Palestine Refugee Camps: Linguistic Perspective

By The Center for Political and Development Studies – Gaza, Palestine

1948 witnessed the mass expulsion of the indigenous people of Palestine as a result of the massacres and the systemic ethnic cleansing operations carried out by Zionist gangs, which resulted in wiping 531 Palestinian villages and cities off the map. Some 750,000 Palestinians ended up in refugee camps inside and outside historical Palestine. There are 60 refugee camps scattered in the Gaza Strip (8), the West Bank (20), Jordan (10), Lebanon (12), Syria (10), Egypt and Iraq (communities which are not registered as refugee camps). Their number is estimated around 6.5 million refugees who belong to villages, towns and cities all over Palestine.

When refugee camps are mentioned, the scenes of misery and deprivation jump to mind. Alleys, sewage, tin houses, kids in the streets, some bare footed, women chatting, others cooking, jobless men taking positions next to their houses, and above all, the dream of return hanging on the camp’s rusty walls and sandy streets, all are scenes associated to displacement. They are a direct consequence of the occupation, but that’s not the entire story.

Palestinian refugees belong to 531 villages and towns which spoke distinctive Arabic accents. These villages are scattered geographically from Ras Alnagoura (today’s Rosh HaNikra) on the Palestine-Lebanon borders to Um Alrashrash (today’s Eilat) on the Red Sea. Today, they live in refugee camps of people coming from all these places with various cultural backgrounds and accents, not greatly different from each other.

To further illustrate, refugees in Gaza were expelled from 247 villages in historical Palestine. Let’s take Alnuseirat refugee camp as an example. The 85,000 refugees living here today are the descendants of refugees who were kicked out from dozens of villages surrounding what is known  as the Gaza Strip including Majdal, Ber Sabaa, Yibna, Bit Daras, Barqa, Aqer, Mghar, Hirbyia, Breer, Lod, Iraq Swidan villages and the list goes on. Their accent is diverse. Refugees live in almost the same conditions, yet they are still identifiable by their town of origin’s accent. Linguistically speaking, the refugee camp is a small community of people who speak accents one could find all over historical Palestine.

In Alnuseirat refugee camp, the Arabic word “GAL” for “said” is pronounced in four different ways by three different refugee neighbors. It’s “Gal” for many refugees, basically for those who belong to villages; it’s “Gul” for people who belong to Bir Alsabaa and the Negev Desert Area; it’s “Aal” for those who used to reside in cities such as Jaffa and Lod; and it’s “Kal” for refugees from Almajdal.

Occupation has affected the Palestinian society linguistically. This is not limited to the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The same is applicable to Palestinians who live in other countries. Many Palestinians living in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq ended up with new accents, adjusting to their new country of residence.

A Political-Linguistic reality has emerged as a result of the Israeli occupation. The future Palestinian society will be distinctive linguistically. Let’s imagine how a society which lived for decades in other countries will look like, linguistically and culturally. This man-made linguistic reality deserves more research in the context of displacement and occupation.

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