Everyday Life and the Politics of Survival among Ex-Gaza Refugees

By Michael Vicente Perez
Submitted to Session P4745 ((Im)Mobilizing Agency in the Context of Short, Medium, and Long-term Displacement in Jordan, 2017 Annual Meeting
Middle East/Near East Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
As Palestinian refugees in Jordan, ex-Gazans are an anomaly. Unlike Palestinian displaced in 1948, they never acquired Jordanian citizenship. Thus for the last 50 years, they have lived as stateless “foreign residents” with few opportunities for challenging their status. The lack of Jordanian nationality has limited their mobility socially, economically, and politically. As non-nationals they cannot, for example, own property, vote, or work in the public sector. While many ex-Gazans live as urban refugees spread throughout Amman, about 30,000 remain in the “Gaza” camp in the northern city of Jarash. Established after the 1967 War as a temporary shelter, the camp is now a sizable urban slum managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the Department of Palestinian Affairs. Compared with other Palestinian camps, the Gaza camp is marked by the poverty of its inhabitants and inadequate infrastructure. Situated as liminal subjects within what Ilana Feldman calls the humanitarian condition of long-term displacement, these refugees face considerable challenges in securing meaningful livelihoods.

Through the analytic of mobility, this paper examines the everyday survival strategies of ex-Gaza refugees. Grounded in six months of ethnographic research in the Gaza camp including participant observation and in-depth interviews, this paper considers the agential capacities of stateless refugees as they understand, confront, and overcome the limits of non-national status. Rather than pursuing an analysis that privileges practices of encroachment or resistance, this paper focuses on the ordinary acts of repetition that constitute a meaningful life in a zone of abandonment. It argues that everyday life among long-term refugees reflects practical strategies of social and economic survival that enable particular forms of mobility. Where the routinization of life is fraught with the precariousness of statelessness, this paper argues that the simple ability to repeat social and economic practices represents an agential accomplishment. Moreover, this paper suggests that statelessness is not experienced in a singular way. In both the effects of statelessness and the strategies deployed to overcome them, particular iterations of gender are constituted and enacted. Statelessness thus intersects with the projects of masculinity and femininity in ways that give the reproduction of everyday life a distinctly gendered quality. By situating the analysis of mobility within the everyday practices of survival, this paper underscores how ordinary life reflects forms of agency beyond the registers of resistance and rupture.