Baddawi Camp, Lebanon

Hosted by

Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Oxford University
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, UCL
The Baddawi Camp Cultural Club, Project Partner

Text Authors

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh with Imagining Futures Team

The Baddawi Camp Lab approaches egalitarian archiving practice through developing the hosts’ existing engagement with ruination (Qasmiyeh 2019) and rhizoanalysis (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2019a/b) and building on materials shared by the Tanzania Lab team. The Lab provides opportunities to reflect on a series of historical, social and conceptual connections between Baddawi Camp and some of the themes and sites explored by the Tanzania Team, especially with regards to forms of archiving multiple narratives and sites of remembrance. This has already been explored following a pilot visit in July 2019, with a number of gatherings and creative writing workshops scheduled for spring 2020. With a view to building synergies with the Tanzanian sites, the Baddawi Camp Lab will facilitate 3 intersecting case-studies. These act as catalysts to building our approach for a cross-context methodology for egalitarian archiving and testing its transferability across sites and moments.

1: Travelling and stagnant ruination in the colonial prisons in Tanzania and the UNRWA and PLO and bomb shelters in Baddawi Camp. Through interviews, oral histories, (popular and institutional) archival analysis, creative writing, and photography, this case-study will examine the past, present and futures/legacies of the UNRWA and PLO bomb shelters in Baddawi Camp, placing them into conversation with the team’s analysis of colonial prisons in Tanzania. We are particularly interested in how these sites (shelters and prisons) have been transformed into places of ruination whereby pasts and presents continuously meet and diverge as they ponder their respective futures. During the 1970s-90s (in response to frequent Israeli air raids and Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian infighting), Baddawi Camp‘s UNRWA schools had individual bomb shelters. These were destroyed and repurposed as the foundations of these schools during subsequent reconstructions. The schools were in turn later used, inter alia, by people displaced from Nahr el-Bared camp in 2007 (which was razed to the ground by the Lebanese military) and from Syria since 2011. During the same period, the PLO built and/or funded the construction of bomb shelters in the camp. We argue that the in-built UNRWA shelters were spaces which at once confirmed that the camp and its residents (and political projects) were under actual and imminent attack, and were subsequently demolished by UNRWA as a means of both nullifying the prospect of attack and ‘neutralising’ the political situation in the camp. Through their demolition, the UNRWA bomb shelters have provided the physical foundations for schools which have educated different groups of displaced children, thereby continuing to play a key role in the ‘imagined futures’ of the youngest generation of people residing in Baddawi Camp. In contrast, the PLO bomb shelters – whose keys are held by the camp’s Popular Committee – remain as ‘ghost’ sites in situ in the camp. Since it has been impossible (for political and infrastructural reasons) to demolish and redevelop them, the past, present and future of these shelters remains unexplored to date.

2: Finding the African-Palestinian and the Palestinian-African in Baddawi Camp. The area of the Upper Camp where the UNRWA schools (and hence bomb shelters) are situated is also Hay al-Muhajarin: the neighbourhood which is home to Palestinians of African descent who were displaced (mainly from al-Nabatieh camp) to Baddawi Camp in the 1970s. This case-study will focus on the multiple past, present and (imagined) future connections between Baddawi Camp and diverse people and places from different regions of Africa. It is widely acknowledged that Afro-Palestinians/Black Palestinians are a particularly under-researched group of Palestinians (writ large and including in Lebanon), and this case-study will ensure that the diverse constituents of the camp and/as archive are at the forefront of our analysis. A further link with Africa, and specifically with Tanzania, is its role in hosting Palestinian intellectuals and leaders in exile form the 1960s. This case-study will engage critically with the ways that displacement inheres other displacements by focusing on multiple and overlapping histories.

3: Trauma and Space in Baddawi. This case-study relates to the Tanzanian team’s reference from their pilot to the “trauma-filled abandoned cotton fields (believed not to be any longer cultivated precisely because of trauma rooted there)”, and explores how and why certain spaces historically associated with violence and trauma have come to form the foundations of the contemporary refugee camp and its neighbouring area (Jebel al-Baddawi). In addition to the UNRWA and PLO bomb shelters, we will examine how liminal spaces on the threshold of the camp – such as the Zeitun (olive) groves, Jebal (hill/mountain) groves and football pitches – have been transformed by both Palestinian and Lebanese publics into old-new spaces of memory and imagined futures.