This paper examines representations of “self” embodied in the life histories of women members of a Palestinian refugee camp community in Lebanon. Stereotypes of “self” are inherently ambivalent (Guttman 1988) as sites of both subjection and resistance. This ambivalence is strongly exemplified around the Palestinian refugee identity (to submit or to resist?); and again, though in different terms, for women members of refugee communities. (In camps, gender conservatism was multi-sourced, forming a link with Palestine, a boundary differentiating Palestinians from the “host” population, and resistance to coercive change.) The Palestinian resistance movement, like other twentieth-century anti-colonialist national movements, rigidified gender “tradition” as a key element of cultural nationalism, while political and economic mobilization gave women new scope for action and for “voice.” The life stories of women of Shatila camp, recorded soon after its destruction during the “Battle of the Camps” (1995–98), reveal “self” stereotypes that express historic continuity with Palestine as well as the specificity of Lebanon as diaspora region, characterized by PLO autonomy from 1970 to 1982, and high levels of violence against camp Palestinians in particular. Analysis of the “self” stereotypes (and of their absence) points to a “collectivization” of personal narratives, as well as factors such as social status, age, educational level and degree of patriotism that differentiate the speakers in terms of presentation of the “self” and narrative coherence. Clear challenges to gender ideology are present in two of the life stories.

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