2017 Workshop: Palestinian Occupations

Palestinian Occupations Under the British Mandate and Beyond

One-day workshop sponsored by ‘The Research Group on Transitions and Global Modernities’ (Yan P. Lin Centre) with support from The Institute for Islamic Studies




Tuesday November 14, 10:15-5:45 (see program details below for more information on paper times and locations)

This workshop examines different Palestinian occupations during the period of the British Mandate and beyond. It takes for granted that the Zionist movement benefitted from the mechanisms of British state power during the Mandate, whereas the Palestinians were largely excluded from the main structures of political and economic possibility. While keeping an eye fixed on this fundamental imbalance, workshop presentations explore such disparate Palestinian occupations as banking, fishing, education, medicine, politics and associationalism, and contribute to a growing scholarly effort that takes Palestinian life as its organizing conceptual category.


Speakers (in alphabetical order) and abstracts:


Diana Allan (McGill) At Sea in Maritime Palestine


While the control of Palestinian interests at sea was critical to the British Mandate and Zionist project, the maritime––and all that is enfolded within that term––has drawn very little scholarly attention. The iconography of colonial struggle and occupation appears resolutely territorial and scholarship has followed suit: it is the landed peasantry who figure as protagonists, not fisherman. The hierarchization of mountain and coastal cultures in Palestine (Tamari 2008), and the association of the sea with treachery (“al bahar ghaddar”), hardscrabble survival and a certain moral lassitude shapes the national imaginary. The Palestinian historian, Sharif Kanaaneh, put it succintly: “In Palestine fishing and the sea are minor to the culture and the history. Fishing and fish were only for the very poor. Our culture is Bedouin. We don't have the culture of the sea.” The marginalization of the maritime seems to have a complex history, tied up with class, geopolitics and a landlocked conception of cultural heritage. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with Palestinian fishermen in Lebanon and Jaffa, this paper is a tentative attempt to explore and reconnect littoral histories––of territorial attachment and displacement, colonial governmentality, and nationalism from the Mandate period to the present––through a body of water, in which fishing is both subject and method.


Dyala Hamzah (Université de Montréal) Authoring for the Arab Nation: Scholarship and Membership in the Life of Palestinian Pan-Arab Historian Darwish al-Miqdadi (1897-1961)


This paper frames the bureaucratic and scholarly trajectory of Palestinian Pan-Arab historian, educationalist and activist Darwish al-Miqdadi (1897-1951) in terms of professionalization and credentialing, in and outside of Mandate Palestine. A part of a larger project dedicated to the exploration of the cultural institutions of Pan-Arabism, and of the specific contribution of Palestinians to this project of political emancipation, the paper will focus here on Miqdadi’s founding of and membership in a certain number of societies, amongst which the AUB-based student activist society al-Urwa al-Wuthqa (1918-1922); the powerful Pan-Arab Baghdad club Nadi al-muthanna (1935-1941); The Berlin student association and political hub The Arabic Club (1936-1939), and, last not least, the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (Leipzig), of which he was a member from 1936 till 1938. Bearing in mind a context of subjugation and exile, of considerable financial hardship and social precariousness, the paper revisits Miqdadi’s scholarship against the odds. It also makes the argument that societies, then and there, whether secret or learned, were seen and experienced as manufactures of professionals and citizens, at once cosmopolitan and nationalist, and that membership in them was seen as the alpha and omega of cooptation into a world of cosmopolitan professional citizens.


Sreemati Mitter (Brown), Banks, Bonds, and Bankrupts: Financial Life in Mandate Palestine


In July 1939, Sheikh Suleiman Taji al-Farouqi, a prominent Arab Palestinian politician and landowner, sued two Arab banks, to which he was indebted for large sums, in the District Court of Jerusalem. He alleged that both the Arab Bank and the Arab Agricultural Bank had charged him “excessive and unlawful interest” in contravention of the Mandate administration’s new Usurious Loans Ordinance. Al-Farouqi’s protracted legal battles against the banks, which were emulated throughout the 1940s by many of his contemporaries, sheds light on a little-known aspect of economic and financial life in Mandate Palestine: the contentious relationship between the first pioneering Arab Palestinian banks and their earliest pioneering Arab Palestinian customers. Drawing on the archival records of three Mandate-era law firms, this talk weaves together the institutional and personal narratives, of the banks on one hand and their litigious customers on the other, to complicate the nationalist account of a group of people united in common cause against Zionism and British colonialism. It argues that, when it came to economic matters, bankers and customers each pursued their own interests at the expense of national unity. It also suggests that, contrary to the received wisdom of the Mandate officials of the time, who thought the local Arabs financially unsophisticated simpletons in need of education and rescuing, al-Farouqi and his peers proved adept at using the Mandate’s economic and financial laws to safeguard their own interests.


Laila Parsons (McGill), Palestinian Political Life and the Mandate State


The Mandate period was a time of intense political negotiations between Palestinian political leaders and British officials. In face-to-face meetings, in letters, and in testimony to various British commissions, Palestinian political leaders fought for their right to self-determination. In particular, they repeatedly demanded a halt to Jewish immigration and the establishment of a parliament that would allow Palestinians to make decisions about their own future. Drawing on the diaries and papers of ‘Awni ‘Abd al-Hadi, ‘Izzat Darwaza, Akram Zu‘aytar and others, this paper seeks to understand how Palestinian leaders organized their political effort. How did they come to collective decisions? How did they resolve internal disputes? Which constituencies were most important to them? How did they disseminate their decisions? The paper will bring these questions to bear on a particularly crucial moment in British rule: the visit of the Peel Commission to Palestine in late 1936 and early 1937. Through a close examination of Palestinian deliberations over the Peel Commission, the paper hopes to open up a new vista on Palestinian political life.


Sherene Seikaly (UC Santa Barbara), From Baltimore to Beirut: A Palestinian Story


This paper follows the journey of Naim Cotran as he travels from medical school in late nineteenth century Baltimore, to military service in twentieth century Sudan, to a clinical practice in Palestine, and finally to dispossession in Lebanon. By tracing the trajectory of a man who was the first licensed medical doctor in Acre, Palestine, a landowner, an enslaver, and ultimately a refugee, this paper explores mobility and immobility, consumerism and dispossession, and race and enslavement. It will also engage the limits of archives, the force of autobiography, and the broader question of Palestine.





The morning session (10:15-1:00) will take place in ARTS 160

The afternoon session (2:30-5:45) will take place in MORRICE 017


ARTS 160


10:15-10:45 Coffee


10:45-11:00 Opening Remarks


11:00-12:00 Dyala Hamzah, Authoring for the Arab Nation: Scholarship and Membership in the Life of Palestinian Pan-Arab Historian Darwish al-Miqdadi (1897-1961)


12:00-1:00 Laila Parsons, Palestinian Political Life and the Mandate State


1:00-2.30 Buffet Lunch in the Lounge (Islamic Studies) on the 3rd floor of Morrice Hall




2:30-3:30 Sherene Seikaly, From Baltimore to Beirut: A Palestinian Story


3:30-4:30 Diana Allan, At Sea in Maritime Palestine


4:30-4:45 Coffee/Tea break


4:45-5:45 Sreemati Mitter, Banks, Bonds, and Bankrupts: Financial Life in Mandate Palestine


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