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From Gaza to Ottawa: Transnational Palestine in the Cold War Era

Panel V-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • This paper compares the Canadian government’s response to Britain’s 1939 Palestine White Paper with Canada’s response to, and responsibility for, the 1947 UN Partition Plan. There is little evidence of Palestine factoring significantly into Canadian foreign policy (and vice versa) until the Second World War, when revelations of the Nazi death camps profoundly reshaped Canadian perspectives. To help us understand Canadian support for Britain’s 1939 White Paper, this paper draws on the thoughtfully articulated responses of Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s chief adviser on Middle East affairs, Elizabeth MacCallum. For MacCallum, Canadian backing for the White Paper - and the conditional steps it outlined for granting independence to a unified Palestine based on majority rule (including veto power over immigration) - was grounded in principles outlined by the League of Nations Covenant, as well as in powerful themes circulating at the time, such as democracy, decolonization and self-determination. Less than a decade after the 1939 White Paper confirmed majority rule in an independent Palestine, the idea of partitioning Palestine would, in November 1947, achieve a broad international consensus, with Canada now playing a leading role in such deliberations. While the post-WWII international order consistently maintained European-drawn colonial borders against both external and internal challenges, Palestine proved an exception. The profound reordering of international politics and the emergence of a bi-polar Cold War world all intervened in a unique and radical way to support Israel’s creation following the Holocaust. By examining Ottawa’s changing perspectives on the fate of mandate Palestine over this decade, and seeing Palestine’s post-war partition as uniquely contingent on forces crashing together in this transformative period, one can draw several broader implications. First, we can contrast the impact of Zionism during Palestine’s interwar mandate period (culminating in the 1939 White Paper) with earlier settler colonial projects elsewhere (including North America), and caution against drawing for Palestine too direct a line from 1917 to 1947. Second, we can assess the continuing significance of the international resolutions that lay behind the 1947 decision to partition mandate Palestine. In drawing such conclusions, this paper will attempt to engage with current debates over the role of “international consensus” or “legitimacy” in contemporary thinking about one-state and two-state solutions to the ongoing conflict, as well as Canada’s own responsibility for helping bring about a just resolution.
  • Scholars such as Deepa Kumar have done crucial work in illustrating how the demands of empire have rendered the figure of the Arab and the South Asian inextricable from the ideological construct of the “terrorist” in the post 9/11 moment. Kumar refers to this process as Terrorcraft. Yet “terrorist/terrorism,” genealogically linked to “radical/radicalism” and “extreme/extremist,” has a longer history of being used to discipline and silence racialized peoples and liberation movements. Indeed, “terrorism” and “radicalism” have also been recurring charges deployed against proponents of the Black freedom struggle. Convergences in the racialized targeting of Black and Arab activists as “radicals” or “terrorists” have historically nucleated around Communism, the fight against white supremacy, and the Palestinian liberation struggle. By way of a process I am currently terming “re-aggregating,” this paper therefore reads several key instances of convergence of racialized political repression of Black and Arab activism and organizing to explore the potential political and analytical gains in understanding Terrorcraft as a consolidating process informed by comparisons, juxtapositions, and slippages rather than exceptionalization alone. By analyzing examples such as the joint use of Cold War legislation to target Black and Palestinian activists, the co-presence of anti-Arab/anti-Palestinian surveillance campaigns during the government’s COINTELPRO programs targeting Black activist organizations, as well as the multifarious racial targeting made possible under dangerously broad rubrics such as “hate” or “extremism” promoted by law enforcement agencies and parastatal organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, this paper argues that sustained attention to convergences in racialized political repression can in turn allow for greater understanding of how the notion of the charges of “radicalism,” “terrorism” and “extremism” are deployed to sabotage liberationist movements.
  • My presentation will begin to unpack Israel’s first occupation of the Gaza Strip in the immediate aftermath of the 1956 tripartite military onslaught on Egypt. Swiftly taking over the Strip in the fall of 1956, the Israeli military, for the first time since 1948, was occupying a territory previously part of mandatory Palestine, and densely populated with civilians, most of them 1948 refugees. Reading through newly declassified Israeli archival documents, my project unpacks the four months of Israeli presence in the Strip as a laboratory of occupation. Facing international pressure as well as, internally, a debate about potential annexation, the Israeli military rule consisted of multiple, and often contradictory, approaches for the control and management of a newly acquired territory and its hostile population. For instance, Defense Ministry and military officials devised plans for the integration of the Strip in Israeli economy mainly as a source of cheap labor and materials (like textiles). On the other hand, though, there was a clear intention to keep the Strip physically isolated from the rest of historical Palestine and moreover – to find a “solution” for the 1948 refugees (the bulk of its population) that will not entail their repatriation, even in a case of annexation. The 1956 occupation offered Israel an opportunity to experiment governing a subject, non-citizen, Palestinian population. It is here that the military proposed the creation of “civilian administration” apparatus, that will oversee aspects of everyday life of the population. This administration would ostensibly be separate from the military per-se, in charge of security affairs. The Gaza Strip is also where the Israeli military developed its open-fire rules, which continued to be publicly debated today, as well as its methods of counterinsurgency and intelligence gathering. In a series of remarkable documents authored after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Strip on March 1, 1957, former military government and other Department of Defense officials draw conclusions and lessons from those 125 days of occupation. Notably, many of the lessons learned from the 1956-7 occupation were later implemented in Israel’s post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and contributed to its longevity. “our commitment to democracy was the root of our failure,” wrote one military official, referring to what he viewed as being beholden to relative transparency and norms of international law. Next time, then, “we shall do things differently.”
  • The attempt by an Australian tourist to commit arson at al-Aqsa mosque in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem on 21 August 1969 fired up passions in the Muslim world. This stinging indignity and open wound quickly became instrumentalized by various political actors in service to diverse objectives. Saudi King Faisal and Morocco’s King Hassan II joined forces to address the mosque fire at an Islamic Conference in Rabat which welcomed non-Arab Islamic states such as Iran and Turkey, as well as African and Asian Muslim-majority states. The arson had produced a ripe moment for Saudi Arabia to push back against the Nasser-led pan-Arab solidarity framework and reframe regional cooperation along new lines within which the Saudi Kingdom could play a more significant role. Pakistan’s propensity to champion Muslim causes as a means of reinforcing and constructing Hindu-Muslim binaries on the Indian subcontinent was manifested in its vociferous call for the UN Security Council to intervene in Jerusalem, as well as its threat to quit the Islamic summit in Rabat over the inclusion of India. Still recovering from its stinging defeat in 1967, Jordan cast the destruction of al-Aqsa as a core tenet of Zionism; Israel underscored the ways in which inaccurate and malicious messaging refracted the endemic saturation of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, while wider swathes of the international community linked the heinous fire with a breach of international norms and stressed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. Non-state actors joined the fray, cloaking their calls to action in the vestment of al-Aqsa. Thousands marched in Amman calling for jihad to avenge the fire, feeding suspicions that Jordan’s commitment to the liberation of Palestine was in question, and underscoring the growing confrontation between the Jordanian state and the Palestine Liberation Organization. From his exile in Najaf, Ayatollah Khomeini charged that Iranian oil tankers steamed toward Israel even as the occupying regime set fire to al-Aqsa mosque. He cast the Shah’s reconstruction funding initiative as a plot to help the Zionists cover up their deed and urged Muslim leaders to leave al-Aqsa half-burned to the ground. Using sources in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and English, this paper treats al-Aqsa as a transnational and transcultural issue area by widening the frame to include a multiplicity of actors and stakeholders, and exploring their relationships of cooperation, coordination and contestation in the aftermath of the 1969 al-Aqsa fire.
  • Salah Salah’s uncle, Abu Ali, was the sheikh of their clan. After their family’s displacement to Sidon’s Ein el Helweh Refugee Camp, Abu Ali managed to negotiate the use of an unusually large tent to continue mediating grievances and consulting with fellow elders, just as he had done before they were expelled from their village in northeastern Palestine in 1948. Because Salah had received a formal education in Palestine and in exile in Lebanon, he was frequently invited to his uncle’s tent despite his youth to read newspapers aloud to the usual assemblage of clan and camp elders. The most important of these newspapers by 1953 was Al-Tha’r. The Beirut-based weekly’s call for Arab unity for the sake of Palestinian liberation, as well as its frequent references to the Palestinian Great Revolt of the 1930s and the dehumanizing conditions Palestinian refugees confronted in the camps, sparked lively conversation among the Great Revolt veterans who filled Abu Ali’s diwan. Salah, meanwhile, was so inspired by the content of the journal and the enthusiastic discussions it provoked that he persuaded the young activist who delivered the paper to bring him to whatever group was producing and distributing Al-Tha’r in Sidon. It was in this way that the seventeen-year-old Salah Salah joined the nascent Arab Nationalists’ Movement, the Pan-Arabist precursor to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and much of the Arab New Left. By recounting a partial social biography of Salah Salah, this paper explores the lived experience of Palestinian political mobilization in the 1950s, a critical yet understudied period in the history of the Palestinian National Movement (PNM). Drawn from oral histories, memoirs, and published collections of party papers, Salah’s revolutionary story sheds light on several key dynamics shaping post-Nakba Palestinian political organizing: the connections between the Palestinian Revolution of the 1950s-1970s and earlier phases of the PNM; the importance of camp life to the development of the PNM; the universality of violent encounters with regional security states; and the centrality of core elements of daily life to the rhythms and reach of popular political mobilization. Further, the paper’s social biographical approach allows it to explore how processes that have characterized contemporary Palestinian history, such as recurrent displacement, state violence, and political repression, intersected with both everyday lives and the development of popular movements, illuminating how Palestinians experienced their political activities as part of daily life in tumultuous times.