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Palgrave Macmillan

Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief

ISBN 9781137378163
Publication Date December 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

This book examines the leading role of the Quaker American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the United Nations relief program for Palestine Arab refugees in 1948-1950 in the Gaza Strip. It situates the operation within the context of the AFSC's attempts to exercise new influence on the separate issues of pacifism and disarmament at a time marked by US efforts to construct a Cold War security regime in the Middle East and British efforts to retain influence and bases in Arab countries. Using archival data, oral histories, diplomatic documents, and biographical and autobiographical accounts, the authors provide a detailed look at internal decision-making in an early non-governmental organization where beliefs regarding the requirement to provide refugees with skills for self-reliance clashed with intractable political and cultural realities and the realization that only full repatriation or resettlement elsewhere would solve the problem (a lesson that UNRWA and the international community learned only decades later). Faced with impossible solutions, the Quakers withdrew. The story of AFSC involvement in Gaza shows that refugee relief is always political and that humanitarianism can prolong the problems it seeks to solve.

Asaf Romirowsky is a Middle East historian. He holds a PhD in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King's College London, UK and has published widely on various aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and American foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as on Israeli and Zionist history. He lives in Philadelphia.

Alexander H. Joffe is an archaeologist and historian. He holds a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona, USA and has published widely on topics in archaeology, ancient and modern history, and contemporary politics. He lives in New York.

Introduction: The Palestine Arab Refugee Problem and the International
1. Studying the Palestine Arab Refugee Problem
2. The Quakers and the American Friends Service Committee
3. The AFSC in the Middle East
4. AFSC in the Field: December 1948-December 1949
5. AFSC and The Politics of Regional Development
6. AFSC, the Economic Survey Mission, and Regional Development
7. The AFSC and UNRWA: The End of UNRPR
8. International Security and the Question of 'Reintegration'
9. Assessing the AFSC as an Early NGO
10. Conclusions


'Romirowsky and Joffe trace the involvement of the American Friends Service
Committee (AFSC)—a Quaker organization founded long before 1948 to assist civilians caught up in the maelstrom of war—in its pivotal role as relief provider to Arab refugees in Gaza under the auspices of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR). Painstakingly combing through personal memoirs, cables, and diplomatic communiqués, the authors construct a rich history of the immediate post-1948 period. […] As the authors illustrate, both field personnel and those at the policy-making level within [the] AFSC understood that the refugees were being used as pawns by the Arab governments in their propaganda war against Israel. […]This ill-conceived approach continues to this day, sustaining the most powerful weapon in the Arab arsenal against the legitimacy of the Jewish state.' -Susan M. Jellissen, Belmont University, USA, Middle East Quarterly
  • mika goldin 7th November 2015

    While an excellent scholarly history, the authors miss an extremely important point: the AFSC is no longer a 'Quaker' organization. It's Board is not required to be affiliated with the Religious Society of Friends and it is an independent 501(c)(3) organization. It is not a religious organization. The authors continue to link AFSC with the 'Quaker church' -- there is no 'Quaker church.' Each Meeting is independent, and loosely connected within a region (called Yearly Meetings). AFSC has nothing to do with this. There are evangelical Quakers and unprogrammed Quakers, and there might be both within a Yearly Meeting. No organization speaks for Quakers and many Quakers, especially Jewish Quakers, disagree with the AFSC's position against Israel. The history of AFSC is not the reality of today's AFSC. The authors seemingly do not know this; they continually condemn all Quakers by linking them to AFSC (in this book and in subsequent articles), and academicians should know better. I am both a social scientist and a Quaker, as well as an activist for social justice and a seeker in 'that of God in every one.' I am not a fan of AFSC. I do have friends (and Friends) who are fans of AFSC. No one speaks for all of us. I do appreciate this history as well-written by Romirowsky and Joffe, which is why I rated it '4.' There's a lot we all can learn from this book.

  • Ben Ambler 10th November 2015

    It should be noted that this volume is a non-scholarly account of Quaker involvement in refugee relief. It contains large gaps and even outright fallacies regarding even basic aspects of Quaker theology and doctrine, particularly vis à vis how they play out in praxis.

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