Refugee Camps in the Palestinian and Sahrawi National Liberation Movements

Drawing on ethnographic field research, this analysis compares the evolution of refugee camps as incubators of political organization and repositories of collective memory for Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Sahrawi refugees of the Western Sahara. While recognizing the significant differences between the historical and geopolitical contexts of the two groups and their national movements (the PLO and Polisario, respectively), the author examines the Palestinian and Sahrawi projects of national consciousness formation and institution-building, concluding that Palestinian camps are “mapped” in relation to the past, while political organization in Sahrawi camps evidences a forward-looking vision.

RANDA FARAH is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. She is grateful to the Palestinian and Sahrawi refugees who shared their memories and thoughts with her. She would also like to thank the editors and anonymous readers of JPS for their valuable comments, and gives special thanks to Dr. Bashir Abu-Manneh, Dr. Khaled Ayed, Dr. Muhammad Siddiq, Maha al-Rantisi (chief of relief and social services at UNRWA), and Matar Saqer (public information officer at UNRWA) for their critical reading and encouragement. Her gratitude also goes to the Office of the Vice President, Research Development Services, at the University of Western Ontario for its generous financial support, which funded her research on Western Sahara.

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