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Punctuated Humanitarianism: Palestinian Life between the Catastrophic and the Cruddy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 April 2016

Ilana Feldman
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; e-mail: ifeldman@gwu.edu
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Extract

With a more than sixty-seven-year displacement, the Palestinian refugee case is an extreme instance of a widespread phenomenon: the need for humanitarian organizations that are oriented toward emergency to respond to circumstances that are “protracted.” Humanitarian practice does change as needs on the ground change, but long-term need and displacement poses both definitional and practical challenges for this work. The broad trajectory of Palestinian refugee experience has moved from “crisis” to chronic needs—what Elizabeth Povinelli calls “cruddy” conditions. Povinelli specifically contrasts suffering that is “catastrophic, crisis-laden, and sublime” with that which is “ordinary, chronic, and cruddy.” Palestinians share experiences of poverty and immobility with others around the world who are part of what is sometimes referred to as the “precariat.” It is this sort of suffering, which often persists below the threshold of an “event,” that Povinelli terms cruddy.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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References

1 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for instance, estimates that two-thirds of the global refugee population experience protracted displacement. See Zetter, Roger and Long, Katy, “Unlocking protracted displacement,” Forced Migration Review 40 (2012): 3437Google Scholar.

2 Povinelli, Elizabeth A., Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 On precarity and “the precariat,” see Breman, Jan, “A Bogus Concept?,” New Left Review 84 (2013):130–38Google Scholar; Butler, Judith, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004)Google Scholar; Denning, Michael, “Wageless Life,” New Left Review 66 (2010): 7997Google Scholar; and Gorgi, Gabriel, “Improper Selves: Cultures of Precarity,” Social Text 31 (2013): 6981CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Feldman, Ilana, “Looking for Humanitarian Purpose: Endurance and the Value of Lives in a Palestinian Refugee Camp,” Public Culture 27 (2015): 427–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Bill Corcoran, “Gaza Trip Report,” September 2014, accessed 1 December 2015, http://www.anera.org/stories/gaza-trip-report-september-2014/.

6 “Gaza Strip Emergency,” UNRWA, accessed 1 December 2015, http://www.unrwa.org/what-we-do/gaza-strip-emergency?program=43.

7 Feldman, Ilana, “The Humanitarian Condition: Palestinian Refugees and the Politics of Living,” Humanity 3 (2012): 155–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Redfield, Peter, “The Unbearable Lightness of Expats: Double Binds of Humanitarian Mobility,” Cultural Anthropology 27 (2012): 358–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 “UNRWA Programs,” UNRWA, accessed 1 December 2015, http://www.unrwausa.org/page.aspx?pid=394.

10 Rania el Hilou, “Crisis in Gaza: A Daily Journal,” July–August 2014, accessed 1 December 2015, http://www.anera.org/stories/crisis-in-gaza-2014-a-daily-journal/.

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