Palestinian Studies

2019 Workshop

Caitlin Procter

Visiting Research Fellow, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University

Investing in the Future? Practices of Home-making in Post-2014 Gaza

During the 2014 Israeli military attack on Gaza, more that 17,800 homes were either severely damaged or destroyed outright, causing the internal displacement of approximately 100,000 Palestinians. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM) was established as a temporary tripartite agreement between the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations, and the Israeli government to “govern” the reconstruction of Gaza after 2014. Aside from serving to institutionalize Israel’s blockade, the immediate failures of the GRM are clear: as of mid-2018, more than 22,000 people (around 4,162 families) in Gaza are still without a home.

Many of these displaced families in Gaza live either in only partially reconstructed buildings or with extended families. The levels of overcrowding are immense and often upwards of twenty people will be sharing a “shelter,” or a home, with only one bedroom. As a result, many of these families are regularly on the move between different spaces to live in. Minimal temporary shelter-cash-assistance continues to be provided to some families by the humanitarian community, but funding cuts, particularly in the wake of those instigated by the Trump administration, are increasingly limiting the availability of these funds. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, approximately two-thirds of Gazans who have been displaced since 2014 have received no housing support at all. Taking the concept of “Shelter Vulnerability Surveys” conducted by the UN and international NGOs as a starting point, this paper considers how Gazan families, and in particular Gazan youth, conceptualize practices of home-making in the aftermath of the 2014 attack and in the midst of continued threats of a resurgence of Israeli military attacks. What makes a “shelter” a “home”? And to what extent does “home-making” or investment in building a home in a context of existential precarity become less important than other kinds of planning for the immediate or longer-term future?

This paper is based on ethnographic research conducted with young families who are unable to live in their own “homes” in Gaza. Drawing on research primarily focused on

irregular migration networks, this paper brings an analytical focus on what investments in the future have come to mean among Gazan youth and their families, and where ideas of home and home-making sit within this frame. Particular attention is paid to the generational dynamics in this argument, as family members weigh the investments they are willing to make in building and establishing new homes against the amount of money required to migrate out of Gaza through irregular passages. I argue that, given the precarity of the everyday in Gaza, investing in irregular migration, or “imagined home-making” in another land, becomes a greater priority than home-making in Gaza today. As such, this paper suggests that drawing on home-making practices as an analytic is an illuminating way to understand the extent to which youth in Gaza assess their options for the future. This contributes to ongoing debates around what a “conclusion” of a project of de-development looks like, and has deep implications for understanding the intimate connection between home, migration, and nationalist orthodoxies

Caitlin Procter completed her DPhil in International Development at the University of Oxford (Refugee Studies Center). She conducted eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork for her doctorate, which focused on explaining the choices of Palestinian refugee youth in East Jerusalem to apply for Israeli citizenship. During her doctoral fieldwork, she spent four months in Gaza conducting preliminary research which now forms the basis of her work at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. Caitlin is currently based in Gaza, where she is doing research on irregular migration networks and refugee youth migration aspirations. A second, related theme of her current research is on documenting and understanding the implications of UNRWA de-funding in Gaza and in particular the growing political power of UNRWA staff unions in Gaza. Together, her work contributes more broadly to growing debates surrounding shifting nationalist orthodoxies in Palestine today, particularly as related to refugee youth.