BOOK REVIEW:Life Lived in Relief — Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics

Refugee narratives beyond those which reach the mainstream media are fraught with complexities, while humanitarian aid remains insufficient. Ilana Feldman’s treatise “Life Lived in Relief — Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics” (University of California Press, 2018) focuses on the discrepancies between the political and purportedly apolitical dynamics of the humanitarian sector.

Feldman’s overview of the 1948 Nakba within the global context of the Second World War and its aftermath reveals an international community, particularly Europe, preoccupied with its own displaced populations. The colonisation of another land, to the detriment of the indigenous — in this case Palestinian — population, was not a priority. Humanitarian relief organised by the international community was pursued as a temporary project alongside the adamant refusal to consider the possibilities of facilitating the return of displaced Palestinians to their land and homes rather than simply expressing its legitimacy in a UN Resolution.

The author describes the dynamics as, “The form that politics takes when it is pursued under the writ of an avowedly non-political, neutral actor; the humanitarian apparatus.” By contrast, however, refugee camps are recognised by Feldman as “sites of politics”. Focusing on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Feldman traces the effects of prolonging humanitarian aid in the absence of a political solution and within a system that refuses to consider refugee politics. Read more.

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