Ilana Feldman is Associate Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University. She is the author of Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-67 (Duke University Press, 2008) and In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University, 2010; co-edited with Miriam Ticktin). Her current research traces the Palestinian experience with humanitarianism in the years since 1948, exploring both how this aid apparatus has shaped Palestinian social and political life and how the Palestinian experience has influenced the broader post-war humanitarian regime.

Lecture: “Political Life and Humanitarian Assistance: Palestinian Refugee Claims and Conditions”
Monday June 4, 2012 at 10:00 – Campus in Camps Al Feneiq Center, Dheisheh Refugee Camp

In 1948, approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes, going both to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and to the parts of Mandate Palestine that became the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Today, there are 4.6 million refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [UNRWA], the agency charged with providing assistance to Palestinians across the Middle East. What it is to be a Palestinian refugee is shaped by a political geography of displacement, by dynamics within this dispersed community, and by humanitarian action. The Palestinian refugee community constitutes one of the largest and longest-lasting refugee populations in the world. The causes of both its creation and its longevity are subjects of tremendous political contention – and neither of these questions is my subject here. Rather I want to explore the dynamics of long- term humanitarianism – looking particularly at the politics of living within a humanitarian space.

My talk is part of a larger project in which I am working across the area of UNRWA operations to explore the effects of more than sixty years of living in a humanitarian order on Palestinian community and political life. Here I focus primarily on Jordan and a refugee camp near Jerash populated by a group of Palestinians with a very particular history of double- displacement. Part of what I seek to understand is what happens as humanitarianism moves from crisis response to a condition of life. Humanitarian practice clearly shifts from disaster relief – provision of food, clothing, emergency shelter – to efforts that look more like social service work and development projects. How are people and communities shaped by this transformation and by living – long-term – in a humanitarian condition?

Reading Materials

Quaker Way [ENG]

In this article, I consider the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) relief project in Gaza (1948–50) to explore ethical dilemmas that are endemic to humanitarianism…

Home as a Refrain [ENG]

This article explores the “refrain of home” among Palestinian refugees in Gaza in the first years after their displacement in 1948…

Gaza’s Humanitarianism Problem – JPS [ENG]

This essay explores the possible negative consequences of identifying the current situation in Gaza primarily as a humanitarian problem…

Difficult Distinctions [ENG]

The almost four-and-a-half million people who are formally registered with the UN Relief andWorks Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)…

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