Palestinians Born in Exile: Diaspora and the Search for a Homeland

Palestinians Born in Exile: Diaspora and the Search for a Homeland

Palestinians Born in Exile: Diaspora and the Search for a Homeland

Palestinians Born in Exile: Diaspora and the Search for a Homeland


In the decade following the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, some 100,000 diasporic Palestinians returned to the West Bank and Gaza. Among them were children and young adults who were born in exile and whose sense of Palestinian identity was shaped not by lived experience but rather through the transmission and re-creation of memories, images, and history. As a result, "returning" to the homeland that had never actually been their home presented challenges and disappointments for these young Palestinians, who found their lifeways and values sometimes at odds with those of their new neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza.

This original ethnography records the experiences of Palestinians born in exile who have emigrated to the Palestinian homeland. Juliane Hammer interviews young adults between the ages of 16 and 35 to learn how their Palestinian identity has been affected by living in various Arab countries or the United States and then moving to the West Bank and Gaza. Their responses underscore how much the experience of living outside of Palestine has become integral to the Palestinian national character, even as Palestinians maintain an overwhelming sense of belonging to one another as a people.


… the next day they sent me back to my
second home
but my spirit stayed and it flies in the stones.
Each burning tire carries the fire
of my iove for the iand and my deep desire
to return to the earth of my ancestors.
They can’t stop me.

—IRON sheik, “JUST trying to get home,”
camel clutch, 2003

This excerpt is from a rap song by the Palestinian American hip-hop artist Iron Sheik. the song tells the story of a young Palestinian American who tried to go to Palestine but was detained by Israeli security forces and subsequently banned from entering the country. This song, the existence of a Palestinian American rapper, his popularity with young Palestinian Americans, and my own involvement with the Palestinian community show me that the issue of return to Palestine has as much currency today as when I first started researching this question.

This study of Palestinian return experiences is based on research and fieldwork conducted between 1997 and 2000. It is a snapshot of a group of young returnees to Palestine who had grown up in different corners of the world as part of the Palestinian diaspora. Like a photograph, it has captured particular people at a particular moment in time. the years 1998–99, during which I conducted my fieldwork in the West Bank, were a time when the initial euphoric feelings about the “peace process,” the partial redeployment of the Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories, and the establishment of the institutions of the Palestinian National Authority had started to fade in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians around the world, in the refugee camps and cities of the Arab world, and in the diaspora communities elsewhere, were growing skeptical about the prospects for an independent Palestinian state. the findings of this study must be viewed . . .

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