Palestinians’ Sense of Belonging

Kotono SHIGA

1. Introduction

What are the main elements that form the Palestinian society? Investigating about this problématique revealed that the civil society in the Palestinian autonomous region and outside this region have a totally different basis. This article compares the differences between them to understand how their sense of belonging to the society is formed both inside and outside of Palestine.


2. The Palestinian Autonomous Region

  In Palestine, local communities play a great role in people’s daily life. That can be attributed to the structure of the Palestinian civil society. What forms the civil society in Palestine can be divided into three groups: the traditional clan system, modern NGOs / POs and local governments of the Palestinian authority. Those three have different roles, origins, structures and backgrounds even though they are influenced by each other to form the society.

  In the Palestinian society, especially in terms of their daily life, clans are the main organizations to meet the needs of inhabitants. The Palestinian autonomous region has experienced governance by Britain, Jordan (for the West Bank), Egypt (for the Gaza Strip) and Israel and none of them were eager to formulate for Palestinians how to construct infrastructure system inside the society. Because of the lack of formal infrastructure, the Palestinian society needed the clan system as an informal organization that help people who cannot receive the public service. In addition, the governance of the autonomous region by the Israeli army conducted in a way isolating community from each other, the connections inside the community was strongly reinforced.

  Even though clan communities are spontaneously formed entities based on traditional conventions, they have an organized structure. Many clans have an administrative body called Diwan, which is a committee consisting of male representatives. Diwan’s main role to exchange information about families in a clan to decide how to support them and offering them financial supports from the budget they manage. However at the same time, the fact that the members of the Diwan committee are only males shows that this system still maintains Palestinian traditional gender values of patriarch which has different views from the modern social system of the West that puts an emphasis on gender equality.

  One of characteristics of the Palestinian society is that they have both traditional patriarchal aspects represented by the clan system and Westernized structures established by NGOs or POs. Many NGOs and POs acting in Palestine have become bigger with the support of other countries mainly from Western Europe, and imported their values into Palestine. Even though their basic values are totally different from those of the clan system, the backgrounds of their development are similar: the lack of public service. On the one hand, the clan system evolved in order to offer help to people out of public service and on the other hand NGOs and POs became important for conducting the services that are supposed to be provided by a public sector such as medical fields and educational fields. However, since many of them have their bases in other countries, their support in Palestine tends to be just temporary or supplementary to public service. Thus, in a long term, the other two, the clan system and local governments with a firm basis in Palestine are indispensable while NGOs and POs are mostly important to offer those services to the large number of people.

  Finally, local governments are strongly connected to the clan system. Because Palestinian local communities basically consist of clans and the local governments are often formed by representatives from the clans, the thoughts of the clans in a community can be reflected in decisions of its local government. Furthermore, a local government can be less powerful than clans. In some regions, local governments have a fiscal problem and they can do little more than to invite projects from outside the community without being able to carry out projects by themselves; thus their existence becomes more nominal.

  In total, the informal clan system has an enormous influence people’s life in the Palestinian society even though there exist other significant entities and thus the clan-based communities people belong to have a strong presence in their mind. This situation contributes to forming the Palestinians’ sense of belonging to their clan or local community.


3. Outside the Region

  To the contrary, for Palestinians living outside Palestine, the home land is Palestine itself rather than each community inside the region. To take an example of Palestinians in Jordan, a country in which there is a large population of Palestinians, they do not necessarily form a big community of all Palestinians. They have respective communities according to their revenues and jobs, and these communities do not have connections with others. In spite of that, they have a fellow feeling for other Palestinians. It is because they are united by their sense of belonging to Palestine. The reason why they just consider themselves as Palestinians and not people from a certain local community is that many of them have never been in Palestine. The majority of them were born in Jordan with a Jordanian citizenship that made it impossible for them to enter the regions under the control of Israel. For them, Palestine is defined in opposition to the existence of other nation-states. In other words, they are tied together by an imaginary Palestine. Their sense of belonging to Palestine is supported by their personal stories or relationships. Tragic stories experienced by someone close to them around their exile from their homeland strengthen their emotional attachment to the region and for those who have relatives in Palestine, the familial relations also work as a joint. The personal relationships between individuals or families, which form a community strong enough to be an object of people’s sense of belonging in Palestine, is just an intermediation between people and their homeland once they have left it.


3. Conclusion

   The Palestinian civil society has a complex structure, with three major entities: informal communities based on individual or familial relationship, NGOs and POs whose created in other countries, and formal administrative organizations. The strongest one can be thought to be the informal system. It is strongly traditional but also practical because Palestinians need such informal communities to offer mutual assistance to each other under the political and economic confusion. These strong communities at a local level made them feel they belong to each community more than to the country. However, to the contrary, for Palestinians who were forced to get out of Palestine, the homeland they belong to is the country itself. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that many of them have never been in the actual land of Palestine. Palestine is an imaginary concept, or the opposite notion of other countries because they cannot eliminate the existence of other countries in their head as long as they feel that they are forced to live in another country. Their attachment to the home land unites them as Palestinians even if they do not have connection with one another. What attaches them to their home land is mainly personal stories or familial relationships and the strength of this informal community can be similar to the society inside Palestine, but it is different in that informal connections are just connecting people outside Palestine to their homeland while those connections themselves are an object of sense of belonging for Palestinians living on this homeland.



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