refused to allow entry for Palestinian-Syrians dispossessed by the war even though they have accepted among the largest number of Syrian refugees than any other country.
See, for example, Jaber Suleiman, “Marginalised Community: The Case of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, April 2006, http://www.databank.com.lb/docs/Marginalised%20Community%20the%20Case%20of%20Palestinian%20Refugees%20in%20Lebanon%202006%20Development%20research%20Center%20on%20Migration%20Globalization.pdf.
See, for example, Sa’di and Abu-Lughod, Nakba.
There are many factors that contribute to why many Arab states have not given Palestinians permanent citizenship. It is in part due to coordination with Palestinian political forces so that the right of return to Palestine is not foreclosed upon. This issue warrants more attention and is beyond the scope of this essay.
See, for example, Noura Erakat, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019).
I recognize that Palestinians are not the only communities subjected to the violence of international legal and human rights regimes. Many scholars have illustrated the way that international law has, from the onset, developed as a project of colonial and imperial domination and facilitated exclusionary rubrics for who such protections and rights are afforded to. See, for example, Samera Esmeir, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); Randall Williams, The Divided World: Human Rights and Its Violence (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); and Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader, Plunder: When the Rule of Law Is Illegal (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).
See, for example, Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949–1993 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). See also Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); and Sayigh, Palestinians.
As Nidal Bitari argues, “the Palestinian national structures both in Ramallah and Syria failed miserably in their duty toward the Palestinians of Syria by doing nothing to protect either them or their neutrality.” For more, see Nidal Bitari, “Yarmuk Refugee Camp and the Syrian Uprising,” Journal of Palestine Studies 43, no. 1 (2013): 61–78, https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2013.43.1.61.
Jason Tucker, “Why Here? Factors Influencing Palestinian Refugees from Syria in Choosing Germany or Sweden as Asylum Destinations,” Comparative Migration Studies 6, no. 29 (2018): 1–17, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40878-018-0094-2.
See, for example, Farah Najjar, “Syria’s Yarmouk Camp: From a ‘War on Stomachs’ to ‘Annihilation,’” Al Jazeera, April 24, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/4/24/syrias-yarmouk-camp-from-a-war-on-stomachs-to-annihilation.
These include Operations Autumn Clouds, Eastern Step, and Summer Rains, Southern Arrow, Blue Skies, Samson’s Pillar, Cast Lead, Hot Winter, Pillar of Cloud, Protective Edge, and Guardian of the Walls. For more on how these wars have devastated Gaza, see Noura Erakat and Dia’ Azzeh, Arab Studies Institute, “Gaza in Context,” YouTube video, 20:24, July 19, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmRPkfAN2EU.
The most recent declaration of a labor law restricts Palestinian refugee employment even more in Lebanon and resulted in popular protests by refugees in Lebanon in summer 2019. See, for example, Lama Al-Arian, “In Lebanon, Palestinians Protest New Employment Restrictions,” NPR, July 26, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/07/26/745041157/in-lebanon-palestinians-protest-new-employment-restrictions.
Tucker, “Why Here?”
“A Young Man from Gaza . . . a New Victim on the Way to Emigration to a Decent Haven,” Palestinian Refugee Portal, May 14, 2019, https://refugeesps.net/posts/10843.
Ibrahim (Palestinian refugee from Syria in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, September 2017 (author’s translation).
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 856,723 refugee sea arrivals to Greece in 2015, a substantial increase from 2014, which saw 41,038 arrivals. “Mediterranean Situation,” Operational Portal: Refugee Situation, accessed January 2, 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5179.
Some of the refugees I assisted upon arrival had war injuries, including one man from Deir Ezzour, Syria, who had a broken shoulder and back injuries from jumping from a second-story window of a building that was about to collapse. Another Afghan woman I assisted was in her ninth month of pregnancy, and a young Syrian girl who I assisted had long been diagnosed with thalassemia and was ill, since she was not able to receive her regular blood transfusions. Among many other colds, flus, fevers, and tooth infections, the death voyages were hard on the bodies of refugees. The most significant illnesses that refugees were treated for were hypothermia, sleep deprivation, and common colds. For more on the ways that hypothermia specifically has led to refugee deaths, see, for example, “Freezing to Death at Europe’s Door,” New York Times, January 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/opinion/freezing-to-death-at-europes-door.html.
“Mediterranean Situation,” Operational Portal: Refugee Situation, accessed June 16, 2021, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5179.
Jamal (Palestinian refugee youth from Syria, currently living in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, May 13, 2019 (author’s translation).
Saif (Palestinian refugee from Gaza, in Greece), in conversation with the author, December 2019.
The EU and Schengen had pressured and even threatened Greece to do more to stop refugee mobility to the EU. See, for example, Helena Smith and Ian Traynor, “Greece Hits Back after EUs Schengen Threat,” Guardian, January 27, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/27/greece-warned-control-borders-schengen-european-commission. For more on the Dublin System, see “The Dublin System,” European Commission, accessed August 3, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/background-information/docs/20160406/factsheet_-_the_dublin_system_en.pdf.
See, for example, “Greece: Three Years of ‘Cruel, Inhumane, and Cynical’ Treatment of Migrants and Refugees,” Doctors Without Borders, March 18, 2019, https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/greece-three-years-cruel-inhumane-and-cynical-treatment-migrants-and.
Basil (Palestinian refugee from Gaza, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, May 7, 2019 (author’s translation).
See, for example, Ramzy Baroud, “Tested in Gaza: How Europe Uses Israel War Technology against Refugees,” Middle East Monitor, December 27, 2018, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181227-tested-in-gaza-how-europe-uses-israeli-war-technology-against-refugees/.
Anwar (Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, December 2017 (author’s translation).
Some of the refugees I spoke with in May 2019 estimated that costs could be as high as $10,000 USD.
See, for example, “Athens: Closure of City Plaza,” Squatnet, July 10, 2019, https://en.squat.net/2019/07/10/athens-closure-of-city-plaza/. To learn more about City Plaza Hotel, a squat that embodied international solidarity against oppression and for refugee and migrant rights, see also “Social Movements,” City Plaza Hotel: Athens, Greece, Duke Social Movements, accessed January 3, 2020, https://socialmovements.trinity.duke.edu/groups/city-plaza-hotel-athens-greece.
Nikolia Apostolou, “Briefing: How Will Greece’s New Asylum Law Affect Refugees?,” New Humanitarian, November 4, 2019, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/11/04/Greece-new-asylum-law-refugees.
See, for example, Nashwa Bawab, “Syrian Refugees Live in Fear as Greece Prepares to Take Some off Housing Support,” Middle East Eye, March 22, 2019, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-refugees-live-fear-greece-prepares-take-some-housing-support.
For more on international solidarity with the rising refugee movement in Greece, see “Solidarity with Refugee Movement in Greece,” Palestinian Youth Movement, accessed January 2, 2020, https://www.pymusa.com/solidarity-with-refugee-movement-in-greece.
“Palestinian Refugees Are Made Homeless after Their Tents Are Burned Out on Samos Island,” Palestinian Refugee Portal, October 16, 2019, https://refugeesps.net/posts/12098.
“Palestinian Refugees Declare Hunger-Strike on Greek Island over Squalid Conditions,” Action Group for Palestinians of Syria, October 27, 2019, https://www.actionpal.org.uk/en/post/9279/flash-news/palestinian-refugees-declare-hunger-strike-on-greek-island-over-squalid-conditions.
Lori Allen, The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), 188.
Muath (Palestinian refugee from Syria, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, August 2017 (author’s translation).
Camilla Hawthorne and Jennifer Lynn Kelly, “Borderland Regimes and Resistance in Global Perspective,” in this volume.
For more on how Palestinian refugees have forged collective national imaginaries while in exile, see, for example, Helena Lindholm Schulz, The Palestinian Diaspora (Global Diasporas) (London: Routledge, 2003).
Ahmed (Palestinian refugee from Lebanon, currently in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, May 11, 2019 (author’s translation).
Ibrahim (Palestinian refugee from Syria, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, September 2017.
Muhannad (Palestinian refugee from Syria, currently in Holland), in conversation with the author, May 18, 2019 (author’s translation).
These passports are limited in that they do not allow entry into Palestine and they come at high costs for refugees. Further, embassies have required many forms of paperwork, including birth certificates, UNRWA registration cards, and other documents, many of which the refugees do not have access to during their death voyages or as a result of the destruction of their homes and belongings in Gaza and Syria.
For more on the Palestinian youth movements during the 2011 Arab Uprisings, see, for example, Ibrahim Natil, “Palestinian Youth Movements and ‘the Arab Spring,’” in Non-Western Social Movements and Participatory Democracy, ed. Ekim Arbatli and Dina Rosenberg (Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2017), 33–42.
Jonathan Masters and Robert McMahon, “Palestinian Statehood at the UN,” Council on Foreign Relations, November 30, 2012, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/palestinian-statehood-un.
Masters and McMahon.
The Oslo Accords were a series of negotiations between the PLO and Israel that established an outline for more negotiations that supposedly would resolve “final status” issues, including matters of borders, water, Jerusalem, and refugees. For more on the Oslo Accords, see, for example, Jamil Hilal, Where Now for Palestine? The Demise of the Two-State Solution (London: Zed Books, 2013).
The split in national unity between Palestinian political parties was calcified in 2006 when, under US and Israeli pressure, the PA hosted a democratic parliamentary election. In a shocking turn of events, Fatah, who had maintained majority power within the PLO ever since 1969 under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, had lost majority power in the 2006 PA parliament. Hamas, a Palestinian national offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, had won the elections. In effect, the EU and US placed sanctions on Palestine. Because Palestine did not have an autonomous economy as a result of the occupation and was reliant on aid money from these countries, material conditions quickly deteriorated. Under pressure from Israel and Western countries, Fatah aimed to disregard the election and take over power. This resulted in a Fatah takeover of the PA in the West Bank and a Hamas takeover of power in the Gaza Strip. Atop the already fragmented geographies of Palestinian land caused by the occupation, and the fragmentation of Palestinian constituencies (inside and outside) caused by the 1993 Oslo Accords, which made the PLO relatively defunct, this ideological split soon became a geographic one as well. Ever since, fragmentation has been one of the most difficult political challenges limiting the Palestinians’ ability to redesign a unified vision and strategy. For more on the history that led to this polarized fragmentation, see Jamil Hilal, “The Polarization of the Palestinian Political Field,” Journal of Palestine Studies 39, no. 3 (2010): 24–39, https://doi.org/10.1525/jps.2010.xxxix.3.24.
For more on the PLO transnational-national infrastructure, see, for example, Rashid Hamid, “What Is the PLO?,” in Palestinians: Selected Essays, ed. H. I. Hussaini (n.p.: Palestine Information Office, 1980), 19.
For more on the ways in which the 1993 Oslo Accords transformed Palestinian political visions, methods, strategies, and society inside and outside historic Palestine, see, for example, Tariq Dana, “The Structural Transformation of Palestinian Civil Society: Key Paradigm Shifts,” Middle East Critique 24, no. 2 (2015): 191–210, https://doi.org/10.1080/19436149.2015.1017968. See also Tabar and Salamanca, “After Oslo”; and Nithya Naragajan, “PA ‘State Building’: Facilitating Political Pacification,” in Critical Readings of Development, 84.
Farah, “Palestinian Refugees,” 228–52.
Ahmed Diab, “From Our Facebook Balconies, the Dark Heart of Yarmouk,” Ma’an News, June 6, 2014, http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=702766.
“The Exodus of the Palestinians to the Camps,” Voice of Yarmouk Camp, Facebook video, 4:13, May 7, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/1424295574479143/videos/2045414539033907/UzpfSTgxNDA0NTQ5NjoxMDE2MDg2MTg3MzczNTQ5Nw/.
“Exodus of the Palestinians.”
“Fight for Freedom,” Quds News, Facebook video, 3:41, April 12, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/QudsNen/videos/1639579239495985/UzpfSTgxNDA0NTQ5NjoxMDE2MDc1MDUxNTYyNTQ5Nw/.
Fadi (Palestinian from Gaza, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, May 13, 2019 (author’s translation).
For more on the massacres of Sabra and Shatila camps, see Bayan Nuwayhed Al-Hout, Sabra and Shatila: September 1982 (London: Pluto Press, 2004).
Hatem (Palestinian refugee from Syria, in Athens, Greece), in conversation with the author, September 2017 (author’s translation).