MESA Book Awards
George Washington University
2019 Fatema Mernissi Book Award Winner
Ilana Feldman’s Life Lived in Relief is a searing look at how the politics of humanitarian aid have trapped Palestinians in a cycle of dependence, even while international politics have halted any viable alternative for Palestinian statehood. Feldman’s research illuminates Palestinian dignity and the indignities that they have faced even as the international community purports to help Palestinians cope with one of the region’s greatest humanitarian crises. This work combines field research along with the bureaucratic and administrative paper trail of relief organizations, coupled with sophisticated analyses drawing on current anthropological models in the field. It is an especially important contribution to a field trying to disentangle the international politics of Palestinian statehood and the lack thereof. Examining seven decades across five fields of assistance, the book explores how humanitarianism shapes societies and how societies shape humanitarianism. Feldman’s careful attention to the gendering of the refugee experience—and humanitarianism’s focus on women—opens new vistas in the research pioneered by Fatema Mernissi.