Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Concrete tent embodies contradictions of Palestine refugee life 2015


A newly constructed concrete tent in the Duheisha refugee camp south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. (MaanImages/Alex Shams)
By: Alex Shams
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Bethlehem’s Duheisha refugee camp on Friday officially became home to a new community center housed in an unexpected but albeit quite familiar structure for local residents: a refugee tent constructed entirely out of concrete and mesh.

The concrete tent is located in the Edward Said Garden of the al-Feniq cultural center near the camp, and has been dubbed by its creators as a “gathering space for communal learning.”

The design pays homage to the history of camp’s 15,000 residents by recalling their ancestors’ struggle after they were forced to flee their homes in villages west of Jerusalem in 1948 by Zionist militias, a part of the total of approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes in what many historians have called “ethnic cleansing.”

At the same time, however, the structure challenges the idea of the temporariness of refugee camps, highlighting their increasing permanence and the importance of the camp’s history of struggle and resistance since 1948 by “embracing the contradictions of an architectural form that emerges from exile.”

To do so, the structure’s creators insist, does not detract from refugees’ right to return to their original villages inside what is now Israel.

Instead, they say, it emphasizes the strength of the community and culture that have been formed as a result of nearly seven decades in exile, as well as their continued insistence on reclaiming their stolen homes and land.

Children run outside of the concrete tent in the Duheisha refugee camp south of Bethlehem. (Campus in Camps/Sara Anna)
'It reveals the contradictions in which we live'

The concrete tent is the brainchild of Campus in Camps, a year-long “experimental education program” for refugee youths from across the West Bank that focuses on issues related to urbanism, space, and lived experience in the refugee camps. The project is affiliated with DAAR, the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency based in nearby Beit Sahour.

Ishaq Albarbary, a participant in Campus in Camps from Bethlehem’s Duheisha refugee camp, told the crowd assembled at the structure’s inauguration after a collective iftar on Friday that the concrete tent was a result of three years of “discussion, reflection, and of challenging ourselves.”

“The nature of our work at Campus in Camps is to connect the practical and the theoretical,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t want the discussion to always be internal between ourselves, and so we decided to something material to open a space for discussion about and for the society in which we live.“

The concrete tent is not being presented as a solution. On the contrary, it reveals the contradictions we live in,” he added, noting that they hoped it would be used for meetings, discussions, and leisure.

Construction of permanent structures in the refugee camps is an ideologically-charged issue for Palestinians, as many refugees see any hint of permanence in their surroundings as a tacit admission that they will not return to the villages their families were expelled from.

Since the camps’ humble start as a collection of UN-donated tents in the late 1940s and early 1950s, however, they have been dramatically transformed. In the years after the establishment of the camps, residents slowly began building mud walls and later adding cinder blocks and eventually...READ MORE

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