World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Palestine under Bristish Mandate (485) - Panel

· Date: FRI, 23 / 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Paper presenter: Dr. Kobi Peled (Professor, Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Truman Institute, Israel), “Oral History in the Upper Galilee: Reconstructing Sedentary and Semi-Nomad Forms of Life in Northern Palestine during the British Mandate Period (1918-1948)”
The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the advantages and difficulties of using oral testimonies as sources for alternative histories. The alternative history to be discussed is a petit-grand history of Palestinian peasants and nomads in general, and of Bedouin women in particular. The political and economic histories of Palestine during the British Mandate period are well known, while its social and cultural realities are less known. If we wish to study sedentary and semi-nomad forms of life in that period, we can not be satisfied with descriptions written by pilgrims and tourists, as sensible and sensitive as they may be. We must do more. Unfortunately, peasants and Bedouins barely wrote anything about their lives. Historians who wish to study these groups and their relations with each other must use diverse sources, and particularly oral histories, which relate to these historically silent men and women. The value of writing alternative histories is the commemoration of forgotten pasts, the comprehension of forsaken people and deeds, and the enrichment of the historical portrait of Palestine during the British Mandate period. Our main example will be a unique historical source: valuable fragments of the memories of old Palestinian men and women from a Christian village in the Upper Galilee. They vividly remembered a beautiful Muslim Bedouin woman whom they met more than 60 years ago. We know only a few things about her, yet a singular portrait emerges: she was clever, confident, and courageous. She was never afraid to speak out, break social conventions and lead other women and men.This paper will demonstrate the drawing of her portrait on the background of her time, by reading the evidence against the grain, or in other words ‘lire l'histoire à rebours, as Carlo Ginzburg did in his masterpiece ‘Il formaggio e i vermi. We shall read this testimony in light of its history, geography, economic conditions and cultural norms, in order to reconstruct an image of that woman, her tribal group, and their symbiotic relations with the neighboring peasants. This historical reconstruction will examine the question of her singularity and the validity of the insights about Palestinian Bedouin women drawn from her portrait.

Paper Presenter: Itamar Radai (research fellow- The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Bourgeois Society under Mandate: The Palestinian Middle Class, 1920-1948”
The study of the Palestinian society under the British Mandate has begun to address the emergence of an urban middle class ‘ practitioners of the liberal professions, clerks, officials, and businessmen. The overall education, occupations, economic situation, and way of life of the Mandate-era Palestinian-Arab middle class were characteristically bourgeois, generally well educated, its occupational structure similar to that of the new classes which sprang up in the West during the two last centuries. As in elsewhere of the Eastern Mediterranean, members of the middle class practiced in their daily lives manners, ideas and habits identical to their contemporaries in the West, to distinguish themselves from other elements in their society. Those included both subaltern classes of urban and rural poor and the notables'' elite. This paper aims to describe the rise of this class, which began in the late Ottoman period and was accelerated under the British Mandate, and its volatile relations with the Palestinian national movement. The main hypothesis assumes that special characteristics of the Palestinian-Arab middle class prevented its full incorporation into the national movement, and its active participation in its struggles. The middle class excessive dependence on the British colonial government, alongside Zionist military pressure, led to its rapid collapse at the end of the Mandate. Indeed, the bourgeoisie had major role in national movements in history, and were most likely to be the backbone of any national movement. It seems that the failure of the Palestinian-Arab national movement to incorporate the middle class was among the chief causes to the failure of the Palestinian Arabs in their national struggle during the Mandate, during the Revolt (1936-1939), and later the 1948 War that led to the Palestinian Nakba. The primary research material includes diaries, memoirs, and testimonies; press of the period; British documents and official publications; Palestinian documents; and Zionist intelligence documents. The research discipline is historical, based on the method of micro history and concluding from personal and local narratives to a broader context. The research on the social history of the Palestinians under the Mandate is still in incipient stage. The existing research had concentrated mainly on political issues, while the social aspects focused on the ''notables versus peasants'' theme. This study, by contrast, offers a social perspective from the vantage point of the middle class, while not ignoring the political implications.