Re-Thinking the Figure of the Humanitarian: Sahar Khalifeh’s The End of Spring and the Function of Human Rights Narrative

David Jefferess, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, Canada


In this article, I analyze the figure of the humanitarian in Khalifeh’s novel, The End of Spring, which depicts events during the 2002 siege of the West Bank. Drawing upon Slaughter's theory of humanitarian reading, as well as Fassin and Mahrouse regarding the role of the humanitarian as witness, I critique the presumed responsibility of the Western humanitarian to represent the suffering of others, contrasting this with Khalifeh’s representation of Ahmad’s practice of photography. Further, I analyze the way in which Ahmad’s role as an ambulance driver troubles the presumption of humanitarian neutrality, as well as the ideal of transcending difference to honor human dignity. Conforming to neither a sentimental reading practice aimed at empathy or a practice of readerly identification with the savior-figure, this analysis provides lessons for thinking about the 2018 attacks on medics in Gaza during the Great March of Return demonstrations.


Sahar Khalifeh; humanitarian discourse; Occupied Palestine; human rights literature; trauma literature; second intifada

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