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You are here: Home Research Resources Expert Guides Palestinian refugee children What Have We Learned?

What Have We Learned?

The preliminary research findings clearly suggest the need for practitioners and policy makers working with children and adolescents to be aware of the broader context of extended family, kin, neighbours, and community. The general patterns which have emerged are, without exception, mediated by the specific historical, political and economic realities in the most recent place of temporary settlement for Palestinian refugees.

Sampled Populations

Families were selected purposively to be reasonably representative of the refuge population in terms of socio-economic measures. The access to the families was negotiated through the personal contacts of the research teams, who were all Palestinian refugees themselves and with the cooperation of UNRWA. The emphasis on transparency, the effort to explain the aims of the research to children and adults like, and the informality of the participatory research process contributed to a high degree of repetition of themes by the sampled population and thus a presumed reliability of findings.

Common Themes Raised by Adolescents

Among the themes which emerged across all five field sites were:

  • Concerns about their identity as Palestinians, refugees, camp residents, and Muslims or Christians were widespread. In Jordan, the national policy of naturalization of Palestinians has created a split population. The middle class Palestinian family tends to be well- integrated into Jordanian society, while the lower classes identify more with the general Palestinian refugee population.


  • Palestinian refugee camp populations are intermarrying. This phenomenon appears to be tied to the widespread feeling of discrimination as refugees among host country's populations.


  • Most youth considered emigration a viable option to improve their lives. It is also raised an expression of loss of confidence in a just settlement in the Israeli / Palestinian conflict (in the Syrian data emigration did not emerge as a major theme, perhaps because of a greater sense of solidarity with the rest of the host population's sense of oppression).


  • The sense of gender discrimination among adolescent girls emerged in most of the field reports.


  • Education emerged as an important theme throughout, though the push to gain higher education was treated with reluctance by some. This was due to a growing perception that the lack of jobs available to Palestinians in the market, or the low pay that they could expect, was discouraging greater efforts by adolescents to carry on in school. In some field sites, places in UNRWA schools were highly sought (Lebanon), in others they were spurned (Jordan).


  • Violence in schools and in the home, as well as gender-related abuse was reported, but it was difficult to determine whether this is on the rise or a persistent long-term problem. Each generation discussed the tradition of beating as punishment in school and at home in order to control unsocial behaviour or to force girls into accepting decisions made on their behalf by their elders. It emerges that these behavioural traits are accepted as part of tradition, though increasingly abhorred by youth.


  • A distorted and unclear perception of Palestinian history emerged from many of the interviews. There was a tendency to confuse dates and names of ruling monarchs. Furthermore the interval between 1967 and 1990 seemed to elicit no sense of any occurrence of importance to Palestinians. This general topic is directly related to the lack of any Palestinian curriculum in the UNRWA schools in all of the five field sites. Up until the last few years UNRWA schools were only allowed to follow the national curriculum and hence the interpretation of history of the country in which the building was located. Recently, international pressure on UNRWA schools in Lebanon has resulted in some effort to teach Palestinian history along side Lebanese history in these schools.


  • Political activism of youth both girls and boys, particularly during the Intifada, was widespread and a source of prestige among their peers. This active participation in political events has emerged as a major coping mechanism, giving youth a sense of hope, if not choice in determining their future.

The themes above can be grouped into three broad subject headings:

A. Family-Kin Relations

B. Status and Position

C. Manifestations of Identity

A. Family-Kin Relations

  • Discrimination between the sexes was prominent

    • Girls faced restricted movement and freedom of expression

    • Girls have a heavy workload at home

    • Parents are more forgiving to males

    • Educational opportunities go to boys first

    • Gender and birth order are important in power relations


  • Communications between the generation remain strong

    • Family gathering are becoming less frequent

    • Changing concepts of needs, opinions, and ambitions,

    • Sacrifice for family members still common

    • Abuse at home, verbal, physical, and psychological persists

    • Mainly on children, youth and mothers, parents on children, husbands on wives, boys on girls.


  • Transmission of Palestinian identity across generations remains important

    • Presence of generation '1' who fled Palestine in 1948 crucial

    • Generation '2' is less informed about Palestine

    • Generation '3' knows the village name, but otherwise knowledge is second hand and very vague.


  • Marriage and Moral Codes reinforce traditional beliefs

    • Early, 'arranged' marriage is widespread (especially in the West Bank and Gaza)

    • Honour crimes are reported in West Bank, Gaza and Jordan

    • Veiling has multiplicity of purposes and sometimes provides more freedom of movement to girls

B. Status and Position

  • Unemployment of parents and of youth consistently raised as major concern

    • Unavailability of jobs,

    • Discrimination in hiring


  • Limited and overcrowded educational facilities

    • Limited capacity for vocational training

    • Absence of physical education, extremely limited playing area

    • No libraries, no computer labs,

    • Limited chances for university education (Gaza and Lebanon)


  • Physical environment is overcrowded, lacking privacy or green space

    • Camps overcrowded and growing vertically

    • Poor sanitation, and no public services

    • Overcrowded homes, no privacy, no open spaces

    • No public libraries, no playing areas, no clubs for girls


  • Limited legal rights are unequal depending upon country of residence

    • No civil rights in Lebanon, full rights in Syria and Jordan

    • Restrictions on travel in Jordan, Gaza and West Bank

    • Inequality between refugees and non-refugees in Gaza

    • No participation in decision making related to their future

C. Manifestations of Identity

  • Sense that collective identity of Palestinians in under threat post-Oslo

  • Heterogeneous character of Palestinians also undermines collective identity

  • Identity is constrained by lack of ownership of physical space


Manifestations of identity that act as coping activities for Palestinian refugee children and youth within the field sites
Jordan West Bank/Gaza Lebanon Syria
  • football teams

  • identification with village of origin

  • demonstrations

  • discussion of political situation

  • intifada talk/action

  • rejection of Oslo

  • focus on right of return

  • talk of discrimination

  • demonstrations

  • idea of homeland return

  • dialect

  • as camp dweller

  • child labour (sacrifice)

  • dropping out of school

  • violence

  • Discrimination

  • Refugees vs. residents

  • 'demographic struggle'

  • child labour

  • gangs

  • marrying a visa

  • child labour

  • frustration

  • rejecting Palestinian dress

  • food and dialect

  • appropriating Islamic dress

  • naming streets

  • festivals

  • Palestinian cable TV

  • Games

  • Dialect and food

  • Dialect

  • Exhibitions

  • festivals

  • national days

Last updated Sep 23, 2011