October 10-Between Ramallah and Tel Aviv: UN Work and Workers in Israel/Palestine

Presented by the Harold E. Stassen Chair of International Affairs at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the Human Rights Program, Center for Jewish Studies, and Department of Sociology

Between Ramallah and Tel Aviv:UN Work and Workers in Israel/Palestine 

Dr. Liora Sion
Monday, October 10, 2016
12:00 – 1:30 PM
The Humphrey Forum, Humphrey School of Public Affairs 301 19th Ave. S., University of Minnesota West Bank Campus 

The United Nations has been intimately involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict longer and in a more operational sense than in any other regional conflict. Its long and troubled relationship with the area has no parallel. The importance of the UN mission to the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) is illustrated by its generous budget and the large number of agencies active on the ground.

The Israeli-Palestinian case study is unique because contrary to other UN missions, the structure of UN agencies in the region is a product of the geological layering of UN interventions in the Middle East since the 1940s onwards. As a result, the long and turbulent UN involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suffers from a schizophrenic identity. It has a peacekeeping identity, a providing identity as a supporter of the Palestinians, a political identity as part of the quartet and a master identity as the region’s biggest and most influential employer. These identities are internally contradictory and influence how the agencies cooperate, struggle and morph. The title for this presentation derived from UN workers’ preference to stir away from what they perceive as nationalist and religious Jerusalem, where many of them work and live, in favor of the relatively secular and open Palestinian city of Ramallah and the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

The lecture will analyze how after the failure of the Oslo Accord the UN mission in the oPt shifted from building a failed state to helping the Palestinians to survive. By focusing on the agencies’ loose structure, we ask how they manage to operate despite their conflicting agendas; how the agencies settle the political versus the humanitarian aspects of the mission; and how their structure influences their relationships with Israelis and Palestinians.

Liora Sion has her PhD from the University of Amsterdam and the Free University with her dissertation on Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Olin Institute, Harvard University and Northwestern University and an assistant professor at the University of Nottingham. Currently she is writing a book about UN work and workers in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She is specialized in military, security, ethnicity and gender.
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