Rethinking development work…

I’m not really rethinking development work, but I  have to admit: when I hear about events like yesterday’s attack by Israel on a flotilla of Gaza-bound aid ships, I can’t help but think about the realities of humanitarian work. Similarly, the issues around pirates in Somalia last year made me wonder if it was really the best path to go down. There’s something so ridiculously unjust about having aid workers — people wanting to make other’s live easier, people who make little money and derive some sense of satisfaction from altruistic behavior — detained or killed en route. That’s not what they signed up for. Obviously, in this day and age, I think we all recognize the inherent dangers when traveling to fragile states… but to be faced with it? I can’t even fathom.

It’s also situations like this (this particular case from yesterday) that reinforces my desire to learn Arabic (or, if I wanted to be doubly bad ass: Hebrew, too). I don’t feel educated enough on the situation in the Middle East to make coherent arguments or be able to form educated opinions. Moreover, I think that many of us in the West tend to accept what we hear/read on our news stations as truth. Somehow, that seems ignorant to me. Media is biased and each version of the day’s events are presented in different fashions, with different viewpoints at the forefront. Certainly, to be able to hear the news coming from the Middle East adds a new perspective. Both parties will of course have their twist on the matter, but being able to hear both sides of the argument can definitely breed more educated opinions, rather than regurgitation of media biases. In a BBC article from this morning for example, it highlighted the fact that Israel had been clear on the fact that it would stop the ships en route to Gaza, yet they persisted. In their view, it was “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. Well, that’s certainly one point of view; perhaps a very real one in their eyes, though I doubt that many other groups (including Turkey, their once-close Muslim ally) would necessarily concur.

You know what’s even more amazing? After this morning attack,  I received an email from a guy in my program regarding a protest that had been organized outside of Downing Street at 2P. The power of internet, right? Within hours, people were congregating to voice their opinions and concerns with the situation. I found one section of his email particularly mature, for lack of a better word:

“Regardless of your political position in regard to the wider Israeli-Palestine conflict, I hope you will agree that attacks on aid shipments and extra-judicial killings are unacceptable and should be condemned.  This is particularly important for those of us thinking of working in humanitarian aid at some point in our careers.”

Certainly, for us, the issue is particularly relevant. Furthermore, as he mentions, ‘regardless of [our] political position regard[ing] the wider Israeli-Palestine conflict’, the issue is far broader than that. For future aid workers, this goes beyond Israel and Palestine, though this was the setting for this particular event. It is perhaps a representation of the issues faced by aid workers in a number of volatile settings. Regardless of our views on this  controversial matter, can attacks on aid workers ever be legitimized?

In any case, my heart goes out to the people who lost their lives yesterday. For anyone wanting to see pictures from yesterday, click here.