Diana Allan gives a powerful account of the Palestinian refugee experience today providing a provocative ethnographic examination of everyday life in the Shatila camp in Beirut. This retrospective scholarly gaze is presented by anthropologist and filmmaker Allan who founds and co-directs the Nakba Archive, a testimonial project that has recorded filmed interviews with over 500 first-generation Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. The author has observed first-hand the lives of Palestinians in the Lebanese camps in the 2000s which has no doubt enabled her to provide such an in-depth account.
Unlike previous works which refer to refugees as numbers, a by-product of the Nakba, and in ideological terms as if their dwelling was entirely within their political realm and their lives lacked aspirations, normal fractured complexities with material, economic and personal needs and hardships that the rest of the world face, Allan sought to shed light on the material worlds of the refugees in Shatila attending to a range of local factors, and how the inhabitants of the camp deal with the challenges they face.
Refugees are presented by Allan as the living remnants of a way of life that abruptly ended in 1948, a visible proof of the catastrophic events that drove approximately 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes. They are presented as a symbol of unrealised national claims, an embodied reminder of a historical injustice awaiting redress. Allan elaborates everyday survival strategies of Palestinian refugees illustrating especially well the experiences of male and female youth in the camps.
The analysis begins in the early seventies with the arrival of the Palestinian resistance movements in Lebanon, an era commonly known among Palestinians as al-thawra, "the revolution". This was when Shatila camp effectively became the headquarters of the Palestinian leadership and its residents described it as a "time of considerable prosperity and conviction".
The economic struggles of the Palestinian refugees became pronounced following the 1982 expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) from Lebanon, and then again faced a greater blow following the signing of the Oslo accords by the PLO with Israel in 1993, which demoted their right of return. Defending the right of return became central to asserting national belonging following the aftermath of the Oslo agreement.
Allan attends to the question of what it would mean for three generations born in exile to return to a place they never left, something which is rarely explored. In doing so, the author provides enriching nuances and generational distinctions shaping this issue among refugees themselves. With the majority of Palestinians unwilling to concede the right of return, the poverty and harsh realities of everyday life in the camps was forcing people to rethink the language of national discourse. Allan explores the personal and national struggles faced by the Palestinian generations in exile.
Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile is an important book for the understanding of the Palestinian struggle in all its drastic complexity.