Author: Zeina B. Ghandour
Hardback: 197 pages
Publisher: Routeledge (2010)
ISBN 10: 0-415-48993-8
Review by Samira Quraishy
A Discourse on Domination in Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property and Insurgency sends the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions fascination, bewilderment, anger, confusion and so much more. Described as “unconventional” in its form and structure, the book looks at different theories to analyse Mandate Palestine and the consequences of the mandate granted to Britain by the League of Nations. Zeina Ghandour, a lawyer by profession, sets out to accomplish two things with this academic work: first, to “unwrite” history, as the majority of the world follows the widely accepted Zionist-led narrative on Mandate Palestine but Ghandour allows readers to submerge themselves in history from a uniquely Palestinian, indigenous perspective. Second, is to analyse critically and understand the true nature and “situation of the coloniser”, in this instance the British colonialist power; the driving force behind the expansion of its empire was to “urge for profit, privilege and appropriation”.
Ghandour uses excessive critical academic theories to scrape off years and years of discourse that has overlaid the true reality of the motives and actions of colonial enforcers before and during Mandate Palestine. A vast part of what in fact is her PhD thesis focuses heavily on trying to “unwrite” decades of misinformation entrenched in past and current discourse on Palestine by analysing and comparing metanarratives and historical discourse amongst historians and other academics. Although helping to set the scene for what is to come, the depth to which Ghandour analyses this discourse may not be suited to the layman.
In chapter one, “Through their chiefs: The metanarrative of imperial rule in Africa and the East”, Ghandour delves into the world of metanarratives, with riveting examples of three well-known “imperial trailblazers” and how they came to influence the League of Nation’s mandate allocations. She describes how the tone and language used by the likes of Lugard of Africa, Cromer of Egypt and Lawrence of Arabia set the standard and were used to legitimise the perceptions held by the imperial powers of their “dependents” (the natives). It was through the aforementioned “imperial agents” and their respective narratives that the discourse on the natives under their power was romanticised and accepted without question by historical discourse over the decades. Ghandour champions successfully the post-structionalist critique throughout her book to help “unwrite” much of the current and misleading discourse, i.e. “the history of how influential individuals saw the empire which they served”, rather than the history of the natives they had subjugated and conquered. The reader is granted access to a whole other view giving life to the native’s perspective. The author discusses the makings of Mandate Palestine as a consequence of the metanarratives on Palestine and the Arabs by British imperial agents and how this set the stage for the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The chapter ends with a damning statement from Lord Balfour which reflected the deep-rooted British superiority complex that his imperialistic upbringing had ingrained, manifesting itself in the form of the most bizarre piece of legislation with devastating ramifications for the indigenous Palestinians. In an internal letter, dated 11 August 1919, Balfour wrote:
“For in Palestine, we do not even propose to go through the form of consulting with the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country… The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism, and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700 000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient Land”(p.38)
Ghandour describes it perfectly: “A Miasma had settled over Palestine” as of 29 September, 1923.
The following chapter, “Unmarked and Undivided”, describes in detail how Palestine was carved up and how “law fare”, a fundamental coercive tool of the empire was “deployed to subordinate the native”. Contrary to the discourse that many are used to, that the Mandate tried its utmost to avoid the outcome that we see in Palestine and the Middle East today, Ghandour explains that in reality, what we are witnessing today is precisely because of the nature of the Mandate. The mask of the colonialist is removed and we see for the first time the true motivations of the colonialists’ “charitable racism” that manifests itself in extremely flawed and biased accounts by these imperial agents. Ghandour’s legal background comes to the fore as she examines different land legislation enforced on the native Arabs – this section admittedly makes for tedious reading but be assured that you will be rewarded in the last few chapters for your perseverance.
One of the most captivating sections in the book, “Between the bazaar and the bungalow”, examines the different perspectives once more, with Ghandour again emphasising the role language plays in creating discourse. The chapter explores the alternative to the metanarratives – the subaltern narrative. Here the voice of the native Arab, the “Dependent”, the so-called “rebel”, is for the first time given a long overdue prominence, a stage in which he or she relates a story that they have lived through… a memory they have experienced… a terror they have seen engulfing their homeland. Here the book takes on a life of its own as the reader is immersed in the native’s life, detailing their interactions and experiences of the English, the Nakba, the Jews, their day-to-day struggles, the loss of loved ones, the snatching away of their homeland and many other aspects. For the very first time, the reader is transported back to a Palestine during the period of destruction by “imperial agents”, who are described thus by one displaced Arab:
“Listen to me. We couldn’t digest the English. They are worse than the Jews. The English were fairer with the Jews than with the Arabs. They armed the Jews and gave them ammunition but they didn’t give anything to the Arabs. The reason for our Nakba [catastrophe] is the English. Go and tell them. They are the ones who ruined our houses and made us refugees. They slaughtered us. We don’t like them. I’m sorry, what am I saying? Are you English?” (p.106)
For the first time we are allowed to see events in Palestine through the eyes of former “rebels” and freedom fighters. Once they started talking and relaying their accounts, all they wanted was to talk, as if this was the first time that they were being listened to and they wanted to make sure that their voices were heard loud and clear. One Palestinian refugee expressed this perfectly when he finished his narrative with, “Ask me more. Ask. Ask. I’ve seen everything. I’m seventy-eight”. (p.109)
The role of religion and how it shaped policies and colonial attitudes towards Mandate Palestine was another aspect explored by Ghandour in “Raising the religious cry”. The “elite” natives and the prestige and honour bestowed on them by the British were just that, bestowed on them BY the British and thus their standing was only as it was, to serve British objectives. Ghandour scrutinises the role in which native hierarchy and rivalry played into the hands of the British colonialists and their strategy to institutionalise personal distrust between different factions and clans. Unfortunately the Arab and Palestinian leaders are still suffering from this complex today. The Mandatory was concerned primarily about two things, namely Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is fascinating to see the methods the British used to divide and rule. Certain individuals were elevated in status and others were stifled for fear of causing unrest. As the true fate began to dawn on native Arabs, Muslim and Christian alike, they began to resist and re-group as clans, opposing the British Mandate, rioting and protesting as they were being displaced from their land to make way for Jewish settlers and continued British oppression. Ethnic cleansing in today’s parlance.
As the Arabs tried to get organised and political leaders rose to prominence and began to voice their grievances and rally the natives, the British took steps to stifle them. One such leader was Dr H.F. Khalidi (HFK), the “legendary” Mayor of Jerusalem, who was deported to the Seychelles along with other Palestinian leaders. Ghandour ends her thesis, not with an academic summary, but with an excerpt from HFK’s diary when in exile. He describes his arrest most eloquently, covering the separation from his wife and young children and his thoughts of home. Ghandour reminds us bitterly that “whether you are a frenetic, feverish peasant or a soft spoken government doctor from town: humiliation is in store”. “The Last Word” embodies the whole book, allowing the native for once to have the last word over his imperial master.