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The humanitarian imperative under fire

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This paper explores how speakers manage the dilemmatic tension between competing demands for accountability in mundane explanations of humanitarian assistance in settings of armed conflict. Taking as analytic data talk recorded in interviews with the personnel of aid agencies and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), we examine how demands for both non-partisan impartiality, on the one hand, and sympathetic alignment with the victims (or losing parties) of armed conflict, on the other, feature in the explanations that humanitarian aid workers formulate to account for their professional activities. While non-partisanship features as a source of legitimacy given that humanitarian assistance is regarded as a response to universal human suffering, the source of that suffering in armed conflict necessitates recognition of the antagonist-protagonist and victim relationship in order for aid recipients to be identified. Everyday accounts of aid work function to mitigate the otherwise mutually exclusive relationship between competing assumptions that inform the logic of humanitarian assistance.
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Keywords: Palestine/Israel; accountability; armed conflict; discourse analysis; ideological dilemma; non-governmental organization (NGO)

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 15, 2009

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