Historically, Islamic sharia courts across the Ottoman empire used a document called a hujja for registering property transactions. In present-day Jordan hujaj are illegal, yet in Palestinian refugee camps hujaj continue to be used for inheritance, buying and selling houses, and demonstrating occupancy. This is particularly true in camps unrecognized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and deemed “squatter settlements” by Jordanian host authorities. This article contributes to the emerging study of property rights in Palestinian camps by focusing on the links between Ottoman property regimes, contemporary territorial claims, and legal pluralism. Using the case of a Palestinian camp built on land owned by the descendants of Ottoman Circassian refugees, the article illustrates how, on the one hand, Palestinians use hujaj to facilitate inhabitation of the camp; and how, on the other hand, private property rights intersect with the competing claims of refugees and the state, whose overriding power changed after the events of Black September in 1970. By historicizing the material processes of refugee land tenure and property creation, the article challenges the assumption that contested camps are part of the “informal” growth of Middle Eastern cities, thus, bringing so-called squatter settlements back into refugee studies, Palestine studies, and Ottoman studies.

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