All posts by Maen N Owda

Stateless Humanitarianism

As a result of the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were displaced to form refugee camps across the country of Palestine and in neighboring countries like Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Those refugees didn’t have food, shelter, or even water, and therefore, international support was necessary in order to save them from starvation. The United Nations General Assembly resolution (302) took responsibility of this issue, stating that a new agency named UNRWA (United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency) is established to “Prevent conditions of starvation and distress… and to further conditions of peace and stability.” [1]

The complex political situation that resulted from this conflict limited the support the Palestinian refugees should get from health services and agencies. In his article, Doctors, Borders and Life in Crisis, Redfield quotes the charter of the MSF, “M6decins sans frontiers provides aid to people in need, to victims of natural and man-made disasters, wars and civil wars, irrespective of race, religion, ideology or politics” [2] Yet, this does not seem to be applied in the case of Palestinian refugees. The charter later says, “With regard to humanitarian interventions in the Palestinian territories, MSF faces difficulties when the political stakes of the situation do not easily translate into the language of victims and lives saved.” [3] According to the MSF, politics is rather disregarded when humanitarian support is needed, and at the same time members of MSF rarely suggest that their work will directly build a better social order or achieve a state of justice. “The goal is to agitate, disrupt, and encourage others to alter the world by practicing humanitarian medicine, one person at a time.” [4]

Sadly, the humanitarian support the Palestinian refugees received when they were depopulated was only a reaction to save as many lives as possible, rather than an intention to solve the causation of starvation. Palestinian refugees have been receiving basic food supplies on a monthly basis ever since, but this support is not enough to end the suffering they have to go through. Later on, Palestinians spend years inquiring for humanitarian support world wide, yet because those refugees have been stateless, humanitarianism has failed to take them seriously. In her article, Ticktin argues, “Being thrown out of one’s national community means being thrown out of humanity altogether – being stateless deprives one of the essence of humanity – its political character.” And conversely, she suggests that citizenship, a membership in a polity, conveys full belonging in the category humanity; “ humanitarianism protects individuals by virtue of their membership in humanity.” [5]

It is people who decide what they need, what rights are they missing, and the varieties of violations committed against them. Therefore, humanitarian agencies have no right to use politics, religion, or race as an excuse to reach those in need of help, and it is their responsibility to understand the needs of the victims irrespective of the systems forced upon them. As desperate as those stateless Palestinian refugees are for humanitarian support, the Rwandans are also suffering from scarce humanitarian support due to the political situation surrounding them. Ticktin argues, “The hundreds of thousands of people living and dying in awful conditions in the Rwanda-Zaire borderlands know better than anyone else on the scene what they have done, what has happened to them, why, and what they can hope for if they return to Rwanda.” [6] Yet, when voicing their suffering and struggle, Palestinian and Rwandan refugees are not taken lawfully, both because their representatives are governments that do not represent them as peoples, and also because the counter forces upon them are more powerful than they are, leaving them stateless in humanitarianism.


[2] Redfield P. 330

[3] Redfield P. 354

[4] Redfield P. 334

[5] Ticktin P. 44

[6] Ticktin P.392