Gendering Al-Nakba : Elderly Palestinian Refugees' Stories and Silences about Dying Children

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This article builds on the life-stories of elderly Palestinian refugees, collected in the West Bank in 2003-2004. It discusses accounts about flight in 1948 (i.e. al-Nakba) and pays particular interest to stories as well as silences about dying children. The article argues that men and women remembered their flight differently and that the gendered experiences of flight influenced understandings of both the past and the present as well as ideals of motherhood and fatherhood. Both the elderly men's and women's stories contained self-blame and humiliation, but also attempts to counter accusations from other Palestinians. Claims that the refugees did not face any violence or that women forgot their children, as well as the way the elderly explained such charges, point at the struggle to create a coherent narrative of self and the past in situations of continuous uncertainty. Women were more successful in trying to save face than men, since in their stories they kept to their children no matter what. According to these women, the threat towards Palestinian children did not only come from Israel, but also from Palestinian men who asked mothers to abandon their child. The elderly men were not very outspoken in their stories, which remain more ambiguous than women's accounts. Some elements in stories about flight tell us more about the present than about the past. The stories and silences about dying children mirror concerns about how to be a good parent at the time of fieldwork and about recent cases of infants dying at checkpoints.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-126
JournalSt Antony's International Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Anthropology

Free keywords

  • Palestinians
  • refugees
  • flight
  • oral history
  • memory
  • political violence
  • Israel-Palestinian conflict


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