Rant on Humanitarianism

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It is 3am and my left index finger taps involuntarily on the laminate desk because I’ve been told by someone I respect that I am wrong or just crazy (but oh so politely) to find it very strange that the distinction between what is “humanitarian” and what is “developmental” in terms of aid is so arbitrary and from my point of view illogical because (stay with me here) there is a “Humanitarian Imperative” that obliges international actors to provide tents for Palestinians in Gaza and food so they don’t starve, at least not quickly, but there is no “imperative” for those same actors to demand – I’m talking about actions not words – that Israel allow building supplies and equipment in through the checkpoint which they control or that they allow yummy, beautiful, quality Gaza products into the world market so that Palestinians in Gaza can support themselves rather than be 80% dependent on aid (that was a pre-war figure) and please don’t start now about Egypt because OF COURSE Egypt has control over the crossing at Rafah and is complicit in obstructing trade and aid—though never say the word “denying” trade and aid, I don’t know why, maybe because then it’s a crime against humanity? (I am not sure if that is true) and anyway, what does that have to do with the sense of betrayal and isolation and hopelessness that is driving thousands of Palestinians to seek to escape illegally by sea and drowning! drowning! Those young people who stayed alive through the hell of bombardment, the shaking of the ground, the thundering of the skies, the collapse of the world around them for the third time in the last six years and now they so urgently want to escape that they push themselves onto rickety boats (flashing images of Haitians flailing in rough waters), my God, the world is going to hell, and yes I started that last verse with an indictment of Egypt, against whom I feel even more powerless than I do against Israel, which is pretty darn powerless, but this is, obviously, a digression from my main point which had to do with how totally bizarre and sick it seems to me that the “Humanitarian Imperative” is not a HUMAN imperative (forget law now, law makes my head hurt and all those people who say that my arguments are weak because they aren’t grounded in law make my head hurt too because my arguments are grounded in JUSTICE PEOPLE, yes JUSTICE which is an imperative, no?) I mean, isn’t it imperative for us as human beings to prevent the injustices that lead to the humanitarian crises that then invoke the Humanitarian Imperative to respond in very limited ways? (stop telling me that humanitarianism cannot and should not be political and that the whole point and value of humanitarianism is that it is not subject to politics when that only makes sense to me between 9am and 5pm and not at 3am when I can see so clearly that nothing is more political than saying “our job ends when people eat” and I know you’re frustrated that I’m “twisting” what you mean, that we are not limited to humanitarianism but that it protects a minimal space for required intervention on non-political grounds OKAY OKAY I get that but it is sooooooooooooooooooooo not enough in today’s world where we are the perpetrators of the humanitarian crises to say that we are only obligated to respond to the symptoms—and if I am the only one who sees that then I am truly insane) And anyway, isn’t action imperative for us too – to protect the sanctity of our own humanity, if not the law – and what I mean by that is that every time we use this sterile terminology to justify not doing something that we know to be right in our [she pounds very hard on the squishy place above the belly button that processes everything] then we are less, less, less AND the people, in this case Palestinians, that we let down, because they are now absolutely sure that they can’t rely on anybody in the world to hear and realize and act on the fact that they  are suffering terribly (I already said that I know that they are not the only ones in the world!), not due to a tsunami or an earthquake but from the unnecessary and immoral acts of an OECD and UN member state that enjoys all kinds of upgraded trade relations and cultural exchanges and stuff that Gaza is denied, denied, denied, denied, but it is ME I remind you who is naïve and confused when I say that this has got to stop people, the WHOLE mess of inequality and violence—economic, cultural, sexual, physical because it’s so very tiring (if you can’t tell) trying to understand the world we live in today and what my role in it is as someone who is compelled by a Human Imperative and who is angry and disappointed that we’ve found so many legal, professional and administrative ways to not get involved when we’re needed like telling 1.8 million traumatized human beings (who, by the way, would share a piece of bread with you if it was the only thing they had) that “we’re only obligated to provide you with tents and not to use all means necessary to ensure that you live with dignity in homes that are safe and that when you go to the beach you can swim in water that is not polluted by raw sewage and that you feel no compulsion to drown yourself because you feel alone. I want to say to the Palestinians in Gaza, to the Bangladeshi sweat shop workers, to the kids who go to school barefoot in El Salvador, to homeless women on skid row in Los Angeles: you are not alone (and I really wish that someone would tell me that I am not alone at 3am) but then again, I might just be wrong or crazy (but not in the legal sense!).

Nora Lester Murad, PhD, writes fiction and commentary from her home in Jerusalem, Palestine. She has published in Aljazeera, The Guardian, OpenDemocracy, Alliance Magazine, Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, Arabic Literature in English, This Week in Palestine, and more. Her blog, “The View From My Window in Palestine” addresses issues of aid, development and daily life under military occupation. She co-founded the Dalia Association, Palestine's first community foundation, and speaks frequently on the topics of philanthropy and international development. She can be reached at @NoraInPalestine or nora@noralestermurad.com.