“Local actors versus global humanitarian interventions: the case of Samidoun during the July war on Lebanon”

April 23, 2015

On the 23rd of April 2016, Lebanon Support organized a roundtable discussion on local actors and global humanitarian interventions in Lebanon, taking the case of “Samidoun” during the July war as its focal point. The event was the first of a series of discussions addressing local preparedness and responsiveness to crises and conflicts, reflecting on previous humanitarian experiences from 2006 and 2007. These discussions and research are featured on the Humanitarian Knowledge Base Project to disseminate papers and research published on our online platform the CSKC (Civil Society Knowledge Centre) and to stimulate debate within civil society spheres in Lebanon.

The discussants were Dr. Karam Karam, author of several books and papers on civil society and political parties in Lebanon. He served as the head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies for several years and is currently the Head of Research at the Common Space Initiative. The second discussant was Mr. Bruno Rotival, humanitarian expert who has worked in lebanon during the July War. He is currently the Head of Office for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) in Lebanon.

The session examined a paper commissioned by Lebanon Support and published on CSKC, written  by Lamia Moghnieh. The paper explored the case of “Samidoun”, a grassroots collective that emerged at the outbreak of the July war in 2006 to provide engaged emergency relief and support for war-affected communities in Lebanon.

The panelists’ presentations reviewed the forms of relief emerging from Samidoun in the July war as experienced and narrated by activists, organizers and experts. The paper argued that a total reliance on professionalization and NGO-ization in aid provision during war can prevent the emergence of civil resistance forms of relief, reiterating that in a site that suffers from internal political tension like Lebanon, “traditional” state and non-state structures were not able to provide immediate and sustainable aid for displaced families during war. This organizational structure functioned outside traditional relief channels and thereby helped prevent a humanitarian crisis outbreak. Moreover, the transformative spaces and community-based forms of relief that emerged out of this grassroots platform during the war mobilized valuable resources as local forms of preparedness to crises and wars in Lebanon.

Discussants added to the paper by exploring their own analysis and experiences of Samidoun as a group and of  the July war as a humanitarian emergency. Attendees raised many important issues to take into account in the discussion, that ranged from activists’ own personal experiences with Samidoun, the structure of the group and the problems that emerged among them. One point raised was that international humanitarian aid organizations and local grassroots initiatives do not necessarily have to be in competition for aid and data, they could work symbiotically to provide aid that is based on established needs assessments and strong relationships with the communities they both operate in.

A debate ensued around the difference between INGO and Samidoun’s work in 2006.  Some argued that iNGOs’ main goal is to provide immediate aid to beneficiaries, whereas grassroots initiatives similar to Samidoun have a clear political agenda. This political clarity enabled Samidoun to develop a deeper understanding of the scope of their work and of the political environment they were operating in, rendering the empowerment of the community turn into a  civil forms of resistance in the face of Israeli aggression.

Another debate ensued around the problems encountered between the different activities under the umbrella of Samidoun, problems that were not directly addressed by the study: accusations of money stealing, different fights between activists and the variety of what Samidoun represented for the different groups who had quite different experiences and understanding of Samidoun.

Participants agreed that Samidoun and similar grassroots initiatives’ work, that grew in a context of crises and wars and raised the level of preparedness and responsiveness of the communities they were involved in, should be documented and archived at first hand by the activists themselves. The analysis of these initiatives and their work should be formally disseminated to secure their success and continuity once they re-emerge. More debates on the experience of Samidoun need to be put in place.