Book Launch: The Palestinian National Movement in Lebanon
Why do Palestinian leaders spend exponential resources to retain political and military control in the camps of Lebanon? This is one of several questions author Erling L. Sogge asks in his new book “The Palestinian National Movement in Lebanon: A Political History of the 'Ayn al-Hilwe camp”.
Lebanon's Palestinian camps famously became primary bases for the PLO and its armed struggle against Israel from 1969 to ‘82. However, Palestinian factions made an effort to reclaim these self-governed spaces in 1999-01, and have since expanded their presence significantly. This particularly goes for ʿAyn al-Hilwe. Hosting 30,000 inhabitants on the outskirts of the south Lebanese city of Sidon, the camp known as the “Capital of the Palestinian Diaspora,” is regarded as a center for political activity in exile, and is governed by a myriad of militia groups. Yet the current Palestinian exile leaderships are seldom discussed in the context of broader Palestinian national politics.
We lack an understanding of their organizations, internal dynamics, goals, relationships with the camp populations, Palestinian elites elsewhere, and regional patrons. Based on extensive ethnographic research in the camp—focused on the actors who have shaped its modern political trajectory since the rupture caused by the 1993 Oslo Accords—The Palestinian National Movement in Lebanon casts new light on leadership structures in Palestinian politics, and argues that far more takes place outside of the established centers of power than what has been accounted for in the literature. It paints an up-close picture of how a myriad of internal and external actors—ranging from neighborhood militias to youth activists—stake their claim to the camp and attempt to shape the course of Palestinian (and Lebanese) politics. Ultimately, the book tells the story of how a refugee camp in the margins becomes a scene of the region’s most central struggles, where concepts such as self-determination and sovereignty are negotiated through a constant re-shaping of alliances and power balances, while the question of Palestinian statehood hangs in the balance.
Rex Brynen is Professor in political science at McGill University, Montréal. He is the author of Sanctuary and Survival: The PLO in Lebanon (Westview Press, 1990) and A Very Political Economy: Peacebuilding and Foreign Aid in the West Bank and Gaza (United States Institute of Peace Press, 2000), and has edited a number of other books. Professor Brynen joins us online from Montréal.
Manal Kortam is a Palestinian human rights activist from Lebanon and works in humanitarian development. She has published a book chapter on elections in the Shatila camp, Beirut. In 2018, she made international headlines when she launched an electoral campaign for a Palestinian seat in the Lebanese parliament. Kortam joins us online from Beirut.
Erling L. Sogge, is the author of the book and is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oslo. His research explores social movements among the Palestinian refugees, the internal dynamics of refugee camps, and as of lately; the role of customary justice committees in the West Bank. He has been a research fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine.
The conversation will be led by Rania Maktabi, who is Associate Professor in political science at Østfold University College. Her research deals with the legal position of Arab women, and citizenship in states like Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco and Egypt.