Internationalising Palestine: UNRWA and the Palestinian refugee camps, 1967-82

Irfan, Anne (2019) Internationalising Palestine: UNRWA and the Palestinian refugee camps, 1967-82. Doctoral thesis (PhD), London School of Economics.

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This thesis examines the relationship between the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Palestinian nationalist movement in the refugee camps from 1967-82. It argues that UNRWA had a quasi-governmental role in the camps, and therefore inadvertently helped shape the development of Palestinian political nationalism in these spaces. Despite its formally apolitical standing as a humanitarian UN body, UNRWA’s impact on the ground was politically loaded; it was an international organisation whose work was juxtaposed with the camps’ nationalistic environments. This resulted in a symbiotic process, whereby Palestinian nationalist politics came to influence UNRWA’s work, and vice versa.

Such an outcome was the result of UNRWA’s long-standing intimate involvement with the Palestinian refugee camps, ever since it began operations in 1950 in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. Yet it was also due in part to the agency of the refugees themselves, who were politically active and organised despite their structural disadvantage. When it came to UNRWA, they drew on their limited leverage as beneficiaries and lower-level employees. Just as Israel, the Western donor states and the Arab host states sought to use UNRWA to influence Palestinian politics, so the refugees challenged the Agency whenever they believed it to be acting against their political interests. UNRWA accordingly came to act as an intersection between the international sphere and Palestinian refugee politics.

In examining these dynamics, this thesis highlights the distinctiveness of the Palestinian refugee experience, as encapsulated by UNRWA’s unique institutional nature. It also provides an important case study of themes relevant beyond Palestinian history, including the politics of humanitarianism; the intersection between nationalism and internationalism; and the relationship of identity to territoriality. This thesis thus speaks to modern international history writ large, while also enriching understandings of Palestinian and Levantine history in relation to the refugee camps, the UN and UNRWA.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > History
Subjects: D History
Depositing User: Anne Irfan
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2019 10:52
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48
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