Standard Operating Procedures: Cluster Bombs, Humanitarian De-Mining, and the Politics of Living On in South Lebanon

Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Of the millions of cluster bombs that Israel dropped on the South of Lebanon in the final days of the 2006 War, an estimated twenty-five percent failed to explode upon impact with the ground and turned into de-facto landmines. Called a “humanitarian crisis” by human rights organizations, the unexploded munitions drew millions of dollars to Lebanon to fund humanitarian de-mining and enrolled thousands of southern Lebanese in the work of bomb removal. Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork in South Lebanon, this talk examines how de-mining transformed the daily lives of many southerners as it gave them coveted sources of livelihood and turned them into humanitarian workers involved in the highly contested political project of shaping the battlefields of the next war. Rather than an apolitical practice of clearing land of dangerous munitions, I argue that de-mining was a critical site in the battle over the US plan for a “new” Middle East and a gendering tool for winning the war over hearts and minds. At the same time, de-mining also cultivated new forms of attachment between southerners and bombs that transformed the ostensibly apolitical practices of bomb removal into ethically, politically, and religiously motivated practices of war. 

Dr. Touhouliotis received her PhD in Anthropology in 2016 from The New School for Social Research. The talk is sponsored by the Mellon Sawyer Seminar, “Grounding the Ecocritical” and the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Washington University in St. Louis. It is free and open to the public.