The Kidnapping of ‘Abdullah al-Masri: Archaeology, Labor, and Power at 'Atlit
Department of Antiquities
Mandate Palestine

This article draws on the archives of the British Mandatory administration’s Department of Antiquities to consider archaeology not as an increasing body of literature does, as a source of discursive power for the colonial regime, but instead as an employer of working-class Palestinians. Through a close study of the correspondence between the department and its antiquities guards, men employed to look after important sites, protect archaeological finds and government premises, and guide visitors, Irving examines the conditions of ordinary Palestinians employed by the department, highlighting the situation of ‘Abdullah al-Masri, an antiquities guard at ‘Atlit castle. The author examines the abuses of colonial power that occurred within this relationship, but also the ways in which Palestinian workers at times managed to manipulate their working environments, using a variety of narratives to subvert and push back against exploitative practices, and derive pride from their role in caring for their historical patrimony. As such, this study provides a rare glimpse into the details of working conditions for manual laborers in Mandate Palestine, and how these were affected by the wider political and social situation surrounding them.

Author biography: 

Sarah Irving is lecturer at Staffordshire University, UK, researching a social history of the 1927 Jericho earthquake, and editor of the journal Contemporary Levant, published by the Council for British Research in the Levant.