Academic journal article Refuge

Protection amid Chaos: The Creation of Property Rights in Palestinian Refugee Camps

Academic journal article Refuge

Protection amid Chaos: The Creation of Property Rights in Palestinian Refugee Camps

Article excerpt

Protection amid Chaos: The Creation of Property Rights in Palestinian Refugee Camps

Nadya Hajj

New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, pp. 214

Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, this book outlines the complex nature of property rights in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Particular attention is devoted to issues that have arisen in the reconstruction of Nahr al-Barid refugee camp, following the 2007 conflict there between the Lebanese Army and the Fateh al-Islam armed group. Hajj offers considerable insight into social and economic dynamics within Palestinian camps. She also makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of how informal institutions, local configurations of social and political power, and formal law and regulation interact to shape property ownership. Her study is particularly relevant to protracted refugee situations, but its value extends well beyond.

Most Palestinian refugees in Jordan are Jordanian citizens, with full legal rights. Hajj's analysis shows that a gradual synthesis has occurred between the initial post-1948 community-based system whereby property rights were recognized and enforced in the camps, and the formal Jordanian legal system. Since the Jordanian civil war (1970-1), the government has sought to expand state control and authority. The author might have more fully addressed the original ownership of refugee camp land: some camps were built on state land, while others stand on land that is nominally rented from Jordanian landowners. Some original landowners feel they have lost effective control over their former properties and have threatened to use the legal system to regain it. The Jordanian government has discouraged court challenges in order to maintain political stability, but it has sometimes suggested if the refugee issue was resolved, such claims of (re)ownership would indeed go forward.

In Lebanon, matters are more complex. Most Palestinian refugees are stateless, and Lebanese law prohibits refugees from owning property. The rise of Fateh and other Palestinian armed factions in the camps from the late 1960s created a new dynamic of local power, one that largely displaced any limited authority exerted by the already weak Lebanese state. Customary systems were also increasingly supplanted by the quasi-hegemonic role of Fateh, and the growing role of formal camp committees. In many cases, later changes in local power structures then forced modification or renegotiation of these practices. In Nahr al-Barid, for example, Hajj shows how the Lebanese government pressed for greater control and authority as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) undertook camp reconstruction.

As the author points out, very little has been written on the lived practices of refugee camp property rights in Palestine. In the late 1990s and 2000s the World Bank and the Palestinian Authority partially examined how informal property rights in Palestinian refugee camps might affect redevelopment, repatriation, and reparations in a Middle East peace agreement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.