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Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment


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Name of student: Basma El Boussaki

Student number: 16043986

Module number: U30099

Module name: Dissertation

Module leader: Francesco Proto

Resistance in spaces of exception: Exploring the extent to which Agamben's concept of 'bare-life' exists in Palestinian refugee camps
Title of work:
in Lebanon
Date of submission: 23/01/19 Time of submission: 12:00

Number of items being submitted: 1

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This is submitted as solely my own work X

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Name Student no. Name Student no.

Exploring the extent to which Agamben's concept of 'bare-life' exists in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon

Basma El Boussaki 16043986

A dissertation presented to the School of Architecture,
Oxford Brookes University in part fulfilment of the regulations
for BA (Hons) in Architecture


I am sincerely thankful for my dissertation tutor

Professor Cathrine Brun for her time, encouragement and
commitment throughout my research
Statement of Originality

This dissertation is an original piece of work which is made

available for copying with permis­ sion of the Head of the
School of Architecture


Basma El Boussaki

2 3
Introduction .............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................7

‘Al-Nakba’ and Lebanon, The Host Country .............................................................................................................................................................................................................11

‘The Liquid Camp’: expansion beyond the the ‘Misery Belt’................................................................................................................................................................................18

RESISTANCE IN SPACES OF EXCEPTION Producing place and Spatialising identity .................................................................................................................................................................................................................24

Exploring the extent to which Agamben's concept of 'bare-life' exists in Urbicide and Resistance.....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................36
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon
Basma El Boussaki 16043986

Figure References...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................50

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This dissertation aims to merge my activism towards the struggle of Martin (2015) just to name a few. To analyse refugee’s conditions
Palestinian refugees with my exploration of how spaces of exception and thought process behind their response to their settlement in the
can evoke resistance and develop a political agency. I will be exception it is of high importance to refer to the testimonies of the
exploring how a refugee camp is defined and observed through the refugees themselves.
lens of the host country, humanitarian organisations, architects and The following three case studies are linked by the refugees shared
the refugees themselves to conclude whether refugees are truly response to their treatment in a land that is alien to them and is
stripped from their values, memories and identity when forcibly exiled confined in to ensure their alienation. Regardless of whether the
from their homes. camp is specifically located in the suburbs or embedded within the
Refugee condition and spaces in the past have been analysed and city or emerging from a state of destruction, refugees still have the
observed through Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben’s observation capacity and strength to resist directly or indirectly whether through
of “bare life” and refugee camps by political geographers, anthro- constructing spatial violations, the camp merging with the urban fab-
pologists and architects, to name a few (Martin, 2015, p.9). However, ric of the city or the establishment of an informal economy. The use
recently there has been escalating critique of Agamben’s totalitarian of case studies throughout the course of my dissertation will enable
camp studies as it does not seem to mirror the conditions of refu- me to develop a form of qualitative research and allow me to ques-
gee camps in this current time. Agamben expressed that a camp is “a tion the rationality of Agambens view of the camp through exploring
space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become various refugee conditions in dissimilar contexts since the “truth is
the rule and gains a permanent spatial form” thus rendering the relative and dependent on one’s perspective” (Baxter and Jack, 2008,
inhabitants to suffer “bare-life” whereby they are stripped off their p.545).
identity, independence and all rights that would be granted to one The first chapter will briefly outline the events that led to the
residing outside a space of exception (Agamben, 1998, p.37). expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland and how they
Dating back since the late 1940s, Palestinian refugee camps in assimilated into their new identity as refugees settled in Lebanon, a
Lebanon are a credible model to challenge this view. Previous stud- host country that merely evokes hostility towards the refugees and
ies on the camps (Hanafi and Long, 2010; Knudsen, 2016; Martin, 2013; ensures the camp embodies a transient character due to the coun-
Sanyal 2014; Maqusi, 2017), have shown that despite a supposed try’s fragile political background.
authority of a single sovereign power there are “complex power In the second chapter, I will examine how the Shatila refugee camp
struggles” between various parties from host governments to hu- also known as the “Liquid Camp” in southern Beirut initially secluded
manitarian agencies such as the United Nations Relief and Works during the time of its formation has now began to form out from its
Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), NGOs and also refugees boundaries and converge into the realm of the city. The camp which
themselves whom personalise, organise and “contest” the camp has largely become a site that is “no longer inhabited by refugees
(Woroniecka-Krzyzanowska, 2017, p.161). The following chapters will exclusively” since “the camp welcomes the multiple outcasts of the
be a collective case study on three refugee camps in Lebanon, used Lebanese neoliberal and sectarian system” (Martin,2015, p.16) thus
to examine how the refugee’s response and interaction within these contradicting the Agambenian understanding that camps are an open
spaces of exception leads us to question the validity of Agambens prison exclusively for refugees (Agamben, 1998).
identification of a refugee camp. In criticism to Agamben’s totalitarian observation of refugee camps I
Through undertaking a constructivist approach, my challenge to Ag- will turn to urban anthropologist Michel Agier (2011) whom strives to
ambens claims would be “built upon the premise of a social construc- broaden and alter the way we think of ghettos, looking beyond its
tion of reality” (Searle, 1995 cited in Baxter and Jack, 2008) as unlike most recognisable forms such as the French Banlieus. Agier argues
Agambens direction of analysis I would take a more personal and less that camps like Shatila can be described as “Heterotopian”; according
statistical path towards understanding the refugees actions when to Foucault (1984, p.752) Heterotopias are “outside of all places even
isolated within a space of exception. though it is possible to indicate their location”. Through the eyes
To do this, I will largely turn to secondary material from Julie Pe- of Agier, Palestinian refugee camps are a convincing existing model
teet’s conversations with Palestinian refugees across the region of how there is a “slow but inevitable” progression from a delicate,
(2006), Adam Ramadan’s interviews with the inhabitants of Nahr El fragile temporary encampment to the modern day political and urban
Bared (2009) and stories from refugees in Shatila recounted by Diana ghetto or enclave (Agier, 2012).
Map of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon - Refugee camps I will be focusing on circled in red (El Boussaki, 2018)

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The third chapter will be an in depth morphological study of Shatila’s
neighbouring refugee camp, Burj Al Barajneh in order to explore how
Palestinian refugees transform a space that is designed to not be
permanent and intends to strip their basic human rights into a home
spatially organised to reproduce the home they left behind and to
which they are organising to return (Peteet,2006, p.107). This
transformation is incurred by a series of spatial violations (Maqu-
si, 2017) which expresses an act of political instrumentalisation and
evokes a message of resistance.
This will be investigated through evidence gathered by Architect and
Urban specialist Samar Maqusi’s article “Spatial Violations: beyond
relief inside the Palestine refugee camps” (2017) which presents
images and diagrams of Burj Al Barajneh since its period of assembly
to its existing form. With this, I will intend to delve into the pro-
gression by which the camp is transformed from sacred to profane
and how in fact it is the refugees themselves that exercise this and
therefore one cannot perceive refugees through the Agambenian lens
as the Homo Sacer, when inhabiting a space of exception.

The final chapter will examine Nahr El Bared, a refugee camp in

Northern Lebanon which had suffered a case of urbicide and an
absence of law and governance thus leaning towards the Agambe-
nian definition of a refugee camp as its inhabitants at this period
of Urbicide developed a helpless character that is denied all rights.
However, this case study is used to refute Agambens claims that
resistance is futile within a space of exception (Agamben, 1998); with
support from the international community, the refugee’s ability to
regain a political agency and return to the camp was made probable.
To further defend this view, I will turn to a secondary case study
of a refugee camp which also underwent similar circumstances. Ayn
El Hilweh, located in the Sidon district of Lebanon, heavily suffered
from the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Kingdom of Women:
Ein El Hilweh (2010) documentary outlines how the refugees asserted
and guided the reconstruction of the camp and how the women of the
camp developed to become political actors of the camp.

A boy runs through one of the camps streets with it´s tangled water pipes and electricity cables" (Bobst,2017) *

* Page number not given since image is an internet source 8 9

This chapter will outline the events that lead to the displacement surely as the loss of Palestine” (ibid.).
of Palestinian refugees and their settlement in the refugee camps Approximately 700,000 Palestinians took refuge in the bordering 2 NOV. 1917
of Lebanon and how the host country’s political background coincides countries of Palestine, the rest however (about 150,000) remained
with the refugee’s way of living. and applied for Israeli citizenship (Khalidi, 1992, p.581). In 1949, BALFOUR
Lebanon is home to various forms of refuge “ranging from the formal around 100,000 refugees in Lebanon gradually moved into twelve
(camps) to the informal (gatherings) and irregular (squatters)” (Knud- camps set up by UNRWA (Fig.1); (Peteet, 2006). UNRWA which stands “600,000 Palestinians
and 55,000 Jews
sen, 2016, p.443). Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are a “state for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees lived in Palestine”
in making”, yet Palestinians have a strong inclination to return to was established by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV), with the (AMP,2009)
their homeland if possible in the future after forcibly exiled during initial mandate to provide “direct relief and works programmes” to
Al-Nakba. Al-Nakba was the genesis of the “dismemberment and Palestinian refugees, in order to “prevent conditions of starvation 1918
de-Arabisation of historic Palestine”(Masalha, 2012, p.2) when “some and distress…and to further conditions of peace and stability”(UNR-
600,000-760,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees and have re- WA,2018). OCCUPATION OF
mained refugees in the immediate post-war period”(Morris, 1989, p.27). AIN AFTER WORLD
The initiation to the displacement of refugees across the Middle East The Lebanese authority leased land to the UN, and in order to build WAR ONE
and beyond began when Palestine fell under a British Mandate fol- camps for the refugees some land were rented or bought from
lowing the end of the First World War. In 1917, the British govern- the landowners at the time. Lebanon hosts the largest whereby FORMATION
ment submitted the Balfour Declaration which intended to establish currently there are “449,957 registered Palestinian refugees and MANDATE OF
a “National Home for the Jewish People” in Palestine, whilst inden- represent an estimated ten per cent of the population of Lebanon” PALESTINE
tifying the Palestinian population as as the “non-Jewish community” (UNRWA, 2018) but also not to mention there are now 951,629 Regis-
(Morris, 1989). The UN succumbed to this objective and imposed a plan tered Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (UNHCR, 2018) due to the endless
to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states (fig.3). In November civil war in Syria which initiated in 2011. 29 NOV. 1947
1947 there was a vote in favour of the Partition.
Inevitably this decision erupted a war for Palestine, the Palestinian Lebanon is a “fragile multiconfessional state where political rep- APPROVED BY UN
and Arab forces were defeated and so the land of Palestine fell resentation and the distribution of resources are appropriated by
into the Jewish states hands which led to the “expulsion or flight of sect”(Peteet, 2006,p.20). Maronite Christians, the most prominent
between 714,150 and 780,000 Palestinians” (Khalidi, 1992, p.582). The sect, have long held the reins of political and economic power in
Jewish state was declared on May 1948 that “eventually encompassed Lebanon, however since the arrival of the large Sunni Muslim ref-
the area allotted to the Jews in the Partition Plan as well as large ugee population of Palestinian refugees there has been a fear
15 MAY 1948
portions allotted to the Palestinians” (Peteet, 2006). Being lodged on within the Maronite sect that a sectarian imbalance would ensue and
the upper hand, had sparked a colonial impulse within the region, de- therefore the refugees were seen as a “threat to the country’s BRITISH MANDATE
spite other areas of the world undergoing decolonisation and national delicate political order and stability” (Haddad, 2000, p.30). This then ENDS
independence (Morris, 1989). justified the Lebanese government to uphold laws that Palestinian CREATION OF ISRAEL
1948 was the year of the Palestinian Nakba, the exile and ethnic refugees in Lebanon also have very limited access to social services
cleansing of Palestinian refugees from their homeland which has (including health) and education and rendered Palestinian refugees
invoked the birth of the state of Israel. The Nakba initiated the to fail to obtain basic civil rights such as having restricted access
dispersal and disintegration of the Palestinian people whereby bor- to the job market since they cannot work in as many as 20 profes-
ders were rooted into the ground to force Palestinians who remained sions (UNRWA, 2018). JAN 1949
in to stay put but also force Palestinians out in order to secure the
establishment of the state of Israel. Despite the physical dispersion “More than 750,000
of the Palestinian people this shared memory of 1948 “brought the Palestinians are forced
from their homes and
Palestinians closer together in terms of their collective political con- 531 villages have been
sciousness” (Dajani, 2005, p.42-3, cited from Masalha, 2012, p.9) and depopulated.”(AMP,2009)
influenced their lives within the camps they still reside in to this day
as “it seems clear that nothing forged in Palestinian identity so
UN Partition plan, 29th November 1947 (UNISPAL, 1947).

10 11
Palestinians leaving their villages during the Nakba (Bettmann,1948). Palestinan woman and child fleeing from villages nearby Jericho (UNRWA Photo Archives, 1967)

12 13
Refugee camps are universally defined as “segregated spaces” and Lebanese law expansions of refugee camps are illegal, “the quar-
that their “size, location and spatial layout are dictated by security ters of Sabra and Hay Gharbeh, respectively north and west of the
considerations” in the case for refugee camps in Lebanon most camps camp, became natural extensions of Shatila” (Clerc-Huybrechts, 2008
were purposely located at a “distance from urban centres and under cited from Martin, 2015, p.13).
strict control by the internal security services”(Peteet,2006) called The Cairo Accords granted Palestinians to gain autonomy as it al-
the Deuxieme Bureau. lowed Palestinians to have the right to employment, residence and
However how is a refugee camp defined when refugee population movement, the formation of local communities (Sayigh,1997) as well
increases, and the camps begin to merge with the city that envelopes as the “establishment of posts of the Palestinian Armed Strug-
it? Could they then enjoy the deserved rights and services they gle (PASC) inside the camp” (Brynen,1990). The resistance movement
have initially been stripped of by the Lebanese authorities? Agam- were admitted control of the camps in Lebanon and provided refu-
bens perception of “The spatialisation of exclusion” (Martin,2015, p.10) gees with a multitude of health and social services as well as en-
can be challenged by the fact that refugees can etch the landscape suring security within the camps. Unfortunately, these benefits were
they live in and their social relations and practices shape the camps short-lived when allegations of “a state within a state” appeared
physical and social environment, distinguishing it from the exterior, and thus evoked animosity from some districts of the Lebanese
and thus imposes symbolic meaning (Peteet, 2006). This will further polity (Peteet, 2006).
emphasise how camps “may become the genesis of unexpected cities, A fifteen-year period civil war occurred between 1975-1990, Israel
new social environment, relationships and identification” (Agier,2002 invaded Lebanon, besieged, and ultimately entered Beirut and carried
cited in Doraï, 2010, p.74) and despite being held under oppressive out a massacre at Sabra-Shatila refugee camps which resulted in
laws by their host country refugees can still gain and maintain 2,750 Palestinians and Lebanese nationals murdered in three days
autonomy. (Fawaz and Peillen,2003, p.12). 1982 was the year “Palestinian au-
Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon is a clear case study that tonomy and institution-building came to an abrupt and dramatic end”
demonstrates that refugees themselves can redefine the camps they (Peteet, 2006,p.18) due to the removal of the PLO’s forces and per-
are enclosed in and soften the physical and symbolic boundaries that sonnel from Lebanon. Palestinian refugees once again suffered from
divide refugees and nationals. confinement and marginalisation by the Lebanese government. Julie
Located in southern Beirut, Shatila was originally set-up for Pales- Peteet (2006, p.22) recounts that at her first visit in 1970 Shatila
tinian refugees in 1949. However in the 1920s, before its formation, “had a vibrant infrastructure of social services and facilities such
Armenians sought refuge in camps in Lebanon. Palestinian refugee as clinics, vocational training centres, workshops, childcare facilities,
camps developed to become slums much prior to the Nakba, the ex- clubs, and resistance offices.” However by 1992 “it was a virtual
pulsion of Palestinians from their homeland: wasteland.”
“In 1922, the arrival, of 10,500 Armenians to Beirut fleeing Cilicia Palestinian refugees felt bereft and “strangled” by this overbear-
(where the threat of massacres was intensifying) marks the forma- ing sense of containment orchestrated by the Lebanese government
tion of the first slum in Modern Beirut.” (Fawaz and Peillen, 2003, making them believe that the Lebanese authorities were implement-
p.9). ing a plan to compel them to leave by making life miserable (Peteet,
The Armenian camps at the time were perceived as “constituted 2006).
points of attraction for those in need and search for better oppor- “All these restrictions on jobs and rebuilding the camps-they think
tunities”(Martin, 2015, p.15). Shatila also carries this characteristic as we will leave if our lives become unbearable” (Abu Khalid, Interview
now “it is estimated that half of the 12,235 inhabitants of Shatila by Julie Peteet, 2006).
are non-Palestinians, mainly Syrian refugees that are fleeing from
the on-going civil war and lower-class Lebanese citizens that cannot
afford to live in neighbourhoods in the capital” (UNRWA, 2018). The abandonment of the camp by the Lebanese authorities after
In 1969, an agreement took place known as the Cairo Accords in which the establishment of the Cairo Accords stimulated motion as Pal-
the Lebanese government authorised the Palestinians to “self admin- estinians began settling outside the camp, but also change as this
ister the camp” (Martin, 2015), new settlers both Lebanese and Pal- occurrence subsequently rendered Shatila to become “a multi-ethnic
estinians began to occupy areas surrounding Shatila. Although under slum and contested war memorial with high emigration rates”

Shatila Refugee Camp (Google Earth, 2018)

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"Palestinian woman, holds out helmets found in the Sabra-Chatilla camp after massacre, telling
reporters these were worn by the killers." (Foley, 1982)

16 17
(Knudsen,2016, p.453); a place where fugitives in need to escape from from the sovereign power tests the boundaries of Agamben’s un-
the state’s jurisdiction and a sanctuary to settle in for those who derstanding of the camp, a space in which “refugees can be seen
cannot afford to live elsewhere (Martin, 2015). This reflects how the as the ultimate “biopolitical” subjects: those who can be regulated
French banlieues took shape and inhabited by the “human waste” and governed at the level of population in a permanent “state of
(Bauman, 2004) of the French system; a “place of banishment exception” outside the normal legal framework- The camp” (Owens,
(ban-lieu) is socialized or urbanized in the process of globalization” 2009, p.568).This “leaking out” (Bauman, 2000; 2002) of Shatila over
(Agier, 2011, p.286). Banlieue, the French word for the term “slum” onto the capital city’s urban fabric transforms ones perception of
increases mobility between
camp and surrounding informal settlements and in Agambenian terms the “inclusive exclusion” is a “place formed refugee camps and negates the belief that camps exist to mere-
that is attached to the centre yet abandoned by it”(Martin, 2015, ly remain stagnant on creating “bare life” rather than evolving to
p.15). However, as French anthropologist Michel Agier (2011, p.45) ex- become a positive space in potentiality (Agamben, 1999).
presses one cannot disregard the social and cultural activity that is Julie Peteet expresses in her recount of Shatila that the borders
cultivated within the walls of the place of confinement which is what of Shatila had only become evident to her in the early 1990s . The
is being overlooked within the grounds of Agamben’s understanding boundaries were incredibly “fluid” that Peteet would rely on the in-
of the camp. habitants to direct her to where they were (Peteet, 2006, p.137). As
Through understanding the camp in relation to the city rather than shown in Fig.8 the exposed boundary around Shatila is so open that
apart from it, one can comprehend Shalita’s transition from a space multiple exits and entrances form.
of exception to the slum beyond the Agambenian reasoning of per- This fluid sense of the camps start and end lead to “a virtual ex-
ceiving a camp as a way to “define the modern nation-state and law” tension of the space of the camp” (Al Husseini, 2012 cited in Martin,
(Schiocchet, 2014). Agier’s observation of camps facilitates this con- 2015, p.15). Despite being marginalised refugees can develop ties with
temporary and less impersonal discovery of refugee camps of today their urban environment; they are part of the urban settings that
in which he analysed the camp on three accounts through the lens host them (Doraï, 2010).
of how one would interrogate the functionality of a city: “the pro-
duction and reproduction of spatial symbolics, the outlining of social Prominent French philosopher, Michel Foucault would term these
stratification and the construction/negotiation of identities”(Bauman, spatialities as Heterotopias (Boano and Talocci, 2014), the “kind of
2002,p.344). Agier expresses that refugee camps in dense urban places that are outside all places even though they are actually
areas such as Shatila are not the manifestation of bare life such localisable”(Foucault, 1986, p.17).The boundaries that confine Shatila
as the extremely poor urban enclaves of the Brazilian favelas since loosen due to constant daily mobility crossing these thresholds as
they have closely become part of the urban landscape (Schiocchet, the presence of the market place on the north of the camp (Fig.8)
2014). encouraged “urban practices” of shopping and the visiting of fam-
Surrounding Shatila there are informal settlements that share similar ilies and friends. This lead to refugees developing ties with Leba-
physical characteristics to the camp which further elaborates how nese civilians in the surrounding settlements; it would be of great
the line between camp and city are indistinguishable thus suggest- difficulty to visibly differentiate between the two (Doraï, 2010). The
ing Shatila’s reidentification as a new slum. The fluidity of the camp camps therefore become a space that “always presupposes a sys-
and its amalgamation with the city is mirrored in the shared stan- tem of opening and closing that both isolates them and make them
dard of living of the households that surround it. Both the camp and penetrable” due to the existence of a congregational space and the
Major Low neighbouring settlements suffer from extreme overcrowding, lack of frequent passage of various communities (Foucault, 1986, p.21; Boano
Souk/Marketplace educational services, low income, and wealth (UN-Habitat and UNDP, and Talocci, 2014).
Main internal paths 2010). One would not consider being better-off living in these Leba- Despite the camp being “decided” by the sovereign, those who in-
nese settlements in comparison to the camp. habit the “space in which the alien is intentionally kept far from the
The urban fabric of Shatila itself also further encouraged an in- national body”(Martin, 2015, p.14) can, in fact, toy and exploit the
The seamless boundaries and paths of Shatila Refugee Camp crease of the camp’s population since it opens itself out to the exceptionality of the camp and eventually redefine it as their own.
(adapted by author from Hagla,2009,p.8) capital city and has multiple access points as “boundaries are rep- Members of a single family prior to the civil war would inhabit an
resented by streets that are wider than the narrow alleys within entire building while now the organisation of the housing structure
it”(Martin, 2015, p.14). The lack of control and restriction of the camp is changing continually. Regardless of the restrictions set by the

18 19
Lebanese government on expanding the refugee camp, there is a This emphasises the fact that refugee camps such as Shatila do
“widespread violation of building and construction codes” (Fawaz and not come under the description of the exception being tied and
Peillen, 2002, p.7). The camp would develop vertically as residents controlled by the legal system since the inhabitants are “legally
would construct upwards by converting the roof of the top flat to excluded from the state’s protection” (Martin, 2015, p.16). This gives
a floor of a new house to the extent that they reach as “high as international housing aid charities such as Habitat for Humanity an
seven storeys and lean ever closer to each other, blocking out the increased incentive to encourage empowerment and autonomy within
sun”(Cornish, 2018). the refugee community.
These new constructions are then seen as a source of income for
increases mobility between Palestinian refugees due to the large influx of Syrian refugees Habitat for Humanity aims to make “basic accommodation more
camp and surrounding informal settlements settling in the camp. Despite being confined within the camp’s bound- homely” (Cornish, 2018) and due to the absence of the government
aries the refugees develop their own informal economy. A new inhab- they also attempt provide safety in the camp. In Shatila, refugees
itant of the camp interested in building a home would need to “seek live in constant risk of electrocution due to large quantities of live
approval from the owner of the top flat whose permission costs electric wires overhead dripping with water and slipping downwards
between 2000 and 3000 US dollars” (Martin’s interview with Salah, when they get too heavy (ibid.). Habitat for Humanity alleviates the
November 2008, p.14) issue simply by separating “wires from pipes, installing trays to
This therefore supports the view that Shatila has developed to be- keep them apart” which allows more light to seep into the dense
come “a space in abjection to the Agambenian understanding” (Martin, encampment (ibid.). The presence of services provided from organisa-
2015,p.14) that we can no longer describe Palestinian refugees as the tions such as these also facilitated an increase in population of the
“Homo sacer” - “an outcast, one whom it was pollution to associate, area and the informal settlements due to the promise of living in an
who dared to take no part in any of the institutions of the state” environment with plugged leaks, painted walls, adequate toilet con-
(David Bleeden, 2010, p.77). Camps like Shatila are rather a place that ditions and safely distributed electricity supply (Martin, 2015). This
is formed to be the genesis of an “identity strategy”(Agier, 2011, proves how the “forced” depoliticisation of Shatila by the Lebanese
p.284) rather than the stripping of one’s identity. state which constitutes a void in the social and symbolic order,
Refugees themselves gain autonomy and use their creativity to find simultaneously generates a hyper-politicisation of the camp whereby
cost-effective methods to accommodate new residents at the camp. “new competing identities and orders form” (Turner, 2015, p.145).
This developed independence of the refugees renders them to gener- Despite the intense development of social, political, and cultural
ate “productive spaces in evolution, where new forms of governance identity within the camp, it does not take away from the fact that
can be experimented” (Hanafi, 2010 cited in Martin, 2015, p.16). The refugee camps can also become places one “would want to leave as
permanency of the encampment eventually becomes more reinforced soon as social mobility permits”(Doraï, 2010). Palestinian refugees
through the illegal use of solid materials, such as concrete to enable yearn more for their return to their exiled land than developing a
these vertical expansions, thus threatening the temporary charac- permanent settlement in the camps, as I had been told by a Pal-
ter of refugee camps which the state intends to retain but are now estinian at the Perspectives on the Nakba lecture held at Oxford
grasping at straws. Brookes University (2018) that: “If it meant that I can only sleep
Agier’s main driving question behind his subsequent anthropology of under an olive tree in order to live in my homeland, then so be it”.
refugeeness makes us question: “Can the refugee camp become a city Their inclination to produce a more permanent enclave stems from
in the sense of a space of urban sociability, an urbs, and indeed in their shared memories of the Nakba and particularly for refugees
the sense of a political space, a polis?” (Agier, 2002, p.322). We could in Shatila, the Sabra-Shatila massacre in 1982. In other words, their
answer that they most probably can, and this transformation can de- practice and input in reidentifying and reforming their “waiting-spac-
velop much faster with support from agencies outside the Lebanese es” is an approach of resistance. Agier accurately summarises this
sectarian system. in From Refuge the Ghetto is Born (2011):
Shatila’s process of “ghettoization” (Agier,2011, p.285); evolving from “The apparently radical and initial otherness that is lodged there
a place of exception to an “informal ghetto” due to the hostility and it gives it distinct or inner meaning is in the reality the result
from the state helped provide the camp official recognition and sup- of the relation of conflict, rejection, and resistance between the
port from the international community and various organisations. central power and the margin it has instituted” (Agier, 2011, p.284).
"Pigeons fly over the roofs of the provisionally erected houses, which are now up to 10 storeys high." (Bobst, 2017)

20 21
To conclude, Shatila refugee camp is an inhabitation that appears
to be segregated and marginalised by the constraining laws upheld
by the Lebanese state that safeguard the country’s sovereignty
through ensuring the transiency of these camps. However, due to the
large influx of other groups of refugees and migrants flooding the
urban fabric of Beirut, we begin to discover on a personal level how
refugee camps can develop a strong connection with the urban en-
vironment they are supposed to be shut out from. One can see how
Shatila today sits within Beirut as a “portion of a city” and a place
that has been “filled up by the interior”(Agier, 2011, p.284).
However, the argument here is not to see how camps have changed
to develop into slums but analysing and providing a more developed
anthropological response and attitude towards this inevitable tran-
sition since long-term refugees like the Palestinians cannot remain
in tents forever until their right to return is granted. Michel Agier’s
more symbolic than geographical study of refugee camps provides a
personal observation of refugees and their relation to the camp in
comparison to Agamben’s valuable, yet statistical analysis of refu-
gees referring to them as a homogenous group thus overlooking the
entrepreneurial and empowering qualities of refugees in a space of
exception. This development of the refugees character translates and
reflects in the environment they inhabit and beyond as the bound-
aries that intend to keep them isolated erupts out onto the urban
grains of the city.

"Children playing in one of the camps streets with it´s tangled water pipes and electricity cables" (Bobst, 2017)

22 23
Burj Al Barajneh refugee camp situated in the Southern suburbs of refugee camps are sites of exceptional political practice, this miss-
Beirut, is the case study selected to explore how Palestinian ref- ing link is a credible architectural mapping to identify how the urban
ugees have continually transformed a place initially designed for fabric of the camps is etched and behaves in order to understand
temporary settlement; intended to strip their basic human rights into how this space operates the exception that exists within.
a home spatially organised to reproduce the spaces they left be-
hind and to which they are organising to return (Peteet, 2006, p.107). Agambens argument that the refugee symbolises a “pure expres-
Rebecca Roberts discovered this during her visit to the camp in 1997 sion” of bare life “until they are re-codified into a new national
as inhabitants “described the camp as resembling part of Palestine identity”(Agamben, 1998, p.144 cited in Fresia and Von Känel, 2015)
because people who originated from the same village in Palestine had is made redundant in the case of contemporary camps such as
settled together in one area of the camp.”(Roberts, 1999, p.1). Burj Al Barajneh whereby a political identity is established through
Despite the Israeli occupation and demolition of these villages in the architectural and urban reformation of the camp. This chapter
Palestine by force, these spaces are “still, socially speaking, alive will analyse the process by which the camp is rendered to become
and coherent units”(Sirhan, 1975, p.101). This enabled the refugees profane, of common use and no longer sacred. The analysis of the
to “draw on past history of support and exchange to cope”(Peteet, ambiguity of the state of being profane within the refugee camp, in
2006, p.111). The organisation of the camp and naming the camps space other words how the dismissal of designed rules and regulations set
by village at its bare beginnings signified both a “memory scape and forth by the sovereign occur through performing spatial violations.
a practical spatial enactment of the lost homeland” (ibid, p.95).
Burj Al Barajneh which now houses more than 17,945 registered
Agamben in In Praise of Profanation (2007), asserts that for a refugees (UNRWA, 2018) in 1948 began as scattered tents situated
place to alter its pre-definition, to become profane, or in his words on “a plot of land under the disposal of UNRWA”(UNRWA, 2018) as
“non-sacred” it must be “brought back to the use of the common” demonstrated diagrammatically by Maqusi in Fig.12. Each family were
(Maqusi, 2017, p.20). Profanation for Agamben “occurs through an act housed in one tent and were made to assemble it organically on the
of play, a particular form of negligence towards the sacred and the land. Within a few years the materiality of the tents changed to
religion of its norms” (Boano and Talocci, 2014, p.68). The transfor- mud rooms to adjust to the climate of Lebanon but also due to the
mation of the camp from sacred to profane according to Agamben shortage of tents in the world market as the Assistance to Pales-
is reliant on a ruling or judgement arbitrated by a sovereign power. tine Refugees in the Report of the Director of UNRWA (1951)
However, through a morphological analysis of the camp one can arrive expressed that “tents are becoming almost impossible to find on
to the conclusion that the shift towards the “profane” does not rest world markets at any price, and the refugees are therefore being
upon the sovereign as the decision maker but upon the refugees encouraged to put up small structures for themselves.”
Architect and urban specialist, Samar Maqusi (2017) illustrates to us Due to the fact that the refugees’ displacement had appeared to be
how the “decision making” to transfer something from the sacred to more prolonged than expected, UNRWA began constructing shelters
the profane within the Palestinian camp “involves a process of spa- and “laid a grid plan for each camp consisting of a 96-100m2 plots”
tial violations by the refugees” (Maqusi, 2017, p.24). Maqusi reveals as shown in Fig.13.
through her spatial analysis that refugees throughout the develop- A grid pattern is considered to be incredibly efficient in terms of
ment of the camp have demonstrated profanity towards the sacred resources and cost of construction and is therefore often the
spatial rules jointly set up by the UNRWA and the Lebanese gov- typical layout of contemporary cities. However, more importantly in
ernment. This is where one can suggest Agamben is lacking in when spaces of conflict a clear grid can grant the sovereign an ease of
examining the camp due to the failure of discovering that the agency control and increased accessibility of surveillance and oversight of
of refugees can indeed overlap with the agencies of the sovereign these spaces. Each of the 96-100m² plots were appointed to one
(Maqusi, 2017). refugee family and were requested by UNRWA to assemble a 12m²
room made of straw-mud or pre-fabricated asbestos sheets with
Maqusi’s detailed spatial analysis of Burj Al Barajneh fills in what zinc roofing within these plots. The UN were adamant on disallowing
seems to be the missing link with looking at how the Palestinian a permanent roof material as this would discourage refugees from
Burj Al Barajneh (Maqusi, 2016)

24 25
Shelters were assembled in a scattered manner (Maqusi, 2017, p.253) Shelters organised in a grid layout by UNRWA (Maqusi, 2017, p.255)

26 27
continuing to construct their homes vertically. Services such as that the use of concrete is not about the performance of its ma-
water and sanitation were supplied by UNRWA as “collective points teriality but about the political agenda that lies behind it. With the
throughout the camp”(Maqusi, 2017, p.242), refugees were made to absence of the Lebanese state and reduced authority of UNRWA,
provide for ostensibly “turning a blind eye”, refugees took this opportunity to
themselves as UNRWA intended to make them become self-dependent exploit the set rules and the exceptionality of the camp.
and no longer in need of aid.
This form of the camp is what Maqusi termed as a “relief-scale” This in turn paved the way to a continued sequence of indepen-
which took place within the frame of self-support. This plot is the dence carried out by the spatial violations undertaken. This prac-
“area granted a personal “right of use” for each refugee family” tice of evolving transgressions also evoked a symbol of resistance
(Maqusi, 2017). “Right of use” is a term the UN used to imply that as we discover that this self-governing discipline, “supplanted
the refugees have the right to use the plot for their own means but the language of subordination with that of agreement and created
cannot own it, therefore, anything built beyond the boundaries of the a common area of synchronic relationships, negotiations between
100m² of their “right of use” would be deemed a spatial violation and governing and governed” instead of the classic system in which
thus sanctioned for removal (Maqusi, 2017). the sovereign solely guides and affirms the refugees’ acquiescence
(Abreek-Zubiedat, 2014, p.90).
The first act of spatial violation dated much prior to the construc- We can assert that through the development of an agency ref-
tion of the camps when the tents were only just being distributed ugees are able to redefine the “power-relations” with the host
amongst the refugees as relief shelters (Maqusi, 2017). According to government and in that sense these acts are deemed “political” as
Samar Maqusi’s interviews conducted with refugees, in Burj El Bara- it is “the expression of a particular structure of power relations”
jneh, refugees with a higher status were able to transgress the (Mouffe,2005, p.18).
law and commit spatial violations unsanctioned and gain “leverage to Between the 1980s and 90s, the plots were now horizontally and
secure or better, acquire more space”(ibid, p.242). highly saturated with concrete. The refugees would then move onto
“encroaching” vertically (Maqusi, 2016). In order to successfully
This therefore initiated the dismantling of the camp from its “relief complete this task, the refugees would utilise it through the instal-
scale” and stimulated the re-appropriation of the camp to a truly lation of external stairs (Fig.15) made out of temporary materials
Palestinian one (Maqusi, 2017); granting one’s distant memory of their such as pre-fabricated metal. These attentively placed staircases
home reintroduced in a foreign land. As mentioned in previous chap- were simply nailed to the external concrete walls and provided the
ters, we are aware of the radical impact the Cairo Accords and the refugees a vertical axis, thus permitting the construction to contin-
presence of the PLO (Palestinian resistance) had on the urban fabric ue and be transferred onto the vertical sphere (ibid.).
of the camp and its relationship with the city, however one may claim As time passed on, the refugees began to slowly morph the tempo-
that the presence of the PLO within the camps caused an accelera- rary material of these staircases into concrete. This further empha-
tion of spatial violations during this time. The PLO between the 1960s sised the permanency of the refugees’ settlement in the camp but
and 70s governed and oversaw operations in the camp which subse- also the marking of their territory. The continuation of construction
quently prompted a decline in UNRWAs role within the camps whereby within the vertical sphere initiated a physical relationship between
they were merely responsible for “providing services, shelter rehabil- buildings as they literally intersected, as expressed in Fig.16. During
itation and emergency response”(Maqusi, 2017). this time, one can say that the refugee camp arrived at its final
stages of its transformation.
The practice of spatial violiations and the infringement of the “right- Samar Maqusi in her lecture on Spatial Refuge (2016) expressed how
of-use” passage inclined and were seemingly encouraged by the PLO these consistent spatial violations demonstrated to be beneficial
since the camp began to undergo a “rapid transformation from as- for the refugees when the “war of the camps” broke out in Leba-
bestos to concrete” (Maqusi, 2017, p.256) and the “realignment of non between May 1985 and July 1988. Burj Al Barajneh was severely
Spatial violations through the formation of thresholds (Maqusi, 2017, p.257) Spatial violation through the construction of staircases (Maqusi, 2017, p.261)
walls beyond the 96-100m² plot demarcation (ibid, 2017) began to affected during this period as the camp was under siege for six
appear as thresholds (Fig.14) which took shape in order to form a months, rendering refugees to become forcibly reliant on the scarce
public/social congregation space for each family. One must affirm resources available within the camp. During the six months, a very

28 29
violent armed conflict took place between the Shia Militia (Leba- With every act of spatial violation there is an act of political in-
nese faction) and the Palestinian refugees. The refugees utilised the strumentalisation occurring simultaenously (Maqusi, 2016); a message
spatial violation they constructed as a line of defence against the of resistance that points to us and the rest of the internation-
Militia, assembling an incredibly smart “network of axis in the camp al community, a reminder of their constant struggles of the past
to where they avoided moving on the ground”(Maqusi, 2016). which now constitutes a part of Palestinian identity shared globally.
Samar Maqusi eloquently summarises this in her Thesis, Acts of
During a war or conflict setting it is usually advised to be off the spatial violation: constructing the political inside the Palestinian
ground to reduce vulnerability from attacks and bombs; either to be refugee camp (2017):
below ground whereby armies in the past would dig tunnels or oper-
ate above the ground, which is what occurred in Burj Al Barajneh. “Resistance is not a static notion, but a very active and operational
one. The camp today remains a site of operational resistance, but
With the close proximity between the buildings and the narrow pas- due to the protracted state of displacement, it is inevitable that
sageways it produced as well as the scale of the buildings incurred the form and mode of resistance has taken on different forms.”
by the spatial violations, refugees resorted to constructing openings (Maqusi, 2017, p.251).
in the external concrete wall to connect two opposite facing buildings
with a wooden slab. The Palestinian refugees consistently construct- Today most of the houses at Burj Al Barajneh are three or four
ed this throughout the camp on three levels as shown storeys high. The space provided by the flat roofs that were once
axonometrically by Maqusi in Fig.18. considered temporary are now often used for growing small fruits
In an interview with Maqusi (2014), Abou Mohammad, a Palestinian and vegetables such as grapes, figs, beans and herbs or keeping
refugee whom participated in the War of the Camps, describes his hens and goats (Roberts, 1999). Furthermore, with the management
experience of the “War of the Camps” by stating: and distribution of electrical supply the inhabitants seem to be
“free to alter the wiring in their homes and run extra lines from
“When the Shi’a Amal militiamen would attack us, we would fight them the camp supply”(ibid, p.4).
from the underground shelters. Another group would be on the first The grid pattern that started the formation of the camp is now de-
floor, a group on the second floor, a group on the third, and one on veloped into a complex labyrinth of passages impossible to travel in
the fourth, thus avoiding the disadvantaged ground level. The way by cars, as shown by this video Fig.17. The etching of the landscape
we achieved this was through drawing a map of the camp, we would of the camp and its reformation of its identity by the refugees is
then identify the various elevated shelter walls which come face to made evident through these observations and morphological studies
face with one another, and we would then make an opening on oppos- whereby we can see how “their social relations and practices shape
ing walls while extending a wooden board between the openings, thus the physical and social environment, distinguishing it from the exte-
instantly creating a connecting pathway across different shelters. rior, and impose symbolic meaning” (Peteet, 2006).
Once completed, we discovered that we could enter 400-500 shel- Understanding the camp space as a developing process reinvigorates
ters through these passageways without our feet ever touching the our idea of refugees as “passive victims” stripped from their iden-
ground.”(Interview with Abu Mohammad (Salah), Burj el Barajneh camp, tity and values and recipients of aid to active, political agents (Fan,
Beirut Lebanon, September 2014) 2012, p.73).
Ian Davis in Shelter After Disaster further expresses this by
The success in the survival and protection of the refugees during stating:
the intense period of the “war of the camps” was heavily dependent “If shelter is perceived in these terms as a dynamic process, this
on the previous and continuous acts of spatial violations committed opens the way to recognise the value of this range of options. It
over several decades. This reflects on the claim introduced earlier also develops an awareness of patterns of continual change, as
this chapter that the shift of the camp from the sacred to profane one mode of shelter may be rapidly replaced by another within the
rests solely upon decisions and arrangements made by the refugees, recovery process” (Davis, 2005, p.3).
Spatial Violations in operation inside Burj el Barajneh camp (Maqusi, 2017, p.263) which occurred due to events that materialised beyond the host The spatiality of Burj Al Barajneh differs from Agambens assertion
nations control. that the camp’s “apparatus” is described as a device of power

30 31
Journey through Burj Al Barajneh (Maqusi, 2016) Passageways created in Burj Al Barajneh (Maqusi, 2017, p.292-3)

32 33
stationed on the rationale of bare life and the exception when in
fact the ability of refugees “contests and transcends it through
political mobilisation and numerous appropriations of the camp space”
(Hyndman 2000; Agier 2008). The “apparatus” of the camp can there-
fore no longer be “reduced to the single rationality of the production
of bare life” (Fresia and Von Känel, 2015, p.251). Through observing
how camps are “effectively governed in different regional settings
and referring to a more empirical understanding of sovereignty”
(Hansen and Stepputat, 2006 cited in Fresia and Von Känel, 2015,
p.251) one can arrive to the conclusion that various forms of author-
ities “coexist and overlap within the camp device, making it difficult
to reduce it to the mere expression of the power to banish” (Oesch
2012; Ramadan 2013 cited in Fresia and Von Känel, 2015, p.253).

Burj Al Barajneh before and after (Screenshot from Maqusi, 2016)

34 35
This chapter will address when refugee camps are placed under ex- from the camp and its adjacent areas” as much of the camp was
treme circumstances there are oppressive qualities that come to the destroyed (UNRWA, 2011).
surface thus in fact equating to the Agambenian (1998) concept of The camp consisted of two parts as shown in Fig.22: “the “old
“bare life” and spaces of “exception”. The destroyed camp of Nahr El camp”, the official one, was totally destroyed, while the “new camp”,
Bared located in Tripoli, Lebanons appropriately named “Guantanamo the unofficial extension, was partly destroyed” (Doraï, 2011, p.80).
2” underwent inappropriate events which damaged the “character” of Within a few months refugees were granted their return to parts
the camp (Ramadan, 2009) and developed to become the host coun- of the “new camp” which enveloped the original 1km² “old camp”
try’s most segregated, monitored, and securitised camp. (Ramadan, 2009, p153).
Despite the events that lead to the destruction of the camp and in However, upon their return they discovered their home completely
particular the aftermath of the battle that took place in Nahr El ransacked and defaced:
Bared which consisted of displacement, looting and arson and there-
fore “a case of Urbicide in a space of exception” (ibid.), the refugee’s “Houses smashed first by shells and bombs, then by vandalism and
ability to resist prevailed through the redevelopment of an informal arson, possessions stolen and broken, offensive graffiti daubed on
economy but also through “regaining their political agency” within a walls.” (Ramadan, 2009, p.153).
confined perimeter (Amiri, 2016, p.52).
This therefore expresses how Agambens perception of the refu- The fact that even at the aftermath of the battle, Nahr El Bared
gee’s reality within the camp does not entirely reflect what occurs underwent a period of vandalism, looting and arson without a bat
in these camps today. Another example that proves this is from the of an eyelid from the host country points to us that this is a case
Kingdom Of Women docummentary (2010) on Lebanon’s largest and of urbicide in a space of exception (ibid.). Urbicide is defined as the
“most conflict-ridden camp”, Ayn al-Hilweh (Knusden, 2016) in which “the destruction of a city or its character” (Oxford Dictionary, 2018)
refugees rebuilt their destroyed homes without support from the the expression was initially “used in the 1960s to refer to inappro-
host government nor UNRWA which constitutes a “phantom sovereign- priate developments that impaired the character of cities” (Ramadan,
ty” (Hanafi, 2010, p. 30). 2009).
During the 2007 Lebanon conflict, Nahr El-Bared camp located in the
suburbs of Tripoli, Lebanon underwent constant bombardment and Martin Shaw (2004) argues that Urbicide can be described as a
shelling during the 2007 Lebanon conflict due to the attacks between “form of genocide” and thus in Bosnia a “strategy of genocidal war”
Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist militant organisation and the Lebanese (Shaw, 2004, p. 149, cited from Ramadan, 2009, p.156). The erasure
Armed Forces (LAF). The camps continuation to flourish as the “cen- of the settlements in the capital of Bosnia and specifically buildings
tral market place for north Lebanon” and the “most prosperous camp that symbolise and express Bosnian Muslim identity such as mosques
in the country”(Knudsen, 2016, p.448) was decimated without sanction but also cultural symbols of Bosnia such as National Museum and
and restriction during the conflict. Oriental Institute in Sarajevo is argued to be a deliberate strategy
to ensure genocide of not only Bosnian lives but the memories and
character that are carried with it was successful, in other words
Established in 1949, Nahr El Bared refugee camp is the “second larg- the enforcement of bare life (ibid, 2009).
est camp in Lebanon and one of the most densely populated” (Rob- From assessing the events that happened in the camp, one could
erts, 1999,p.3). The camp originally was a waiting place for refugees argue that the situation in Nahr El Bared reflects and carries qual-
until their “right to return” to their homeland was authorised (New- ities of the Homo Sacer (Agamben, 1998) the “sacred man – a man
man, 2010). stripped of all legal existence, reduced to his bare life and con-
With time, UNRWA converted the site into a camp (Peteet, 2006, demned to die” (Ramadan, 2009, p.153). It could be viewed that due
p.108), the majority of residents of Nahr El Bared originated from a to the inhabitants of the camp suffering from the torment caused
certain village in Palestine since in the days of the Nakba, “90 per- by the conflict in addition to their lives and homes being shunned
"Refugees walking through Nahr el-Bared, Lebanon refugee camp, 1952" (UNRWA,2017) cent of the people in the camp were from the village of Saffuriya” from the protection of the law, one can argue that refugee lives
(Ibid., p.113). The three-month 2007 conflict of Nahr el Bared lead to are deemed to be “sacred” and can be removed from existence
“the subsequent displacement of some 27,000 Palestine refugees without a consequence levied upon the sovereign. As described by

36 37
Destruction of Nahr El Bared (Tadamon, 2007).
"2030 buildings completely destroyed (in red in the map), 120 partially destroyed."
(Nahr el Bared News from the North Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp, 2009)

38 39
Sari Hanafi and Taylor Long (2010, p.14): in Fig.23 whereby a militarised enclosure took shape and “boundaries
“The life of a homo sacer has no political significance to the sov- were physically established” in the form of checkpoints and wired
ereign. He exists only in a bio-logical capacity or in “bare life” (zoë) fences. Knudsen (2016, p. 453) argues that the wrecked Nahr El
and thus, like something less than human, must be provided for only Bared camp “turned into a penalised space, an outdoor imprisonment
in a most rudimentary sense (i.e. given food, water, and shelter) and that comes close to Wacquant’s concept of the hyper-ghetto”.
kept removed (i.e. in exile or incarceration) from the ordinary exis- The Lebanese military have repeatedly used the issue of “security”
tence of mankind in “political life” (bios).” to justify their demeanour towards the Palestinian refugees, the
belief that all kinds of Palestinian political activity is a “de-facto a
The refugees can be identified as the Homo Sacer during this period threat” to Lebanese sovereignty and would throw Lebanon’s frag-
since many Palestinian civilians had suspicions that they were delib- ile sectarian state off balance (Hanafi and Long, 2010, p.149). The
erately being ethnically cleansed by their host government as “the Lebanese state have previously vocalised that they wish Palestin-
camp was largely shelled during the early days of the battle despite ians to develop a sense of positive self-governance but eventually
“the presence of a very high and dense civilian population”(Hanafi, turned to “scaremongering (Palestinians) about “security islands” or
2010, p.159). a “state within a state”(ibid.).

“It’s like an earthquake. it wasn’t a war against Fateh al-Islam but

barbaric actions against us as Palestinians and against our successes
in life. There are no houses left untouched. they removed trees and The constant threats from the soveriegn however did not stop
plants, destroyed buildings.” (Ramadan, 2009, p.161, quoting Palestinian refugees from resisting and gaining independence. Foucault claimed
female, 34, Nahr El-Bared). that resistance can manifest in various forms throughout history
and events (Foucault, 1982, p. 780-1) but one can further postulate
It is widely believed among the inhabitants that Urbicide was in fact that resistance can erupt within the confined exceptional territo-
a “strategy for removal of Palestinian urbanisation and population ries, contrary to Agambens assertion that it is “not possible from
growth as it is seen as a threat to Lebanese sovereignty” (Graham, within the structure of the camp, as life in the camp is only zoë
2002, p.645) and that it was enforced by the Lebanese government and never bios” (Jamal and Sandor, 2010, p.3) and therefore could
to achieve “political gain” (Knudsen, 2016). never evoke a sense of autonomy nor development of agency (Ag-
Palestinian refugees suffered “double alienation” (Hanafi, 2008) in amben, 1998). In addition, an “anti-authority struggle” is insufficient
which they not only are placed at a distance from their origin but to describe the term resistance (Foucault, 1982, cited from Jamal
also from “urban and social domains in the host society” (ibid., p.89) and Sandor, 2010, p.5). Foucault stresses that the main objective of
due to the government’s refusal to grant them basic human rights. resistance is “not to attack certain “institution of power group, or
Palestinians have to deal with “intense work restrictions, being group, or elite, or class but rather a technique, a form of power”
banned from all public sector jobs and most private professions; they (ibid, 1982).
are denied access to Lebanese welfare, educational and healthcare Professor Derek Gregory (2006) disputes Agambens perception and
services; they are denied all civil and political rights including the points out to us that in fact places of exception including those of
right to vote; they cannot buy property in Lebanon or pass on prop- extreme exception such as Guantanamo Bay “need to be seen not as
erty to their next of kin” (Shaaban, Abbas, Sirhan, & Hassan, 1997, paradigmatic spaces of political modernity, but rather as potential
p.387, cited from Ramadan, 2009, p. 154). spaces whose realisation is an occasion for political struggle not
pessimism” (ibid., p. 405).
During this period of urbicide the inhabitants of Nahr El Bared lost The Lebanese governments inconceivable efforts to further reduce
Wire fences and military checkpoints establishing camp boundaries (Nahr el Bared News from the North Lebanon their political agency and were reduced to helplessness and there- refugees to the embodiment of the Homo Sacer is rendered less
Palestinian refugee camp, 2009) fore subject to a ‘bare life’ due to not only suffering “double alien- successful due to Palestinians unwavering resistance which has
ation” (Hanafi, 2008) and neglect from the government but “the Leba- ensured an increased “quasi-permanency” (Turner, 2015) of refugee
nese army presence in the camp expanded the space of the Lebanese settlement. UNRWA’s film “Return to Nahr el-Bared Camp” (2010)
state and disregarded the extraterritoriality of the camp” as shown outlines the thought process behind the reconstruction. UNRWA aims

40 41
to make sure refugees have a close connection to a place they solution to generating income:
would have to call home for a while. Abdel Latif Issa who works as Khadjieh expressed that her “secret political work was a response
Acting Head Relief and Recovery of UNRWA explained that they had to their reality”. As she believed that “any small deed like deliv-
a project to “reactivate the businesses that were lost” through the ering a salary to a family in need was crucial” (ibid., interview with
distribution of grants to the business to “enable them to start pro- Khadjieh).
viding services to the people to guarantee they stay in the area and The Israeli military “bulldozed the southern area of the camp” (ibid.,
to rekindle life in the camp”(ibid.).The refugee’s ability to vocalise interview with Um Amer) despite having already destroyed it during
their need to re-establish the informal economy that they had lost the conflict. The reconstruction process ignited and UNRWA came in
during the conflict expresses to us that “the destruction of Nahr El to allocate the land, they provided tents and brought grey tiles to
Bared in Tripoli symbolises the reversibility of the Palestinian settle- mark the ground for tent allocation. The refugees were not satis-
ment in the country” (Doraï, 2010, p.7). fied with UNRWA’s lack of input and unhappy with the idea of living
UNRWA recognises the fact that “refugees are not without agency, in tents (ibid.). The lack of response from the sovereign and UNRWA
individually or collectively”(Owens, 2009, cited from Knudsen, 2016, p. led the refugees to their protest, from this, we can see the refu-
443) since they try to “build consensus with the families from the gee’s undying capability of exercising political power:
size of the apartments to the size of the streets. Everything has to “It happened spontaneously, a group of us women from the southern
be with the consent of the families of Nahr El Bared and the Leb- area confronted them (the tanks) in protest. The Israelis came after
anese government” (UNRWA Lebanon, 2010). This implies that not all us while another group destroyed the tents. Finally, we got a tank
decisions are solely made by the sovereign, but the inhabitants of of gas and burned the tents.
the encampment also carry a political power to guide the development
of the camps reconstruction. The tents idea was cancelled” (Ibid., Um Amer).

The refugees were to rely upon themselves to bring forth an ad-

Another example of a camp that proves that the omission of the equate quality living as Um Amer (2010) continues to recount their
Lebanese governments presence does not hinder the refugee’s ca- journey of reconstructing Ayn El Hilweh:
pability of resistance is Ayn El Hilweh. Located in Southern Lebanon, “We started however we could. People needed homes. And there
the camp heavily suffered from the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in was a huge fear of being displaced…we shared the different tasks,
1982. The camp was destroyed after two days of blockade and vio- some built and some prepared food. (Those who built) quickly built
lent bombardment. The Israeli Occupation forces in Sidon raided homes two rooms with amenities. We carried the dirt and rocks, we made
and detained families, about 9000 Palestinians were imprisoned during cement”.
the invasion majority were men between the ages of 14 and 60 years The reconstruction of Nahr El Bared by the UN Relief and Works
old (The Kingdom of Women: Ein El Hilweh, 2010). This left the camp Agency is almost complete and as according to UNRWA’s website
of Ayn El Hilweh inhabited merely with women, the camp was in fact (2018), 1,321 families have returned to the camp, while another 3,546
described among Palestinian refugees as “The Kingdom of Women”. families remain displaced in temporary shelters, until further recon-
struction funds are secure (Maqusi, 2017, p.297).
“Israeli forces round up all the men, they called all the men between
14 and 60 years to gather together. They took my father, they took To conclude, Nahr El Bared during the period of urbicide expressed
my brother, I was left with 5 babies alone” (ibid., interview with Um two important qualities with Agambens concept of the camp: as a
Mohammad). space in which “the rule of law is suspended” due to the absence
of the Lebanese state and secondly, the camp was then designed as
Since the men were not able to move freely, the women of the camp a separation of the majority of Palestinian refugee population from
took the role of communicating with Political leadership. they were Lebanese civilisation through the creation of a military enclosure
“the link between the inside and outside” (ibid., interview with Kh- (Ramadan,2009, p.157).
adjieh). Alone, the women of the camp began to figure out ways to
support each other, and deal with their new reality; embroidery, a
Still from The Kingdom of Women: Ein El Hilweh documentary (2010)

42 43
However when confined in a space of exception there is the inverse
effect due to the creation of a political agency by the refugees;
Jamal and Sandor (2010, p.9) explain that in fact the “constant de-
struction of places of residence not only serves particular functions
for the Lebanese and Israeli governments, but is identified as a spe-
cific form of resistance for the Palestinian people as they continue
to rebuild those areas despite increasing hardships”.

The reconstruction period enabled the refugees to regain their voice

and assert their right to return to the camp. With support from the
UNRWA and multiple international organisations, not only were they
guaranteed their return but also gave them an agency to administer
the construction process. The aim here is not to romanticise refugee
efforts and overlook the adversity and poverty they face but to
encourage a reformation of how we perceive and analyse spaces of

Destruction and the reconstruction of Nahr El Bared (Frearson, 2013)

44 45
As mentioned by Agier (2011, p. 188) Palestinian camps are truly “the As Simon Turner mentioned in his article (2015), “Agamben’s concept
background model for research on present-day camps” and a way of bare life indeed are fruitful but need anchoring empirically” as
for us to look further from the Agambens totalitarian observation through an exploration of these long existing refugee camps we can
of refugee camps and grant us to realise that one cannot overlook “demonstrate that refugees and others exposed to the camp are at
the social and cultural activity that erupts in these spaces of excep- once excluded and marginalised while simultaenously being able to
tion (Agier, 2011) . As for instance, the sovereign’s abandonment of create new identities, communities and political projects” (ibid.,p.147).
Shatila did not evoke ‘bare-life’ and render them the “human waste”
of the system but rather stimulated movement and development.
Upon taking this contemporary observation one can see how due to
location of the camp and unforeseen events, a camp can evolve to
an “multi-ethnic slum” (Knudsen, 2016) whereby an increased social
mobility within the camp influences the urban fabric of the camp and
its surrounding areas thus leading to a leakage into a city. Refugee
camps in this case could also be described as “Heterotopias” (Fou-
cault, 1986) as in contrary to Agambens view that the development
of the camp can only be controlled by the sovereign, Palestinian
refugee camp’s transformation was largely guided by events that
occurred beyond the Lebanese states control and thus executed by
refugees themselves, often with support from international organ-
isations, through the form of spatial violations as orchestrated by
the inhabitants of Burj Al Barajneh or the settlement of Palestinian
refugees outside the camps boundaries as occured in Shatila. One
cannot however disregard the fact that camps due to its exceptional
nature can become sensitive to falling into the embodiment of the
Homo Sacer when facing disaster as depicted through my exploration
of the Urbicide of Nahr El Bared.

However, my exploration also discovered that with time and recuper-

ation this regression to a ‘bare-life’ within the camps can subside
due to the exercise of extreme de-politicisation by the government
which induced a hyper-politicisation of the encampment (Turner,
2015). A political agency can emerge within these spaces of excep-
tion, threatening the intended transient nature of the camp through
various acts of resistance and independence, whether through the
self-reconstruction of the camp by the inhabitants of Ayn El Hilweh
or the people of Shatila generating their own household income by
taking advantage of the large influx of Syrian refugees. All these
observations discovered from a more personal study of the three
refugee camps present a strong conclusion that refugee camps today
cannot be painted by the same brush as a space of ‘bare life’ but
a realm that can evoke resistance and assert change by the very
agents that reside within it.

Proximity between settlements in Burj Al Barajneh (Maqusi, 2016)

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