NGOs in Gaza: Humanitarianism vs. Politics by Hugo Slim

Hugo Slim

Hugo Slim, author of Killing Civilians: Method, Madness, and Morality in War, recently published an essay in Open Democracy arguing that the noble urge of aid agencies to support Palestinians is too often compromised by a blind eye to uncomfortable realities.

In the article, “NGOs in Gaza: humanitarianism vs politics,” Slim argues that some NGOs have compromised their stated mission of trying to help those in need by “taking sides” with the Palestinians:

This professional obligation is increasingly compromised by the trend for modern NGOs to bend complex political realities into a classic liberal schema of righteous victim and malevolent oppressor. This satisfying trope can then allow self-mandated civil-society groups to use their aura of humanitarian impartiality to promote a partisan attitude. NGOs tend to do this wherever they are; but some humanitarian workers find it hard to maintain standards of professional independence where the Palestinians in particular are concerned.

Slim argues that not only do some NGOs overlook the atrocities caused by Hamas but their declared solidarity for the Palestinians perpetuates Palestine’s dependency on outsiders:

The tragedy of this misguided support is that it does the cause of Palestinian autonomy so little good. Arguably, Palestinian politics is overly dependent on outside solidarity, sympathy and gifts. More “solidarity” is the last thing the Palestinians need because it reinforces a sort of “rentier politics” dominated by small cliques – something that does nothing to cultivate broad-based power and agency.

Needless to say, Slim’s argument is sure to be debated and comments are already pouring in to the OpenDemocracy site. Slim concludes by suggesting that if unlike the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSM), NGOs have motivations beyond that have humanitarian aid, they need to be forthright:

They [MSM and ICRC] are interested in protecting, healing and caring for the wounded and the destitute. Most NGOs have a wider, long-term goal of creating liberal and democratic societies. If this is a part of their goal in Gaza then they should make this clear to the public as they raise funds. They should probably also tell Hamas, which may not entirely share their vision.

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