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Shatila, The Twilight World

Armando Perna

Northern Palestinian villages during the war with Israel, rises between Ghobeiry, a shiite neighborhood of the Southern suburbs, and the sunni stronghold of Tariq el Jdide. It is characterized by an exceptionally high population density and by extremely bad environmental and health conditions. The expression “twilight world” refers both to a metaphorical and material condition: the “twilight world” of the refugee invokes liminality, being “between the light of humanity and culture and the darkness of the precipice on which these refugees are poised” (J. Peteet, Landscape of hope and despair). In one hand we have in fact the status of the refugee, as it was conferred by the UNHCR, which is a category of person in international law and, as an object of intervention, is constituted, regulated and legitimized by the aid regimes. The refugees are therefore classified as spatially and culturally liminal, as deterritorialize people in need of humanitarian intervention. On the other hand the condition of the Palestinian refugee has always been a strongly politicized one. Especially during the 1970s and early 1980s, the resistance movement wielded considerable power and was able to built a network of Palestinian social institutions, autonomous from the outside sources of aid. The Palestinian, as a political subject, was seen as a repository of legitimate aspirations and owner of an own identity.

The history of the Palestinian refugees until the 80s took therefore place on the boundary between the depersonalization of the international aid regime and the claim for an identity manifested through the resistance movement. The PLO’s 1982 withdrawal from Lebanon and the subsequent “war of the camps” against the Amal movement, permanently altered this balance: in the 90s the policy of the Lebanese government toward the refugees has become extremely discriminatory and the Palestinian cause very unpopular to Lebanese people.

In order to give a contribution to the comprehension of such a complex theme, I’ve decided to structure the project on three levels. First a series of descriptive large format images realized from an high point of view with the aim of placing the theme within a spatial context. Through the observation of these images the extreme population density, the fact that the houses are literally built one on another, emerges as a fundamental matter of fact. The ground level dialogue with the first as a specification of its meaning. The almost frozen environments are a metaphor of a situation that, created in 1948 as a temporary, has become final and has condemned the Palestinians to live in a limbo since which they are a long way from finding a way out.

With the third level, ongoin, I bring my glance inside this temporary yet stabile environments and close to its inhabitants.

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