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Conference: Reassessing the British Mandate in Palestine
January 13 2022

The British Mandate (1922-1948) represents over a quarter-century in the modern history of Palestine during which the groundwork was laid for the usurpation of Palestinian political rights and the establishment of a Zionist state.  It is a glaring instance of a colonial enterprise expressly designed to disenfranchise indigenous peoples conducted under the umbrella of international legitimacy.  It is also the first and last time in modern history that the whole of Palestine has existed as a single polity, bringing together Palestinian Arabs and Jews, natives and settlers, and colonized and colonizers, within one political-legal framework, albeit on radically unequal terms. 

The hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Mandate is an apt occasion to revisit and reassess it as an episode in the history of Palestine.  This conference will aim to address some of the following questions:

• Which aspects of the history of the Mandate have not been sufficiently researched, and what gaps exist in our contemporary understanding of the political, social, economic, cultural, and other aspects of the history of the Mandate? Beyond being a legal and political system, in what ways was the Mandate a distinct period in Palestinian history, with significant social, economic, material and cultural transformations? How did the fabric of Palestinian society change under the Mandate, and to what extent were these transformations rooted in the late Ottoman era? How do we account for the various projects led by Palestinians after WWI—whether educational, intellectual, infrastructural or agricultural—and for their connections across the Eastern Mediterranean?

• How did Mandate policies in various areas help provide the conditions for the success of the “Jewish national home” project and the establishment of the Jewish state? How do we evaluate Arab positions regarding the autonomy projects presented by the Mandate authorities and the deferred independence project included in the "White Paper" of 1939?

• Does the Mandate represent a glaring misuse of international law to abrogate the rights of a native population, or is it an illustration of the ways in which international law is a tool in the hands of the powerful and thoroughly unsuitable as an instrument of justice?  How has this dialectic played out in the past century in the history of Palestine and the Palestinians, especially when it comes to the oft-repeated claim that Palestinians are not “prepared” to govern their own state?

• How does the British Mandate for Palestine compare to other colonial and neo-colonial paradigms in other parts of the world?  What parallels can be drawn between the political and legal arrangements of the Mandate and other colonialist ventures?  In what ways did the Mandate serve to establish an apparatus for a colonial construction of Palestine (e.g. through surveys, maps, and legal instruments produced by the British authorities and inherited by Zionist institutions)?

The conference is provisionally scheduled for October 2022 and is planned to be held in a hybrid format, with an in-person component in Palestine, circumstances permitting.  Abstracts of approximately 300 words and a short biography should be submitted for blind review, in English or Arabic, to the following email address: [email protected]

Submission Deadline: April 30, 2022.

The conference is jointly sponsored by the following institutions: Birzeit University; Council for British Research in the Levant; New Directions in Palestine Studies, Brown University; Center for Palestine Studies, Columbia University; Hearing Palestine, University of Toronto; European Centre for Palestine Studies, University of Exeter; Centre for Palestine Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London; Institute for Palestine Studies.

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