Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Populating Palestine ...The Rape of Palestine, 1st ed. By William Ziff. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938. Reprint. Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Fine Books,

The Rape of Palestine, 1st ed. By William Ziff. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1938. Reprint. Mansfield Centre, Conn.: Martino Fine Books, 2010. 630 pp. $60.

A train of donkeys and Arabs crosses from Transjordan into Palestine on a bridge over the Jordan River, July 3, 1936. The assertion that Palestinian Arabs are the indigenous population is central in their dispute with Israel. But waves of immigration from other Arab countries brought many to the territory. In 1936, a French high commissioner for Syria asserted that Arabs were moving from Damascus to Palestine because of the prosperity there.

The assertion that Palestinian Arabs are the indigenous population is central in their dispute with Israel. The message is that Jews stole and now occupy the land of the indigenous Arab population. Rarely challenged, the claim is widespread, such as this statement from Henry Cattan, a Palestinian Christian jurist and writer born in Jerusalem:

The Palestinians are the original and continuous inhabitants of Palestine from time immemorial.[1]

Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas elaborated this claim in a recent speech:

Our narrative says that we were in this land since before Abraham. I am not saying it. The Bible says it. The Bible says, in these words, that the Palestinians existed before Abraham. So why don't you recognize my right?[2]

Saeb Erekat, the PA's chief negotiator, stated:

I am the son of Jericho. ... the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I've been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.[3]

To be sure, some Arabs are descendants of the indigenous occupants. But waves of immigration into the Holy Land brought Jews, Arabs, and others to the territories, to the point that most of today's Arabic-speakers do not trace their roots back for centuries.

A number of analyses address the subject of Arab immigration to Palestine: Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial,[4] Arieh Avneri's The Claim of Dispossession,[5] and Fred M. Gottheil's essay, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931."[6] But, William B. Ziff's little remembered The Rape of Palestine, published in 1938, adds an important first-hand source to these recent studies. None of the modern authors used Ziff as a source, so this is new information to present-day analysts.

Ziff (1898-1953) was born in Chicago and co-founded the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, which specialized in technical magazines in such subject areas as aviation, radio, and photography. Active in Zionist politics, his Rape of Palestine was considered by the British Foreign Office "a violent and offensive book," and for years afterward, the British monitored the Zionist writings and speeches of this "unscrupulous gangster," fearful that his audiences were "lapping this poison up."[7]

The thrust of Ziff's book is on British policy in Palestine during the mandate period, but what is especially interesting today are his comments on the migration of Arabs and the squelching of Jewish immigration by the British. The following extensive quotes show the value of his work.
"Indigenous" Pre-20th Century Foreigners

In 1830, Egypt's governor Muhammad Ali colonized Jaffa, Nablus, and Beisan with Egyptian soldiers and their Sudanese allies. Fourteen years later, the nationalities of the inhabitants of Jaffa were estimated at 8,000 Turco-Egyptians, 4,000 Greeks and Armenians, and 1,000 Jews and Maronites.

Ziff notes that foreigners already peopled the land:[8]

It was always the foreign soldier who was the police power in Palestine. The Tulunides brought in Turks and Negroes. The Fatamids introduced Berbers, Slavs, Greeks, Kurds, and mercenaries of all kinds. The Mamelukes imported legions of Georgians and Circassians. Each monarch for his personal safety relied on great levies of slave warriors. Saladin, hard-pressed by the Crusaders, received one hundred and fifty thousand Persians who were given lands in Galilee and the Sidon district for their services.

Out of this human patch-work of Jews, Arabs, Armenians, Kalmucks, Persians, Crusaders, Tartars, Indians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Turks, Mongols, Romans, Kharmazians, Greeks, pilgrims, wanderers, ne'er-do-wells and adventurers, invaders, slaves ... was formed that hodge-podge of blood and mentality we call today "Levantine." ...

In the fourteenth century, drought caused the immigration into Palestine of eighteen thousand "tents" of Yurate Tartars from the Euphrates. Soon followed twenty thousand Ashiri under Gaza, and four thousand Mongols under Moulai, who occupied the Jordan Valley and settled from Jerusalem south. Kaisaite and Yemenite tribes followed in their trail. 

In 1830 the Albanian conqueror Mehemet [Muhammad] Ali colonized Jaffa, Nablus, and Beisan with Egyptian soldiers and their Sudanese allies. Fourteen years later, Lynch estimated the thirteen thousand inhabitants of Jaffa to be composed of eight thousand Turco-Egyptians, four thousand Greeks and Armenians, and one thousand Jews and Maronites. He did not consider that there were any Arabs at all in that city.[9]

Ziff continues:

One hundred years ago, [Jaffa] had a population of four thousand. Today it holds seventy thousand, overwhelmingly Arab, who are largely descendants of the Egyptians and Ethiopians brought in by the conqueror Ibrahim Pasha [Muhammad Ali's son]. The few thousand Jews who lived here fled during the 1936 riots, abandoning their shops and property.[10]

Arabs Attracted to Jewish Settled Areas

Ziff reports that Jews invested large sums of money to "facilitate" Jewish immigration and encourage Jewish settlement in Palestine:

The amount of Jewish capital invested in this tiny land is estimated to total more than £120,000,000. Prior to the recent riots, Jews were bringing in money at the rate of two to five million dollars a month. In 1934 alone, they are estimated to have invested approximately £10,000,000 in Palestine. Today the productive output of the Jewish community is placed at £20,000,000 annually.[11]

All the authors mentioned above refer to the Arabs as being attracted by Jewish economic activity to their settled areas. Ziff describes this pattern:
Not until the Zionists had arrived in numbers did the Arab population begin to augment itself. The introduction of European standards of wage and life acted like a magnet on the entire Near East. Abruptly, Palestine became an Arab center of attraction. By 1922, after a quarter century of Jewish colonization, their numbers mushroomed to 488,000. Today they are over a million.
If the English contention were accurate, we should expect to find an exodus of Arabs from areas where Jews are settled into purely Arab regions. But exactly the opposite is true: It is precisely in the vicinity of these Jewish villages that Arab development is most marked. Arab Haifa, profiting by the Zionist boom, grew from 1922 to 1936 by 130%, Jaffa by 80%, and Jerusalem by 55%. The Arab rural settlement in the Tel Aviv district increased by over 135%. The all-Arab city of Nablus, which held 33,000 before the war, has fallen to less than 12,000. Safed which had 20,000, dropped to less than 9,000.[12]

Lack of Jobs for Jews

Palestine skyrocketed along on the most insane economy modern industry has ever seen.

Ziff elaborates on Jewish efforts, both from within and from abroad, to create more jobs for those Jews emigrating to Palestine as well as those already living there. These efforts spurred significant economic growth and consequently accomplished the goal of providing employment. However, British policy resulted in a stream into Palestine of illegal Arab immigrants who filled these jobs in lieu of the barred Jews. (All of the above-mentioned modern authors also address the influx of Arabs lured by the booming economy.)

With feverish energy and determination, the [Jewish] newcomers applied their money and experience, hoping to create opportunities for their poverty-stricken brothers in Europe to join them in building the new nation. Factories and enterprises of all kinds were started. The result was a critical scarcity of labor in which the entire economy of the country went lunatic. Workers were drained out of the farms to take the more lucrative position in the cities. In the towns, the same process repeated itself in favor of the "boom trades," which could afford to pay wages far out of line with those of normal occupations. Employer competed desperately with employer for the available labor supply. Industries had to curtail their activities; factories shut down altogether. Palestine skyrocketed along on the most insane economy modern industry has ever seen.

The condition is partially glimpsed in a semi-official report of August 27, 1934, admitting that the entire Palestine export trade was at a standstill due to a shortage of labor. Two-thirds of the workers on Jewish land, says the report, are now Arabs, "and those Jews remaining will soon be displaced due to labor scarcity." The problem became so acute that populations of whole districts, including school children, had to be mobilized to keep crops from rotting in the fields. While anxious Jews were being turned away at the docks of Jaffa and Haifa, the Nesher Cement Works, engaged in a £150,000 expansion in Haifa, announced November 16, 1933, that it was unable to proceed due to "acute scarcity of labor." In Tel Aviv, £1,000,000 worth of building had to be held up for the same reason. The story repeated itself everywhere.[13] ...

The Zionists have been mercilessly jobbed. They choked and spluttered in amazed exasperation. The incredible posing of "landless Arabs" in a country suffering from a drastic shortage of workers was past understanding. So, too, was the Commission's demand that Jewish capitalists be forced to put all Arab unemployed to work before another Jew could come in, which meant literally the employment of all the natives of Northeast Africa and Arabia (since these outsiders were already flowing into the country in a steady stream).[14] ...

Whole villages in the Hauran have been emptied of their people, who are drifting into Palestine. Count De Martel, French high commissioner for Syria, asserted in the summer of 1934 that even Arab merchants were moving from Damascus to Palestine because of the prosperity there; and in 1936, the head of the Moslem Youth Association at Beirut, Jamil Bek Basham, wrote that "there is a penetration into Palestine of an army of Syrian laborers."[15]
British Obstruction of Jewish, Not Arab, Immigration

The introduction of European standards of wage and life in Mandate Palestine acted like a magnet on the entire Near East. Abruptly, Palestine began attracting Arabs. By 1922, after a quarter century of Jewish colonization, Arab numbers mushroomed to 488,000. By 1938, the Arab population had reached over a million.

Peters and Avneri describe how the British obstructed Jewish immigration while facilitating or ignoring Arab immigration. Ziff adds details about immigration certificates, labor visas, taxation, and Hadassah aliyahs:

As the "absorptive capacity" of the country increased so tremendously under the stimulus of Jewish investment that any effort to deny it became ludicrous, the government produced still other cards out of its sleeve. It announced in 1936 that 70 percent of the thirteen hundred immigration certificates available for the following six months were ear-marked for bachelors, ten percent for maidens, and 20 percent for men with families, thus cutting down immigration without appearing to do so. Another able device was the refusal to allow the wives and families of employed residents to enter without the precious labor visas though in many cases they were an actual charge on these same residents, who sent money abroad to maintain them.

Such an obvious attempt was made to restrict the entry of women that the Jewish Agency flatly accused the government in November 1934 of a mischievous and willful attempt "directed against any considerable development of the immigration of women into Palestine."

Many of the administration's reasons for refusing entry permits would do credit to Herr Hitler as witness the refusal to grant a visa to a refugee Russian rabbi on the excuse that "there were enough rabbis already in Palestine." Some of the regulations designed to restrict Jewish immigration are classic. One of these edicts, promulgated November 14, 1933, allowed only 250 immigrants "to enter Palestine from any one vessel." Its effectiveness rested on the fact that few of the ships touching Palestine ports could make a payload out of such a small number of travelers, forcing the cancellation of sailings.

Perhaps the outstanding example of official artifice was the schedule announced for the period between October 1, 1935, and March 31, 1936. Four thousand, three hundred and fifty visas were granted ... What was not mentioned were the following deductions made from this schedule in advance: 1,000 certificates "advanced" during the previous six-month period; 250 reserved by the government (for non-Jews); 1,200 taken off to cover "illegal" immigrants who could not be apprehended; and 1,900 for dependents of employed residents (who in any other country would have entered as a matter of course). If these deductions are added up they are found to equal exactly the number of certificates granted; so that the administration was only perpetrating a crude joke on the Zionists and in effect issuing no certificates at all.[16] ...

Everything in this business is made subject to cash. Even the boasted Hadassah aliyahs, by which a few hundred Jewish children were brought in from Germany, were made conditional on a substantial money deposit, much as would be charged if the children had entered a boarding school. The Department of Immigration is a paying business, showing in a typical year a net income of £333,200 against an expenditure of £209,100.[17] ...

It is by disguising themselves as Arabs that "illegal" Jews accomplish immigration.

Lured by stark evidence of labor scarcity and big pay, peoples from all surrounding states began to drift into Palestine. Though a huge corps of coast and frontier guards kept vigilant watch to prevent the entry of "illegal" Jews, Arabs from anywhere entered without even the gesture of passport investigation. The report of the Peel Commission admits frankly that the inhabitants of Syria and Transjordan "are free to enter the corresponding districts in Palestine without special formality." It is, in fact, by disguising themselves as Arabs that most "illegal" Jewish immigration is accomplished.

A news item of July 4, 1934, gives the circumstance more lucidly than pages of reference. It reads: "Five Jewish women coming overland from Damascus, attired in the traditional costumes of Moslem women, including the black veils, were apprehended at the border when police saw through their disguises. They could not answer questions put to them in Arabic."[18]
Hunting down Jews

Though guards kept watch to prevent the entry of "illegal" Jews, Arabs from anywhere entered without any passport investigation. The Peel Commission admitted that Arabs from Syria and Transjordan "are free to enter ... Palestine without special formality." Illegal Arab immigrants were also known to work on road and house construction in Petach Tikvah and Haifa.

Only Ziff mentions the British practice of hunting down "illegal" Jews:

Coincident with the advent of Hitler, the business assumed the proportions of an out and out Jew-hunt. In a nice piece of collusion between the colonial secretary, Sir Phillip Cunliffe-Lister, and an M.P. named MacDonald, the Government "admitted" that "illegal" Jewish immigration existed but stated in assurance that "practical steps would be taken to deal with the matter." The very next day Cunliffe-Lister announced stringent measures to prevent "illegal" Jewish immigration into Palestine.

The system of tourist deposits was instituted. Holders of Nansen [League of Nations] passports, that pitiful army of staatenlos [stateless] men, were not in future to be granted even tourist visas. An air-tight frontier control in collaboration with the agreeable French authorities in Syria was to be put in effect. On the subject of illegal Arab immigration, the announcement was expressively silent.

Showing the extent of its preorganization, the campaign at once assumed the proportions of a large-scale pursuit of Jews over the length and breadth of Palestine. Ironically paid for out of Jewish tax moneys, a dragnet of airplane and motor boat patrols were detailed along the borders while British and Arab constables, assisted by organized groups of fellaheen, enjoyed themselves in scouring the coast-wise territory.

At Beirut and other Syrian cities, British and Arab police questioned motorbus drivers, asking if Jews were among the passengers, carefully examining the passports of all suspected of being Jews while others were as scrupulously ignored.[19]

According to Ziff,

Hunting "illegal" Jews became a major game, with illegal Arab newcomers enlisting gleefully in the chase. Savage Bedouins joined in under promise of a reward for any Jewish man, woman, or child they could catch. Palestine was under a virtual reign of terror. Anyone who could not immediately prove his citizenship, or produce his or her certificate of entry, was tracked down, jailed, and brutally beaten. ...

A fair example is the case of a woman and six small children, who had arrived legally with the proper passport and visa from Turkestan. On the way, her husband had been killed at a railway station. The whole family was arrested on the grounds that the passport provided not for a woman and six children but for a man, a woman and six children. On this pretext the woman and her children were ordered to prison.[20]
Illegal Arab Immigration

A group of Jewish picketers assemble to stage a demonstration in 1934 against the Borovsky House construction site where only Arab workers were employed. The British authorities arrested fifty-three Jews and sentenced them to prison. Borovsky eventually conceded and employed Jewish workers.

Ziff also writes about futile attempts by Jews to bring the problem of illegal Arab immigrants to the attention of British authorities:

It is, of course, difficult to attain any adequate idea of the extent of this flood of non-Jewish immigration since officially it does not exist. In the absence of accurate canvass, its size must be pieced together and surmised. Such calculations as are available show an Arab immigration for the single year 1933 of at least sixty-four thousand souls. Added to the acknowledged Hauranese infiltration are some two thousand who arrived from Damascus alone. Mokattan, the leading Cairo daily, announced that ten thousand Druses had gone to the Holy Land, and according to al-Jamia al-Islamia, an Arab newspaper of Jaffa, seventeen thousand Egyptians had come from Sinai Peninsula alone.

To these must be added considerable groups of Numidians and even Abyssinians, and a vast uncounted army from Transjordan about whose movement into Palestine not the slightest pretense of legality is maintained.[21]

Ziff adds:

Exasperated by the government's lack of good faith, which was illicitly converting the Holy Land into an Arab country, groups of courageous Jewish youths volunteered in 1934 to point out what apparently the authorities were unable to see. Fourteen hundred of these illegals were quickly shown to be working at Petach Tikvah and 1,200 in Haifa on road and house construction alone. Their probable numbers could be gathered from a test count of 357 Arab laborers in the buildings material industry, which showed 273 to be Hauranis illegally in the country. A check of Arabs employed in Palestine ports on December 23, 1936, showed that only 50 of the 750 workers were Palestinians. The remainder included 200 Egyptians and 500 Hauranis. Whole hordes of these people were demonstrated to be in the employ of the government itself.

Without deigning to make a reply, the administration pointedly told the Jews to mind their own business. When Jews picketed Jewish employers of this alien labor, the government bared its teeth and sentenced the demonstrators to six months at hard labor for their pains. Undeterred, Jews again picketed a Haifa theater being erected by a contractor named Borovsky where illegal Hauranis were employed. Immediately the authorities arrested fifty-three Jews and sentenced them to prison terms.[22]
Population Numbers

Modern authors agree with Ziff that the huge increase in Arab population numbers cannot be accounted for by natural growth. Ziff does the math:

Though the government solemnly estimates in 1937 a total Moslem increase by immigration of only 22,535 since the time of the British occupation, evidence of a vast influx of desert tribesmen is obvious everywhere. As early as 1926, Colonial Secretary Amery cautiously conceded that despite the growth of the Jewish element "the increase of the Arabs is actually greater than the Jews." Figures presented before the Peel Commission in 1937 showed the Arab population to have more than doubled in fourteen years. This admitted gain in half a generation must either be attributed to outside immigration or to the most astonishing philo-progenitiveness in medical history. ...

[T]he government itself acknowledged in 1922 the immigration of whole tribes "from the Hejaz and southern Transjordan into the Beersheba area," a fact which in itself must make its estimates of Arab immigration far-fetched. Other approximate figures are available from scattered but credible sources. One of these is the statement of the French governor of the Hauran in Syria, that from his district alone, in the summer of 1933, thirty-five thousand people had left for Palestine as a consequence of bad crops.[23]

The native Arab population in Palestine was small before Jewish settlers made it an attractive and prosperous place.

The increase in Arab population due to immigration was no secret. Another important testimony came from Robert Kennedy, the future U.S. attorney general, who traveled at age twenty-two in 1948 to Palestine and reported from there for the Boston Post.He also noted the influx of Arab immigration into Palestine:

The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944 came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state. This is the only country in the Near and Middle East where an Arab middle class is in existence.[24]

Fred Gottheil summarizes why finding the truth on this topic is important:

[F]or Arab Palestinians, the character of their demography is at the heart of their claim to territorial inheritance and national sovereignty. Their contention, seen by them as being beyond dispute, is that Arab Palestinians have deep and timeless roots in that geography and that their own immigration into that geography has at no time been consequential. To challenge that contention, then, is to challenge their self-selected criterion for sovereignty.[25]

While Ziff's book has lain dormant, his insights regarding the waves of Arab immigration into Palestine substantiates the assertions of later scholars. During the mandate period, Arabs from many lands flowed freely into Palestine while Jewish immigration was severely limited. The truth remains that the native Arab population in Palestine was relatively small before the first
Jewish settlers made it an attractive and prosperous place.

Sheree Roth writes about the Israel-Arab conflict from Palo Alto, California.

[1] Palestine and International Law: The Legal Aspects of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, quoted in Alan Hart, Arafat Terrorist or Peacemaker? ( London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1984), p. 49.

[2] PA TV, Mar. 21, 2016, PMW Bulletin, Palestinian Media Watch, June 6, 2016.

[3] The Times of Israel (Jerusalem), Feb. 12, 2014.

[4] From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine (New York: Harper Collins, 1st ed., 1984).

[5] The Claim of Dispossession: Jewish Land-Settlement and the Arabs, 1878-1948 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers 1982).

[6] Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003.

[7] Rafael Medoff, Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of the Jabotinsky Movement in the United States, 1926-1948 (Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press, 2002), pp. 39-40.

[8] See also, Daniel Pipes, "The 11th-Encyclopaedia Britannica on Who Is a Palestinian," Lion's Den: Daniel Pipes Blog, July 31, 2016.

[9] Ziff, The Rape of Palestine, pp. 368-9. Italics in original.

[10] Ibid., p. 185.

[11] Ibid., pp. 178-9.

[12] Ibid., pp. 385-6.

[13] Ibid., pp. 235-6.

[14] Ibid., p. 135.

[15] Ibid., p. 248.

[16] Ibid., pp. 237-8. Italics in original.

[17] Ibid., pp. 238-9.

[18] Ibid., pp. 246-7. Italics in original.

[19] Ibid., pp. 243-4.

[20] Ibid., pp. 245-6. Italics in original.

[21] Ibid., p. 248.

[22] Ibid., p. 249.

[23] Ibid., p. 247.

[24] Robert Kennedy, "British Hated Both Sides," The Boston Post, June 3, 1948.

[25] Fred M. Gottheil, "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 53-64.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Personal Reflections on Palestinian Identity in the Diaspora by Yasir Suleiman, Edinburgh University Press

Being Palestinian is a compilation of short essays written by people from within the Palestinian diaspora. It contains personal stories of Palestinians from all walks of life talking about their experiences as Palestinians living abroad, their sense of belonging to a country that is not recognised and to a culture that is constantly dismissed or under threat.

The book begins with a forward written by Yasir Suleiman. In it he reflected upon his and his family’s struggles to hold onto an identity that they fear may be taken away from them as generations pass. He explains the concept of “Palestinian-ness” in a way that brings much nostalgia to Palestinians in the diaspora, but enough for non-Palestinians to also relate.

Along with including Palestinians who left Palestine during the Nakba or after, or are constant visitors of Palestine, the book also includes Palestinians who were born and raised outside of Palestine but feel a connection to their homeland is somewhat related to never seeing it. That preserving their identity without a physical connection to Palestine is in fact what they believe makes them Palestinian.

Some describe how disconnected they feel from their Palestinian roots as they highlight the hypocrisy within Palestinian activism and prefer to relate their Palestinian-ness to the Arabic language, or to food.

Language, food, culture, politics and even religion are discussed with each contributor telling their own story, making it a unique read. As someone in the diaspora itself, for me, reading it was a heart-warming reminder that there is no direct manual on reserving the Palestinian culture and that being yourself is enough when you want to preserve your roots. There will always be commonalities for Palestinians, but no Palestinian should feel under pressure to adhere to anything that is seen to be “Palestinian” to reinforce their identity.

The structures of the essays were all different. It is clear that Suleiman gave the contributors enough intellectual freedom to make the essay theirs, without them digressing from the core of the subject of the book. At no point did the contributors go on a tangent in their essays and each and every account was clear enough to be informative but personal enough to be relatable. Not only did they draw from emotional experiences of being Palestinian, but also practical experiences, as to how they are perceived due to their identity.

Its fluid structure means it can be picked up at any point. Though the essays follow a similar theme, they do not depend on each other to complete the book and thus would be brilliant for readers who are looking for light reading material on Palestine.

Overall, Being Palestinian was a remarkable read. It was written by Palestinians for both Palestinians and non-Palestinians to document the experience of being a Palestinian outside of Palestine. Both informative and emotional, this book addresses the essence of the Palestinian-ness and captures it in an exceptional light.

Gaza: A History by Jean-Pierre Filiu, C Hurst & Co Ltd

Gaza: A history
Publisher: C Hurst & Co Ltd
Published Date : 01 June 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1849045490

Book Author(s):

Jean-Pierre Filiu

View the book page:

Gaza: A History

Written by historian Jean Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East Studies at Paris School of International Affairs, this book gives an in-depth account of Gaza’s ancient history and shows that many people have sought to occupy it over millennia. Professor Filiu puts the history of Gaza into the context of its geographic significance, which gave it the potential to secure the economies and armies of its occupiers, but also constantly put the people of Gaza at humanitarian disadvantage. His book has summarised thousands of years of complex history in a manner that makes it suitable for people of all academic abilities; it is a vital text if we want to understand Gaza in its wider context.
The narrative goes back to around 1500 BC, when Gaza was under occupation by Egypt’s Pharaohs. It is structured chronologically and gives independent accounts of the many occupations Gaza has fallen under, with a clarity that allows the reader to construct patterns about who has had historic and modern vested interests in the territory.
With five sections and 16 chapters, the first section provides a briefing about Gaza’s ancient history, from the Pharaohs to the coming of Islam, to when Palestine was under the British Mandate.
The second section looks at the period between 1947 and 1967. The Nakba of 1948 is viewed through the perspective of all of Palestine, with particular regard to how it affected Gaza, as it became a host for refugees from other parts of the country after the establishment of the state of Israel. Much emphasis is placed on the way that Arabism shaped the politics of the Palestinian struggle and how Gaza was affected because one of the founders of modern Arabism, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was the President of Egypt, which occupied Gaza from 1948-1967; he was able to control the whole Palestinian struggle. It also looks at the way that regional politics has shaped the identity of the struggle and taken it away from its Islamic roots, as set out by Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna in 1945.
The third and fourth sections cover the ideological transition of the Palestinian struggle and its relevance to Gaza from 1967to 1987, and also shed light on the way in which Gaza was of political and strategic significance during the 1967 Arab-Israeli (“Six-Day”) War. Filiu explains the internal Palestinian disagreements during that period, which are often confusing to many observers. The rise of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin and the founding of Hamas leading to the first intifada and then the peace process are both discussed. The concluding section sums up the main recurring themes throughout Gaza’s history.
This book provides some fascinating minutiae from Gaza’s history. The author uses the territory’s own story to explain its historic, economic, domestic, regional, global and military significance. At a time when Gaza is increasingly being disengaged from the rest of Palestinian society and disconnected from the rest of the world due to corrupt politics and a blockade by Israel — creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the process — this book not only shows that Gaza has always been relevant in history and will continue to be so, but also that it has been destroyed many times but has rebuilt itself and survived. There is an extended bibliography and chronology at the end of the book, outlining key personalities and events.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead. Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman. MIT Press. 2016.

Image result for Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead. Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman. MIT Press. 2016.

Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead. Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman. MIT Press. 2016.

Driverless cars, to echo John Urry, are ushering in a new wave of mobility and innovation. It is not only leading motor manufacturers who are integrating smart and sensor-based technologies into cars, but Google, Uber and Tesla are also pioneering full automation capabilities. Driverless cars are going be more than a disruptive innovation; they are also likely to be socially and culturally transformative.

The future of transportation is one of the themes examined by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman in Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead. Lipson and Kurman make this bold prediction:

Driverless cars will look different, both inside and outside. The steering wheel will disappear, the dashboard will become flexible workspace, and the car’s cabin will contain whatever people need for their on-board leisure and work activities. Outside, cars won’t need side mirrors or tail lights (266).

They do, however, stress that there is ‘no guarantee that such a vehicle will actually appear’ (255). In a little over 300 pages, the authors introduce readers to the culture of driving and the benefits of driverless transportation (Chapters One-Two); the policy implications for transport infrastructure (Chapter Three); the intersection between software and innovation culture (Chapter Four); the technological challenges encountered in mirroring the human brain’s capability to receive, classify and create meanings from information perceived (Chapter Five); the implications of driverless technology for the automobile industry (Chapters Six-Ten); and the interaction between culture, technology policy and regulation (Chapters Eleven-Twelve).

Even though the book is US-centric, the discussion on regulatory, infrastructure and mobility issues chimes well with wider public and policy interests in harnessing the potential of driverless car technologies. For instance, the UK Government is intent on delivering on its promise to reform our transport infrastructure and lead on developing driverless technologies. A review of current regulatory frameworks was conducted in 2015, and plans to pass a Modern Transport Bill were first announced in the Queen’s Speech on May 2016.
Image Credit: Google Self-Driving Car (smoothgroover22 CC BY SA 2.0)

Driverless is well-researched, and the ideas are set out in a clear and accessible manner. What the authors do really well is integrate their unique insights on a range of topics. Consider, as an example, the predominant focus of policymakers and industry on the human driver in our existing regulations and laws. Under the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, “[e]very driver shall at all times be able to control his vehicle’. The Convention also allocates responsibility to the driver of vehicles, with Article 8 (2) stipulating that they possess the knowledge and skill to ensure the vehicle is driven without exposing the driver or others to danger or harm. Within the UK, both the Road Traffic Act 1988 (as amended) and the Highway Code also reinforce the view of a human driver being in control.

Increased automation thus blurs the line between driver-led and driverless technologies. Here, readers will benefit from the authors’ account of the six levels of autonomy as described by the Society of Automotive Engineers and the default rule for addressing human-machine interaction. Driverless technology builds on the advanced motoring technologies that already assist drivers in operating vehicles. Many motor vehicles come equipped with technologies such as Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), cruise and adaptive speed control and parking sensors. ABS, it should be noted, does not actually require the human driver to provide instructions or direct control. Such technologies therefore already involve sophisticated software that processes information and directs the driving process.

While the focus of driverless technology tends to be technical, the authors also remind us of what is involved when we drive cars. It is amazing when we consider how humans deploy motor and cognitive skills to negotiate traffic lights, new situations on the road and pedestrians and to move from one location to another with speed: ‘Human eyes stream data to our brain so smoothly we don’t have to consciously pick apart the visual scene to make sense of it’ (89).

The analysis therefore brings to life the challenges posed in moving closer towards full automation, the risk contingencies and regulatory actions for likely use scenarios. According to Lipson and Kurman, the critical challenge ‘that plagues rule-based AI software is that without a robust method to classify every object a car might encounter, it is impossible to write rules to guide the car’s response’ (89). The authors provide a useful account of the algorithmic processes that enable driverless technologies to undertake their object recognition and sensor capabilities (87-88). The technical task for constructing highly reliable algorithms is spelt out:

software that reads streams of data from visual sensors has to do more work. A stream of visual data is at heart a numerical array. Machine-vision software processes these numerical arrays with aplomb, but is incapable of understanding the visual scene the numbers depict, a conunundrum that cuts to the heart of the artificial-intelligence research (89).

Creating a car that has comparable perception that enables the software to ‘see’ what the human driver does is an ongoing dilemma, and we can expect regulators to continue with trialling driverless technologies – platooning, pods and taxis.

The book is also sprinkled with vignettes and accounts of societal and infrastructure challenges. There is, for example, an interesting exchange between Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, and George Hotz recounted in the book. Hotz claims that it would not be overly burdensome for individuals to acquire toolkits that enable them to construct autonomous cars that operate at a very high level of accuracy. Musk’s response is that the technological problem is not achieving 99 per cent accuracy but 99.9999 per cent. At 70 mph, Musk mused that this difference could be problematic (85-88). Not surprisingly, issues regarding liability, risk distribution and insurance remain high on the regulatory agenda.

The book will also be of interest to those who wish to use the coverage of driverless technology as a springboard to consider wider subjects. For example, driverless technology is unlikely to leave the long-established transportation industry and infrastructure untouched. What are we to make of the system of ‘lean production’ and ‘economies of scale‘? As I read accounts of the potential of driverless technology and its benefits for human drivers and the environment, I cannot help but wonder about how driverless cars will redefine car ownership culture as objects of identity and status.

Related to driverless technology is the issue of mobility, not simply in terms of assisting elderly and disabled citizens but also as a value integral to driving. Regrettably, we may have to accept that the price of convenience and personalisation is that owners of driverless cars become targets for the advertising and marketing industry. Will society, and drivers in particular, embrace driverless cars in the way smartphones and wearable technologies have been seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of society, despite serious issues about privacy and surveillance? The authors’ feelings on this are not difficult to glean as they emphasise the social value of technologies that produce practical outcomes for individuals and the economy. I think the jury is out on this one, but one thing should be apparent: the impetus for driverless cars cannot be separated from our platform dominated ecosystem, which continues to redefine the relationship between individuals, industry and the state. The convergence between the rhetoric of a mobile society underpinned by intelligent technologies and web-based platforms should reignite the discourse about governmentality, power and mobility.

Finally, I cannot end this review without a brief reference to one of my favourite chapters in the book, which is devoted to deep learning. Deep learning in essence involves software to draw on information resources to solve problems and generate solutions. While mindful that there are privacy and safety risks, the potential to assist driving in hostile or difficult conditions should not be dismissed readily. The chapter is particularly informative – processes, concepts and methods are clearly explained to show readers how data from the environment can be aggregated to create new knowledge.

Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead offers insights into how intelligent technologies will transform industry and society. It is written for a non-specialist audience and many will find the discussion of the topics informative and come away with their understanding significantly enhanced. There is more to driverless cars than the overburdened ‘trolley problem‘. Those interested in the environmental and safety benefits of intelligent systems for transport, the role of agencies in creating regulatory infrastructures that balance innovation and safety needs and the challenges for designing urban spaces for modern transportation will be reminded of the value of communicating the paradoxes of the ‘black box’ in a way that is accessible to the public and policymakers.

Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya and Tunisia After the Arab Spring. Ibrahim Fraihat. Yale University Press.

Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya and Tunisia After the Arab Spring. Ibrahim Fraihat. Yale University Press. 2016.

Literature on revolution typically highlights the double-edged consequences of overthrowing established tyrannies. Ibrahim Fraihat’s book, Unfinished Revolutions: Yemen, Libya and Tunisia After the Arab Spring, begins with a diagnosis of this phenomenon: ‘The transition process that follows regime change […] can revive old, sometimes forgotten, issues.’ As the social contract terminates, all issues that were resolved, manipulated or coercively shutdown by the ancien régime are reactivated as pressing problems on the political stage. National identity, state structure and modes of economic production are no longer givens, but rather questions.

Fraihat studies this situation in three recent empirical cases: Yemen, Libya and Tunisia. In the Yemeni case, the overthrow of the unification leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, brought into question the (dis)unity of the Yemeni nation-state. In the Libyan case, the termination of the tribal leaders’ loyalty to the former tyrant, Muammar El-Qazzafi, incited tribal factionalism, splitting the nation into many autonomous, self-claimed and self-governing territorialised factions. As for Tunisia, the relatively smooth transition of power ensured national coherence, which makes it qualify as a case of ‘success’ in Fraihat’s terms. One of the reasons for its temporary ‘success’, however, is the persistence of the old regime’s institutions (the army, police, judiciary, etc) despite the revolution against them, which puts their domestic legitimacy under jeopardy and makes their persistence more or less a matter of time. The post-revolution Tunisian state thus is also struggling to reacquire its monopoly over national representation and the punitive use of force, but so far more ‘peacefully’ and ‘silently’ than Libya and Yemen.

In all three cases, post-revolution states are attempting, with variant degrees of failure and success, to offer and enforce a new ‘social contract’ representing the ‘national will’ to replace the overthrown. Accordingly, Fraihat proposes a threefold prognosis: 1) bringing different factions together to collectively deliberate the ‘national will’; 2) delineating and prioritising its components and articulating the ‘social contract’ through which it is institutionalised; and 3) enacting a state structure that represents this national will.

The first point requires a throwback to past grievances that prevent different factions from sitting together on the negotiation table. The second builds on the first to formulate the contours that represent the collective national present, while the third is concerned with the institutions that serve the aspired future. Collectively, those steps shall bring about a national reconciliation, in which past grievances are resolved through transitional justice; the present social contract is reconstructed to accommodate the widest possible variety of national interests and actors; and the aspired future is eventually headed towards by means of collective transition, coordinated through a legitimate nation-state.
Image Credit: Demonstrations in Al Bayda, Libya, 2011 (CCO)

But the devil is in the detail. How can ‘transitional justice’ be achieved that neither disappoints the victims nor antagonises the punished? How can a reasonable consensus be achieved without excluding outlying actors? And how can the balance between the variety of actors’ ‘transitional goals’ be determined? There are no universal answers to such questions. They rather ought to be studied on their own case-specific terms.

Acknowledging the aforementioned case specificity, Fraihat proceeds empirically, interviewing ‘hundreds of national figures, including senior government officials, heads of political parties and civil society organisations, militia leaders, tribal leaders, members of displaced communities, scholars, journalists, former regime loyalists and representatives of a number of international organisations’ in order to frame the contours of the studied conflicts.

As anticipated, the responses he received were far from consensual. However, the variety of raised issues, involved actors and aspired reforms can still be mapped in around twenty points for each country (see Table 1, 69-70). This mapping, I believe, is the book’s main contribution. Nonetheless, it still cannot determine how the ‘balance’ between those different issues, actors and aspirations can be attained.

The author instead drew on conventional conflict resolution theoretical frameworks to work out priorities and/or appropriate balances. This was rather disappointing, for one because it contradicted the author’s initial premise of case specificity. But, more importantly, it also extends the western-centric tradition of conflict resolution literature to the studied cases. More specifically, Fraihat takes for granted the aspiration for a stable nation-state as a ‘common denominator’ between the conflicting actors: an assumption that does not pertain to the cases at hand on two main grounds.

Firstly, it assumes the pre-existence of a homogeneous nation, in which national reconciliation reinstates the ‘normal condition’ of national unity. This does not apply to the former colonies of the Middle East, which were arbitrarily divided into non-homogeneous nation-states by exogenous imperialist forces. In addition, both Yemen and Libya of today were brought into their contemporary existence through the coercive projects of the overthrown tyrants. The problem of national unity in those cases, thus, is not an offspring of the conflict to be ‘resolved’, but a genuine sociopolitical question to be addressed on its own historical terms.

Second, it takes for granted the conflicting actors’ aspirations for a legitimate state. This comes from a western-centric understanding of the state as the optimal form of governance. In the studied cases, it might be the case that some of the conflicting factions do aspire to one form or another of state rule. But it also might be that those actors aspire for tribal and/or militaristic political goals that are beyond the domain of the state. The dominance of either of the two possibilities can only be verified empirically, an endeavour Fraihat’s empirical study overlooks.

Putting the concept of the nation-state at the heart of the proposed reconciliation is therefore problematic. A closer analysis that takes into consideration the novelty, inevitability and exogeneity of contemporary Middle Eastern nation-states may suggest that the roots of contemporary conflicts in the region (tribalism, factionalism, illegitimate states, etc) are more ‘normal’ than they might appear through the lens of western conflict resolution literature. This would surely have an impact on the proposed ‘way out’ of such conflicts, redefining those conflictual notions as national ‘questions’ rather than national problems or crises. Whether they are ‘questions’ or ‘problems’ is itself an empirical inquiry that ought to be studied on its own case-specific terms.

Although the book deftly maps the indigenous actors’ perceptions of the studied post-revolutionary conflicts, its proposed resolutions were not equally indigenous. Its dependence on western-centric conflict resolution methods without adjustment to the cases’ peculiar (colonial and postcolonial) histories leads to empirically unverified (mis)understandings of the involved actors’ aspired transitions. To achieve more indigenous ‘resolutions’, the author could complement his empirical interrogation of the contemporary conflicts with an equally empirical interrogation of the actors’ indigenous understanding of those conflicts and their desired resolutions. This can hardly be achieved without a ‘throwback’ that engages in depth with the history of nationalism and statism in the studied nation-states.

Notwithstanding such limitation, Fraihat’s book remains a seminal empirical reference for students of the Arab uprisings, as well as a valuable theoretical review on the methods of conflict resolution. Its shortcoming, nonetheless, pertains to the link it unquestioningly aspires to establish between the two.

The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority and the Making of the Muslim State. Iza R. Hussin. University of Chicago Press. 2016.

The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority and the Making of the Muslim State. Iza R. Hussin. University of Chicago Press. 2016.
the-politics-of-islamic-law-coverThe field of Islamic studies has been of late in a state of renaissance. Not only have remarkable young scholars emerged in virtually all of its subfields, including that of Islamic law, bringing a much-needed breadth of new ideas about Muslim lifeworlds past and present, but one can also discern a palpable tendency to bring Islamic studies into meaningful and mutually enriching conversation with major contemporary critical discourses in law, politics, anthropology, art history and, of course, history itself. The great beauty of Iza Hussin’s intellectual enterprise is that it achieves all that in a single book — the newly-published The Politics of Islamic Law: Local Elites, Colonial Authority and the Making of the Muslim State.
While the unifying thread of this remarkable work is British colonialism proper in Malaya, Egypt and India, and its aftermath in a postcolony (Malaysia), it can also be read as a study in a new type of ‘comparativism’ — one that is no longer shackled in narrow disciplinary ambits such as ‘comparative politics and historical institutionalism’ (213), but which thrives instead on critical comparisons of ideas about law, politics and the state akin to, and inspired by, such trans-disciplinary intellectual traditions as postcolonial studies and the jurisprudence of violence. It is, therefore, no surprise that Hussin finds Islamic law after the colonial encounter to be both ‘jurispathic and jurisgenerative’ (i.e. capable of both destroying the ‘old’ and creating ‘new’ meanings of law; 29, in reference to Robert Cover) in its incurable postcolonial condition. What is, however, remarkable is her great gift to tell the story of such law (and the polities and human subjectivities it shaped) in an erudite and deeply engaging manner that is, at the same time, accessible to non-specialist readers.
Primarily, The Politics of Islamic Law mines ‘state archives, libraries, universities, and museums in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States’ (21) for sources in Malay, English and Arabic that relate to the colonial un-making and re-making of Islamic law in the lands of the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia under direct or ‘indirect’ British rule, especially Malaya, Egypt and India. These sources, which Hussin aptly names ‘artifacts’, are then divvied up and analysed in three thematic sets — treaties, trials and representations — each comprising a separate chapter in the book. Thus, Chapter Three zooms in on colonial treaties that facilitated the all-important division of jurisdiction in the state between British colonial authorities and local Muslim elites; Chapter Four turns to colonial Islamic law in practice by means of peculiar formal trials; while Chapter Five analyses an eclectic mix of Muslim colonial portraiture, constitutions and publications to illustrate an existential crisis embedded in the very way that colonised Muslim populations, and especially their elites, saw themselves in this period.
Image Credit: Sultan Ibrahim Building, Johor, Malaysia (Bernard Spragg NZ Public Domain)
These three artefactual formations provide for Hussin a springboard for ‘the paradox of Islamic law’ — a thesis elaborated with respect to British Malaya, British India and Egypt under British occupation in Chapter Six, and with a reference to post-independence Malaysia in Chapter Seven. The paradox, for Hussin, lays in the fact that the institutional marginalisation of Islamic law at the hands of the colonial state was readily, and cunningly, accompanied by its symbolic centralisation. The result was a near-demise of whatever was known as pre-colonial Islamic law (which, in a way, is a restatement of the Hallaq thesis on the death of post-classical sharīʿa) and the concomitant rise of local Muslim elites as the custodians of hybrid colonial and postcolonial Islamic legal regimes, which resembled little, if at all, the Islamic law of the past.
The paradox of colonial Islamic law relied, in turn, on an equally paradoxical ‘statecraft’. ‘By the end of the nineteenth century’, writes Hussin, ‘the Muslim state was two things — one, an administrative state that upheld Islamic law in matters of personal status’ and ‘two, an individual condition of an Islam that was marked increasingly by adherence to a textualized [sharīʿa] organized around the marital family’ (203). And it is in this particular statecraft — captured in the ambiguity of the Perso-Arabic term-of-art siyāsa that simultaneously denotes ‘statecraft’, ‘governance’ and (just) ‘punishment’ — that Hussin locates the politics of Islamic law (171), a politics of paradox par excellence:
The institutionalized politics of paradox, borne out of the colonial encounter, produced through ongoing jurisdictional politics, and maintained through continuing local investments in the Muslim state as an individual and collective good, guarantee the continuity of the politics of Islamic law. Further, the hybrid nature of this law, and these states, indicates a trajectory for the future in which paradox will continue to play a productive political role — an Islamic legal politics that is a matter of elite negotiation locally, but tightly interwoven into religious, economic, and political networks worldwide; an Islamic legal politics that is highly ambivalent, taking on the language and power of the state in order to contest its values, its conduct, and its actors; an Islamic legal politics active at multiple levels — in the education and culture of its professionals, in the language and institutions of the state, in the strategies of activists and opponents, as well as never limited to, the text of the law (265).
While The Politics of Islamic Law is a fine example of the idea, explicitly endorsed by Hussin, that ‘[l]aw makes politics, and politics makes law’ (13), it is also a work of rare ethnographic sensitivity, akin to that of Brinkley Messick (whose oeuvre the author repeatedly praises in the book), in that it pays due respect to transformations in law’s textual forms (i.e. ‘processes of textualization, codification, and officialization that were the hallmark of colonial state formation’ (13)) as well as in law’s elite socialities. Therefore, one can only hope that Hussin’s future work will also relate to what, by her own admission, is missing in this book — a ‘study of how the law worked in everyday life in India, Egypt, and Malaya’ (23). Still, as a crossroads of disciplines, discourses, colonial and postcolonial practices, The Politics of Islamic Law is a remarkable book, and one that is destined to become a seminal reading for new directions in postcolonial theory of Islamic law.