(Un)Making Qalandia: Politicized Spatial Practices Of The Palestinian Refugee Camp

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Article published in The Funambulist 16 (March-April 2018) Proletarian Forteresses. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

In a radio sketch played on Itha Dona Taradud, a stranger in his twenties opens the main door of a private house in a refugee camp in Palestine. He enters the living room. The family of the house sits on a sofa in front of the TV. The stranger joins the family. He takes the remote control and starts changing the channels while eating some of the snacks lying on the coffee table. The family continues to sit acting as if nothing unusual is happening. Later the stranger stands up and walks towards the front door. As he opens it, the father says: “Are you sure they’re gone?” and the stranger replies “Maybe.”; he leaves.

The Qalandia camp was established in 1949 by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to temporarily accommodate those who had been displaced from their homes following what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, the 1948 war and the creation of the State of Israel. Inhabitants of 52 villages, mainly in the Lod, Ramleh, Haifa, Jerusalem, and Hebron areas, made up the original residents of Qalandia. The initial population of the camp was of 3,000 refugees, while presently, the camp is home to nearly 12,000 residents, whose political status and origins vary. The camp is located on two political geographies: one part of the camp is located within Jerusalem municipal borders, while the other is Area C – i.e. the main part of the West Bank that remained under the full control of the Israeli occupation army after the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Alaqra Funambulist (3)
Qalandia refugee camp is situated on the line separating the Jerusalem municipality and Area C of the West Bank, both under Israeli occupation. / Map by Léopold Lambert (2018).

Qalandia, like most of the refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has several layers of political structures that govern and control it. UNRWA provided one of the first structures of operation in the camp. Over the course of the following sixty years, many other political structures have played a role in shaping the policies of production of space and the spatial practices within the camp. UNRWA has always been officially the sole political structure that govern the camp, however, the legal status of the lands on which the camp was established on have changed several times. From 1948 to 1967, the camp fell under Jordanian rules followed by Israeli military rule from 1967 to 1994, the Oslo Accords has divided the camp into two parts. The part outside of Area C is within the municipal borders of Jerusalem on which the Israeli civil law is applied since the annexation of East Jerusalem to the western part of the city in 1980. The Palestinian Authority’s presence in the camp is unofficial, and it manifests though local community councils and non-governmental institutions. Other Palestinian political factions that have a presence in the camp, like the Palestinian Liberation Front and Hamas, have informally contributed to the architecture and the policing of space, but to a lesser degree.