Between Extinction and Dispossession: A Rhetorical Historiography of the Last Palestinian Crocodile (1870–1935)
Jisr al-Zarqa
marsh drainage

This article presents a rhetorical historiography of the last Palestinian crocodile, tracing its circulation across colonial zoological literatures between 1870 and 1935. This was the historic period of colonial zoologists’ speculation about Palestinian crocodile extinction, and by extension, the whereabouts of the last Palestinian crocodile. The article argues that the Palestinian crocodile extinction story is intertwined with violent histories of colonial resource extraction, racialized labor exploitation, and indigenous human dispossession. By tracing the last Palestinian crocodile’s rhetorical circulation to 1935 – when a Zionist zoologist declared that Palestinian crocodiles were finally extinct – the article connects Palestinian crocodile extinction with the British Mandate and the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PJCA)-led drainage and destruction of the crocodile’s former habitat and the dispossession of the
Ghawarna who lived on that land.

Author biography: 

Elizabeth Bentley is a Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies postdoctoral fellow at New York University. Research for this article was conducted with the support of the American Association of University Women and the Bilinski Education Foundation. The author thanks Beshara Doumani, Paul Kohlbry, Alex Winder, Sa’ed Atshan, Zachary Lochman, Sherene Seikaly, Nour Joudah, Ahmad Amara, Qussay Al-Attabi, Maha Nassar, Leerom Medovoi and the two anonymous reviewers for sharing feedback on the New Directions Palestine Studies presentation and earlier versions of this article. Thanks also to archivists at the Archiv der Tempelgesellschaft and Kibbutz Maagan Michael for their research support and to Mazin Qumsiyeh for sharing his expertise on Palestinian ecology. Finally, special thanks are due to Sami al-Ali, Saidah al-Ali, and Mohamad Hamdan for being generous with their time and for allowing me to share their insights in this article.