Palestinian Refugee Experience in a Changing Humanitarian Order

Birzeit University Working Paper 2011/58(ENG)

9 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2012

See all articles by Ilana Feldman

Ilana Feldman

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2011


The length of both the Palestinian refugee condition and the international humanitarian response to this displacement and dispossession makes the Palestinian case distinctive, even exceptional in certain ways. At the same time, this very distinction makes it an extremely useful case through which to consider the transformations in global humanitarianism over the past 60 years. This paper will focus on this longevity and these transformations to consider the impact of living, long-term, in a changing humanitarian landscape on Palestinian community and identity. Given its size and presence across the multiple fields of Palestinian displacement UNRWA is clearly the primary actor in the assistance regime to Palestinians, but it has never been the only one. The paper, therefore, will consider multiple actors and agencies. The paper draws on both archival sources (including UNRWA records) and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

In looking at humanitarian practice particular attention will be given to rations provision, camp structure and infrastructure, and development projects. Each of these forms of assistance is part of a larger humanitarian apparatus. At the same time, each has a slightly different target in its provision of assistance. For rations delivery the first and primary goal is to ensure the physical survival of a population (the target is what is often referred to as “bare life”). Camp structures and infrastructure clearly have a survival aim in mind – as shelter is a basic human need – but this field of humanitarian materials also works on both familial and social life, as the spaces which people occupy (whether domestic or public) directly shape relations in both these realms. For development – whether large-scale works projects or, more recently popular, small-scale and microfinance projects – the idea of progress, not just continuity of life or community, but rather transformation of both, is a principal goal. Each of these forms of humanitarian intervention has been central to the assistance regime for Palestinian refugees over the past sixty years, and each has changed considerably over that time. Investigating Palestinian refugee response to changes in each of these areas illuminates the dynamic process through which humanitarian practice, materials, and discourse have helped shape Palestinian community.

Keywords: Dispossession, Humanitarian, Palestinian Refugees

JEL Classification: F22, O15, R23

Suggested Citation

Feldman, Ilana, Palestinian Refugee Experience in a Changing Humanitarian Order (2011). Birzeit University Working Paper 2011/58(ENG), Available at SSRN: or

Ilana Feldman (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics