Life, Death, and Reproductive Desire in Mandate and Present-Day Palestine
Mandate Palestine
demographic anxiety
settler colonialism

In this review of Frances Hasso’s new book, Buried in the Red Dirt: Race, Reproduction, and Death in Modern Palestine, Nadim Bawalsa highlights the book’s contributions to multidisciplinary areas of study of Palestine and Palestinians. At once a historical investigation of British and Zionist health, life, and death records during the Mandate, Hasso also offers analysis of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish legal positions on reproductive practices, including abortion practices, as well as unprecedented access to Palestinian women’s intimate sexual, reproductive, and non-reproductive desires through her ethnographic fieldwork in Palestine and neighboring countries. Bawalsa stresses how Hasso’s methodological and analytical ingenuity brings to light hitherto unchallenged assumptions about Palestinian women’s past and present reproductive choices, refuting in the process the idea that Palestinians have been engaged in demographic competition with the Jews – an anxiety, Hasso argues, that was in fact manifested in British and Zionist racist eugenicist obsessions during the Mandate period and throughout the Israeli Zionist settler colonization of Palestine. Drawing on a multitude of sources, including archival records, interviews, literary and artistic analysis, as well as on African diasporic, Black feminist, and queer scholarship, Hasso’s book offers altogether new approaches to studying Palestine and Palestinians, both past and present.

Author biography: 

Nadim Bawalsa is a historian of modern Palestine and author of Transnational Palestine: Migration and the Right of Return before 1948 (Stanford University Press, 2022). He earned his PhD in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies from New York University in 2017, and currently serves as associate editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies.