Men of Capital
Scarcity and Economy in Mandate Palestine
Sherene Seikaly



The Politics of Basic Needs

On 5 April 1948, Fu’ad Saba, founder of the accounting firm Saba and Company, wrote the Arab Higher Committee (AHC).1 He was requesting an exit permit on behalf of Khalil Sa‘ada.2 Sa‘ada, the assistant director of Saba’s Jaffa office, was moving to the company’s Baghdad branch. Once in Baghdad, Sa‘ada could better serve other Palestinian businesses that were also relocating their headquarters. That year, 1948, marked the birth of Israel and the death of contiguous Palestine.

Urgency and desperation united the requests the AHC received in those momentous months. A letter from the National Committee of Bir al-Sabi‘ implored the AHC: “We are being attacked and the Jews are close to taking over all of the transportation roads between Palestine and Egypt, please lend us tanks and heavy machinery or direct us to where we can buy [them]. . . . We have sent you many requests but have not received military attention or organization . . . we are without leadership or direction.”3 But Saba’s tone was more measured. Saba and the businessmen of his cohort were rapidly transferring their capital and interests to other parts of the Arab world. He was a self-made man whose entrepreneurship had already borne considerable fruit. In the 1930s, Saba and his colleagues had drawn on diverse philosophies to craft economic thought and envision an economic nahda, or renaissance. They defined themselves as men of capital, and they preached to their elite brethren about the proper spending and saving patterns that would ensure Palestinian progress in a pan-Arab utopia of free trade, private property, and self-responsibility.

In their earlier developmental projects, Saba and his colleagues had done their best to sever the economic from the political. They lobbied the British colonial government for institutions, statistical surveys, and calculations, which they believed were necessary for realizing what they called a healthy economic life. They knew that the British Mandate and its foundational commitment to the Zionist enterprise in Palestine subordinated them as political subjects. They collaborated with and resisted this subordination, engineering initiatives that wedded economic achievement to national independence.

Shut out of institutional spaces, these men of capital proselytized economy not as a science of markets but as a science of the self. They differentiated between needs and luxuries and emphasized the imperative of management, while creating and guarding new notions of class and status. In their periodical Al-Iqtisadiyyat al-‘arabiyya (The Arab Economic Journal in its editors’ translation), these men of capital had been careful not to address the Great Revolt (1936–1939); at the same time, some of them had funded the rebels. Saba himself had taken part in the AHC’s effort to wrestle the Revolt from the hands of the rebels and contain one of their most radical demands: social change. And as a result, the British colonial government exiled Saba and his colleagues to the Seychelles.

The end of the 1930s was a period of devastation for a majority of Palestinians—the farmers and villagers. Landlessness and indebtedness had plagued most Palestinians throughout the Mandate period (1923–1948). The British colonial government’s brutal counterinsurgency during the Revolt further heightened these conditions. Bankruptcy, unemployment, house demolitions, mass detentions, torture, and the wounding, imprisonment, exile, or killing of over 10 percent of Palestinian males were the consequences of this brutality.4 In 1939, Saba and the banker and dissident Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim, alongside the better-known Palestinian national leader al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni, waited in exile for news from the ground. When the news came, total war was on the horizon, and it would irreversibly change the course of the years to come.

The onset of World War II meant an influx of capital, war-induced industrialization, and the implementation of ambitious rationing, distribution, and marketing schemes. The British colonial government transformed Palestine into the empire’s second largest military base in the Middle East after Egypt. A crisis of supply and an abiding fear of further upheaval forced the British colonial government to begin calculating bodies and their consumption in Palestine. New indices such as the calorie and the cost of living, wrapped in the ambiguous folds of the science of nutrition and the aim of colonial development, became tools of governing, or rather, as was the case most of the time, misgoverning.

Perhaps for a moment, one could imagine that men like Saba and Ibrahim would welcome what appeared to be a colonial turn to developing Palestinian economy. That economy, especially the “Arab” part of it, had never been fully legible, divided in its numerical representations into “Jewish” and “Arab” sections, with the former enjoying the parastatal institutions and its calculations of which the Palestinians could only dream. In the settler colonial context of both British rule and Zionist settlement, the Palestinians could never become developmental subjects.

World War II brought this reality into stark focus. It was a time of deep crisis, which exposed long-festering realities. Men like Saba and Ibrahim could no longer separate their economic visions from their political obligations. The self-proclaimed vanguards of the future turned away from their imaginings of a broad Arab horizon of commercial plenty. Through the nascent institutions of the Chambers of Commerce, they focused instead on the realities of scarcity and the urgency of managing basic needs. It was during the 1940s that they sought to address the many others, who in the previous decade they had naturalized as their inferiors—those “Bedouin” and “peasants”—as objects of representation. Economy was no longer an index of individual and national uplift; it became linked to a continued presence on the land.

But very few would maintain that presence. With the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, the large majority of Palestinians, 700,000 to 800,000 people,5 became stateless refugees. The 150,000 Palestinians who did remain on the land became second-class “citizen strangers” under military rule in that 80 percent of Palestine that was now called Israel.6 As for Sa‘ada, the young man traveling from Jaffa to Baghdad, in 1948 he became part of a broad diasporic network of firms and contacts.

Saba, Ibrahim, and the businessmen and bankers who made money and shaped economy in Palestine do not appear in the historical record. Their invisibility is not the result of one condition, but a confluence of several. First among them is the history and historiography of settler colonialism in its British and Zionist articulations. Second are three characters that continue to dominate the historiographic scene: the aristocrat, the comprador, and the middle-class hero. Finally, there are the linked impulses of nostalgia, mourning, and idealization of pre-Nakba Palestine that flatten the topography of Palestinian social life.

Saba, along with Abd al-Muhsin al-Qattan and Hasib Sabagh among others, became leading figures in accounting, banking, contracting, and insurance throughout the Arab world. They accumulated wealth and expertise and took part in leading the commercial horizon they had imagined in the 1930s. Yet despite these successes, Saba was never quite the same after 1948. There was, his grandson explains, a lot of silence in the house.7 Saba remained in Beirut until his death. Not far from where he lived stood Sabra and Shatilla, the refugee camps where the majority of Palestinian refugees remain confined until today.

Settler Colonialism

Until 1948, the majority of Arabs in Palestine were small farmers and sharecroppers. The formation of large estates and the growing power of merchant capital in the late nineteenth century began causing the indebtedness and displacement that would characterize rural life.8 Palestinians would survive the economic duress and famine of World War I only to face a new regime of colonial control that the League of Nations called Mandatory rule. In 1919, the Covenant of the League of Nations divided the world into “advanced nations” and those peoples who were “not yet able to stand by themselves.”9 Based on the principles of “well-being and development,” the Covenant sought to provide “tutelage” to these not-yet-peoples of the former German and Ottoman territories, which the document further divided into a three-tiered hierarchy (A, B, C) based on potential for self-rule. The Covenant graded the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman empire—Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—as A territories, whose independence could be provisionally recognized. Under the monitoring body of the Permanent Mandates Commission, the Mandate system was distinct from imperial frameworks because it promised eventual self-rule. At the same time, it continued what Uday Mehta has called the metaphor of childhood that informed British liberal understandings of imperial subjects.10

Mandatory rule in Palestine was exceptional. Typically we think of this exceptionalism as rooted in British support of Zionism, a result of conflicting promises to Arabs and Jews in a post–World War I order, and/or an outcome of British colonial ambiguity and incoherence. These explanations are accurate but not accurate enough. They can lead to a faulty narrative framework that pits a settlement movement and a colonized people as equivalent national movements competing over one strip of land. This narrative has persisted until the present, as has the reality on the ground of an occupier and an occupied that cannot be equated. The Mandate in Palestine was not simply exceptional because the colonial government supported one so-called side over another. The Mandate in Palestine was exceptional because it was the only case in which the Permanent Mandates Commission endorsed settler colonialism.11

The November 1917 Balfour Declaration inaugurated the British commitment to “a national home for the Jewish people” with the qualification that this would supposedly not prejudice “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”12 This short memorandum rendered Jewish an ethno-national category in Palestine. It defined the land and its inhabitants by this category, despite the fact that Jews constituted 5 percent of the people who lived in Palestine at the turn of the twentieth century.13 The memorandum rendered the majority of the Palestinians who lived on the land nameless; it defined them by what they were not. Two parallel processes began to take root. First was the partitioning of people into categories of Jewish and non-Jewish, deserving and undeserving of a national home. Second was the erasure of the Palestinian, who appeared only as a non-Jewish inhabitant bearing religious and civil but not political rights.

One of the first partitions that took place after World War I was the separation of Palestinian Jews from their former Muslim and Christian brothers under Ottoman rule.14 It is at this point that what Edward Said called the malicious simplifications of Arab and Jew began to harden, although that hardening would be evolutionary, processual, and always partial.15 Despite scholarly arguments that the Balfour Declaration was primarily a piece of war propaganda and not a blueprint for British rule,16 the two principles that the Declaration inaugurated—the erasure of the Palestinian and the partition of the people into those deserving versus those undeserving of a national home—became the foundation of the Mandate document. Article 2 of that document recognized the Jewish Agency as the body responsible for realizing the Jewish national home in Palestine. It was the only non-Anglo institution that received official recognition in Mandate Palestine. Article 6 committed British colonial rule to Zionist land settlement and Jewish immigration. From its inception, British colonial rule was premised on enabling the settler movement and denying the possibility of politics for Palestinians. Mandate rule brought into law the Zionist mantra of “a land without a people for a people without a land.”

This mantra has enjoyed an impressive longevity. However, we should qualify its meaning to get at the specific condition of Palestinian invisibility in colonial epistemologies. Zionists of the late nineteenth century did not imagine that there were no people on the land of Palestine, but rather that they were not a people. Theodor Herzl described a set of caricatures that inhabited what he called the land of Israel: the wealthy effendis who could be had for a price and the remaining impoverished peasants who could be smoothly removed without incident. These people were a motley crew without anything defining or unifying them.17 Zionists from various political leanings did not share Herzl’s confidence that the people who lived in Palestine would not be attached enough to its land to resist their displacement.18 However, the Zionist emphasis on the lack of a politically coherent and distinct people in Palestine who deserved to make claims to the land on which they had resided for hundreds of years would continue apace. The caricatures of the effendi and the peasant, as well as the depiction of the Palestinians as insufficiently rooted, continue to have currency.

In the meantime, Zionists were hard at work shaping a cohesive settlement community around a new ethno-national understanding of what it meant to be Jewish. They called themselves the Yishuv. Zionism promised Jews who had suffered religious, political, and racial persecution for centuries in Europe that they could finally become European but only by leaving Europe. Anti-Semitism and Zionism had one thing in common: the belief that Jews could never assimilate in Europe.19 The process of becoming European by realizing a settler colony would be an abundant source of persecution: For the Palestinians it entails ongoing erasure; for the eastern (Mizrahi) Jews who did not fit the Ashkenazi (European) mold, it has meant decades of marginalization; and for the Ashkenazi, it required killing centuries of tradition, language, and culture to fit the template of the new Jew.20

The process of becoming European was based on the consolidation of a parastatal infrastructure. By the 1920s, the Zionists had realized a network of institutions that would become the foundation of the state of Israel. These included the governing body of the Jewish Agency; the Jewish National Fund, which Zionists had established in 1901 to purchase land; the labor organization of the Histadrut, which organized Jewish laborers during the Mandate; the military organization of the Haganah; and the Vaad Leumi, a Jewish people’s council that would become the Israeli parliament or Knesset in 1948. The British colonial administration bolstered the legitimacy of each of these institutions. In addition, as various crises of supply and informal markets during World War II amply indicate, these institutions often outranked the British colonial government in capital and expertise.21

The colonial government also supported Zionist enterprise in Palestine. Conventionally, colonial policy deemed tariff manipulation “uneconomic.”22 The British colonial government departed from this convention, supporting Yishuv industry through tariff manipulation. Article 11 of the Mandate stated that the colonial government could arrange with the Jewish Agency “to construct or operate, upon fair and equitable terms, any public works, services and utilities, and to develop any of the natural resources of the country.”23 It was on this basis that the colonial government granted three major monopoly concessions to Zionist interests in the 1920s: the electricity concession to the Palestine Electricity Corporation, Limited (established in 1923),24 the Dead Sea salt concessions to the Palestine Potash Company (established in 1929), and the salt concession in 1922 to the Palestine Salt Company.25

In addition, there was a long list of companies to which the Palestine government made specific customs concessions. The developing diamond industry, which flourished during World War II, received a concession from High Commissioner Herbert Samuel in 1923 to allow uncut diamonds duty-free entry and also encouraged the export industry.26 Other companies that received customs concessions on duty-free raw material imports included the Nesher Cement Company, Palestine Oil Industry (Shemen) Ltd., the Delfiner’s Silk Factory, the Yehuda Steam Factory, the Raanan Company Ltd. (confectionaries), and the Lodzia Textile Company, Ltd. The economic historian Jacob Metzer has argued that it is “empirically unverified” that the prime beneficiaries of the tariffs were Jewish industrialists and that these benefits were in any way consequential.27 For Metzer, British colonial support was simply in response to the demands of what he calls a growing and modernizing Jewish-led economy.28 Beyond the value-based assessment of Jewish economic superiority deserving of colonial support, Metzer undermines his argument. A brief glimpse at the historical record supports Barbara Smith’s point that the colonial government’s concessions protected Jewish industry.29

The traditional Zionist approach to economy in Palestine posited a backward, primitive, semi-feudal Palestinian Arab society based on subsistence agriculture with an Islamic reluctance regarding moneylending. In these accounts, Zionism in the late Ottoman and Mandate period civilized the Palestinian primitive–native. Jewish capital introduced a set of progressive changes that benefited the peasant, or fellah.30 Never mind that Jewish land settlement and expropriation displaced the fellah, who became unemployed, a condition impossible on the land as Nahla Zu‘bi points out.31 But in these renditions obdurately wedded to how settler colonial economic growth could ostensibly benefit the colonized, Palestine is marked by two distinct economic systems with limited market relations.32 There were two separate national economies—the traditional and backward Palestinian economy and the Jewish capitalist economy—and each developed independently. One sector did not exploit the other. What emerged was a competition between the two, accompanied by a crisis of modernization in the Arab sector.33

Scholars such as Roger Owen, Alexander Schölch, and Beshara Doumani have long overturned the conviction that Palestine came into the world capitalist system with the onset of British colonialism. Before 1882, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre were important export points for external trade. Nablus was the most important center for local and regional trade and manufactured soap, oil, and cotton. Jaffa exported the produce of southern Palestine—wheat, barley, maize, olive oil, soap, oranges, and other crops—to France, Egypt, England, Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Malta, and northern Syria.34

Yet the dual-economy model continues to be conventional wisdom. It is perhaps most potently articulated in Metzer’s thorough study, The Divided Economy of Mandatory Palestine.35 The stark binary between the modern Jewish economy and the pre-modern Arab economy takes visual form on the cover of the paperback edition. There, a 1946 photograph depicts a camel caravan passing the electric power station in Tel Aviv. The image resonates with Metzer’s reasoning that Zionist industry and economic growth were beneficial to Palestinians.36 Recent work has overturned these conclusions. Amos Nadan has effectively shown that Metzer’s claims of progressive growth in the Arab agrarian economy are unfounded.37

In most of these accounts, there is a resounding silence on Arab capitalist practice. The scantiness, unavailability, and extremely speculative character of figures on Palestinian wages, commerce, trade, and industry justify this silence. Metzer claims that “the dynamics of manufacturing in Mandatory Palestine was primarily, although definitely not exclusively, a Jewish story.”38 Thus, the Palestinian story becomes an acceptable gap in historical inquiry. This lack enables the divided economy narrative of modern, European industry versus rural, traditional Palestinian agriculture to proceed unchecked. Certainly the Yishuv’s forces in 1948 attempted to erase Palestinian presence on the land as well as the records of that presence.39

Moreover, Metzer is accurate in his claim that the Palestinians did not create statistical mechanisms for the systematic collection and analysis of economic data.40 Ronen Shamir, building on the idea that economy does not exist independently of the sciences that define and measure it, takes Metzer’s conclusion one step further. Since Arab economists did not assemble a separate economy, Shamir explains, “the ‘Arab economy’ . . . perhaps may be better understood as a ‘negative assembly.’41 This negative assembly “mainly existed as a kind of ephemeral shadow, appearing as the ambiguously inferior ‘other’ of its Jewish counterpart.”42 Shamir is, of course, correct in pointing to the Yishuv’s successful “politics of calculation.”43 But here archival absences can play a pernicious role. While there may be a Palestinian story, the documents that can reveal it do not exist.44 The assumption that there are no traces to unearth does not simply result in the story remaining untold. It leads to the conclusion that there is no story to tell.45

As it turns out, there is a story to tell about Arabs, calculation, and economy in Palestine. The best response to these accounts of stories untold comes from a return to scholars like Baruch Kimmerling and Gershon Shafir, who historicized Zionism in Palestine as a settler colonial movement.46 Zachary Lockman began a relational approach that insisted on understanding Zionism, not as an isolated European phenomenon (or as a colonial subject and his shadow), but in its interaction with the land and the people of Palestine.47 This work in turn inspired scholarship that sought to study both Arab and Jewish life in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine.48 Yet, in this scholarship, perceived or actual archival absences also lead to a particular formula: The Jews of the Yishuv act and the Palestinians react.

However, despite archival absences, scholars have provided intriguing portrayals of early twentieth-century Palestine as a dynamic time of cultural and literary production, as well as a period of significant social transformation that included an active women’s movement, labor organizing, mass mobilization, and popular politics.49 Yet the picture of Palestinian social life peopled by poor, illiterate masses of peasants and workers, alongside a small group of venal notables fraught with internecine competition, continues to run rampant in most historical portrayals and contemporary imaginings.

The Aristocrat, the Comprador, the Hero, and the Catastrophe

For earlier periods in Palestine, social life does not appear quite so static and unchanging. Beshara Doumani powerfully revealed the rise and fall of old and new urban elites in relation to shifting village politics from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.50 Yet as the historical trajectory edges closer to the British Mandate era, there is an intensified scholarly investment in the predictability of elites. They appear doggedly out of step with the times. Weldon Matthews’s work on the Istiqlal Party in Palestine is an important corrective to this general trend of homogenizing elites.51 He addresses the growing influence of pan-Arab populism and destabilizes stock characters and stale strategies.

Yet there continues to be a scholarly insistence on the Palestinian elite as unchanging and easily understood. Take, for example, the scholarly and popular penchant to refer to families such as the Husaynis and Nashashibis as an “aristocracy.”52 Such a term is profoundly ahistorical, not simply in Palestine and the “non-West,” but for much of Europe as well. Parallel to the long life of the aristocracy as a social category of historical narrative is the continued insistence on describing pre- and early modern economic organization in Palestine as “feudal.” While less fashionable in academic circles, the moniker of the feudal, or iqta‘i, is still salient in everyday vernacular, particularly in Arabic. Subaltern Palestinians were innovating strategies and visions as they confronted both settler colonialism and social hierarchy. The correlative assumption that continues to limit our thinking is that among the elites it was the same old story. In this cartography, Palestinian men of capital cannot take shape as historical figures.

When they do take shape, they appear as compradors or as indistinct or as overwhelmingly Christian. For example, Walid Kazziha has argued that it was the notables in the Middle East who were the nascent bourgeoisie. They were compradors because they aligned with colonial rule while benefiting from economic growth and industrialization.53 In Palestine, Salim Tamari has argued that a “middling” new class of merchants and manufacturers was growing in the Mandate period particularly in the coastal cities of Gaza, Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre. However, this class was not distinguishable because of their organic links to landowners.54 Another characterization of this period is that many of these actors were Christian and thus exceptional.55 Thus “Christian merchants” become an easily understood collective, who appear in some accounts as unified in their stance against the boycott and the Revolt.56

During Ottoman rule, affiliation with European consulates and institutions privileged Christians in the realms of education and capital accumulation. However, the sectarian representation of men of capital is a drastic misreading. Christians played important roles in the propagation of an economic nahda in Palestine, but they were not dominant among the men who forged their philosophies in periodicals like Iqtisadiyyat or in spaces like the Chambers of Commerce. Eliding sect with politics is also inaccurate. Christian businessmen such as Imil Butaji (Emile Boutagy) and Jad Suidan did oppose the boycott and the Revolt in Haifa. But others, like Fu’ad Saba, funded the rebels. Moreover, Muslim businessmen like Ahmad Hilmi Pasha and Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim shared the concern that the Revolt would lead to their economic ruin.

Historians have used the divides between the comprador and authentic economic nationalist to explain late capitalism and the failure of the national bourgeoisie to uproot older forms of economic power. This expectation of bourgeois revolution is often idealized and mostly unrealized even in that amorphous body of countries called Europe.57 Robert Vitalis has thoroughly upended the comprador and nationalist divide in his work on capitalists in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century. Scholars depicted that period as one of a confrontation between parasitic compradors that shunned productive investment and consorted with colonial power and a patriotic, nationalist faction. Vitalis argued that local investors created private enterprises and national industries because of their access to both state and foreign capital. He has shown how businessmen, irrespective of label, undermined British attempts to construct a neocolonial regime in the decades after World War I.58

Palestinian businessmen, like their Egyptian counterparts, used nationalism in a flexible way to protect their interests.59 They shaped an ideal “social man” and categorized people into ranks and classes based on education and vocation. Central to these categorizations was the “middle class” [al-tabaqa al-wusta], which these men used to define themselves and their social world. In the optimistic 1930s, men of capital in Palestine confined the middle class to the so-called civilized people who were to embody a new kind of economic conduct. By the 1940s and in the face of both wartime constraints and the rapid erosion of political possibilities, men of capital expanded their understanding of the middle class to include what they called the authentic Bedouin and fellah who they feverishly and belatedly sought to represent.

This shifting and exclusionary middle-class project has, like its protagonists, been subject to both neglect and celebration. Keith Watenpaugh has suggested that this neglect is a wider phenomenon in Middle East historiography.60 Because of the impression of its slavish imitation of its European cognate, the middle class has embarrassed scholars and led to “a paucity of work on this group.”61 Watenpaugh has argued that the middle class in early twentieth century Syria formed civil society institutions that articulated participation, accountability, and equality as legitimate social expectations.62 This middle class failed to realize these expectations because its members were vulnerable to the bonds of religion, ethnicity, and family. But perhaps the time has come to question this rendition of civil society as a space distinct from and purified of other social loyalties. Perhaps too, we should more carefully attend to a broader global conviction that the middle class has the potential to eradicate inequality and political instability.63 As Barbara Weinstein and Ricardo Lopez point out, such a conviction positions the Anglo-American model as both universal and exceptional. In comparison, all other historical classes, within Europe and outside of it, will always be “found wanting.”64

But beyond the inevitability of frustrated emulation, the deeper problem is the middle class’ self-description as a force of social change. After all, the goals of eradicating inequality and instability are not necessarily compatible. The imperative of stability works, historically and in the present, not to challenge social and economic inequality but to maintain it. As men of capital in Palestine put it in the 1940s, rebellion and uprising were “not in anyone’s interest.”65 Should we indict, then, men of capital as the villains of the early twentieth century? This is a tempting conclusion, especially in light of the urge to explain the devastation of the Nakba.

When the story of a people pivots on a moment of tragic loss, the quiet before the storm is a source of nostalgia. As Rema Hammami points out, oral history and Nakba commemoration have taken on a life of their own in the West Bank, Gaza, and the various sites of Palestinian exile. There are countless attempts to recreate the times of pre-Nakba Palestine.66 In many ways the Nakba marks the scope and borders of what we can know. It is the beginning and the end of Palestinian time. Some scholars continue to explain the outcome of 1948 as a result of a Palestinian “lack” and the absence of an “authentic nationalism.”67 Idealization and nostalgia are linked to historical renditions of a period that epitomizes the failure to realize a nation-state. Given the widely scattered realities of Palestinians, the continued siege and occupation of Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, and the persistence of statelessness, it is compelling to search the Palestinian historical record for what went wrong.

But in such a search, it is almost inevitable that nationalism—its “lack,” its “strength,” or its “weakness”—will stand as a metonym for politics. In some renditions, the weakness of normative nationalism—a “political deficiency” and a lack of a national “spirit”—resulted in, as the leading historian of collaboration continues to argue, the catastrophe of 1948.68 In response, scholars have documented a national project among the Palestinians. This work is invaluable and has shifted the terms of debate as well as our understanding of the social and cultural geography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Palestine. However, to continue reveling in the marriage between national consciousness and politics reifies colonial epistemologies. Moving beyond nationalism as both the means and ends of politics is long overdue. Certainly, nationalism was one aspect of subjectivity formation, but it was not the only way to make politics.

What I seek to destabilize here is not whether Palestinians were sufficiently national, but to ask why that sufficiency and/or its lack continues to be the measuring stick for whether people can remain on the land they resided on for centuries. Must people’s investment in the random and shifting borders that imperial and colonial officials drew determine their status? Are there other ways to think about politics outside, beside, underneath, and alongside this national prism?

I propose here that we think of the political as the stuff of the everyday: the new anxieties about money, how to manage it, how to shape and reform the social body that both money and its lack threatens. I propose too that the very idea of needs, and more crucially still, basic needs, are deeply political. What is a need? How does a need change? Who has what needs? These are all questions that occupied Palestinian men of capital and the British colonial officers who ruled them.

Men of Capital, Women of Thrift

Elites in Palestine were not homogenous. A growing group of men working in commercial, and to a much lesser extent, industrial ventures were accumulating capital and expertise in the early twentieth century. These businessmen were a primarily urban, relatively wealthy group of men who attempted to author a new sort of hegemonic power. Their strategies and visions were as invested in shaping and maintaining new forms of social hierarchy as radicals and rebels were in dislodging them. Elites shaped philosophies and visions of the ideal social body [hay’a ijtima‘iyya], the ideal “social man,” and his ideal partner, the domestic manager. Attending to these figures and their projects opens up new ways to think about Palestine’s past, its present, and its relationship to the intellectual and social world in which it existed.

The British commitment to maintaining the status quo among Palestinians strengthened a handful of the landowning nobility.69 The Husayni family and its main rival the Nashashibis used municipal elections, competition for mayoral posts, and control of institutions like the Supreme Muslim Council to jockey for power and create alliances. The foregone conclusion has been that the property, money, income, and power of these urban notables dominated the entire country.70

However, there is a history outside of this seemingly impenetrable narrative of Palestinian factionalism and family rivalries. As Issa Khalaf has shown, by World War I, local industries including flour milling, soap making, weaving, pipe making, and metal shops saw a diversification.71 Between 1918 and 1927, Arabs and Jews established 2,269 commercial and manufacturing enterprises. Sixty percent of these enterprises were Arab, representing an investment of 613,000 Palestinian pounds.72 By 1927, there were 3,505 industrial establishments in Palestine. By 1935, Arab capital investment was mostly in tobacco, cardboard, soap and milling factories, and a growing textile industry, but Arabs also made industrial advances in metals, chemicals, leather, beverages, and quarrying.73

The largest shift occurred in the wartime period. In 1939, there were 339 Arab industrial establishments employing 4,117 people. The number of Arab industrial establishments jumped in 1943 to 1,558, employing 8,804 people. Arab capital investments went from 703,565 Palestinian pounds in 1939 to 2,131,307 pounds in 1942.74 These numbers are small in comparison to the rapid growth of Jewish manufacturing during the Mandate, which went from generating 50 percent of Palestine’s output in the 1920s to 60 percent in the early 1930s and reached 80 percent during wartime-induced industrialization.75 Palestinian stagnancy and paralysis, however, was not the corollary of the growing hegemony of European Jewish industry.

A “middling” class existed that was not synonymous with the landowning class who continued their hold over inland cities like Tiberias and Nablus. Despite this hold, important shifts in political economy took place along the coast. Khalaf draws on a study of 100 political figures76 to show that 35 percent of these elites were engaged in private enterprise and that many fell in the “middling” as opposed to wealthy categories. The Jaffa and Jerusalem Chambers of Commerce records are evidence of a growing commercial and manufacturing class distinct from the landed nobility. In Jerusalem, for example, between 1938 and 1947 there was a rise from 84 to 118 businesses and companies.77 The Jerusalem Chamber included 260 general commission agencies, importers of luxury goods and appliances, retailers and wholesalers, and automobile parts, tires, and car dealers.78 The Jaffa Chamber in the late 1940s shows a similar growth in trade, commercial sectors, and light industry. Of the 670 businesses in Jaffa, only 23 belonged to individuals from large landowning families. Similarly in Jerusalem, 56 of 528 businessmen were from these families.79

Economic diversification was not dependent on businesses associated with the investments of the urban nobility in imports and exports of cereal, the sale of construction materials, and milling factories.80 Nevertheless, Tamari’s insistence on cross-fertilizations between a “middling” sort and a landowning class is crucial. Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim, an influential man of capital in 1930s and 1940s Palestine, was “a landowner,”81 “a prominent merchant, a leader of the Haifa Islamic Society, and . . . a member of the Istiqlal Party,”82 “a Haifa businessmen . . . [and a] banker,”83 and a “Chamber activist.” None of these descriptions are inaccurate. They point to the many positions that Ibrahim and men like him could occupy. Indeed, it is this “unevenness” and multiplicity of affiliation that renders Palestinian history a rich and complex arena of study.84

A Material Nahda

Men of capital, such as Rashid al-Hajj Ibrahim, and “women of thrift,” such as the domestic reformer Salwa Sa‘id, did not understand themselves only, or even primarily, through their confrontation with Zionism. In their projects of economic cultivation and domestic reform, they positioned themselves as part of a broader Arab nahda. Positioning Palestine and Palestinians in this world of Arab thought and social life provincializes the Zionist–Palestinian conflict as the only way to tell the story of the early twentieth century. It tells a different story, one that allows for a critique not just of Palestinian elites but the broader Arab liberal project, and the violence and exclusions that such a project was founded on.

The nahda was that heterogeneous movement wherein the nation was to rise up, discard corrupt and outdated traditions, and realize the triumphant arrival of the modern.85 Historians have understood the interwar period as falling “between the end of the first Arab Nahda, or cultural renaissance, and the beginnings of the second.”86 But for economic thinkers in 1930s Palestine, the nahda was very much alive. They too were alive with it, formulating the contours of a utopic capitalist future in terms of conduct, ethics, and territories. The rights of the individual were crucial to their prescriptions on a healthy and organic social body. They drew on various universes of thought that spanned al-Ghazali and Ibn Khaldun to Adam Smith, Rousseau, Locke, and Karl Marx. Men of capital shaped social life in ways parallel to and divergent from European liberal thinkers whose relationship to imperialism has been the subject of rich and ongoing debate.87

The nahda then was an intensive time of intellectual exchange and plurality. Ilham Khuri-Makdisi has gone far in de-exceptionalizing the intellectual history of the Middle East by narrating the significance of socialism among thinkers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her groundbreaking contributions challenge the overwhelming force of nationalism as the only way to think about Arab and Middle Eastern intellectual life. However, the importance of economic thought—that is, the free market and capitalist threads of the nahda—have not been overstudied as Khuri-Makdisi suggests, but on the contrary not studied enough. In fact, we do not have a historical narrative of economic thought in the Arab world that goes beyond particular moments. Moreover, one of the intriguing nuances of Khuri-Makdisi’s account is her finding that individuals, such as Amin al-Rihani, who was a leading socialist voice, would regularly share drafts with the Islamic modernist, Muhammad Abduh. Khuri-Makdisi positions these exchanges in older practices of collective writing. But they help us further complicate the nahda as a type of intellectual environment in which the categories of Islamist, capitalist, and socialist were neither stable nor ones that could preclude a shared intellectual project. Indeed Rihani contributed to the Palestinian economic periodical Iqtisadiyyat. Through a carefully crafted nahda narrative, he portrayed a transhistorical commercial essence of Arab culture that could unite the quest for awakening, dignity, and modern arrival.

Thus, the twentieth century in Palestine was not simply a period of “unfulfilled promise” that entailed “a pervasive cultural tone of anguish and disgust, of resentment, resistance, rebellion, and death.”88 Elite Palestinians envisioned and imagined the future not through anguish and disgust but through notions of progress, class distinction, and civilizational superiority. It was not until the 1940s that a pervasive tone of conspiracy and crisis became prevalent. But even that decade was not, as scholars have long described it, a period of political or social paralysis.89 Furthermore, while we are accustomed to understanding visions of pan-Arabism as wedded to socialist economic planning, here we see another type of marriage that is worthy of further exploration: an Arab utopia built on the foundations of private property, investment, self-responsibility, and the accumulation of capital.

Making Economy Visible

Palestinian men of capital and British colonial officers mobilized economy as a site of social management in the early twentieth century. They took part in broader efforts to forge economy as objective, bounded, and external.90 The shaping of economy as a separate and distinct sphere has a long history.91 While the word economy originates in Ancient Greece, Chris Hann and Keith Hart argue that in Mesopotamia as far back as the third millennium BC we can find the division of labor stemming from markets and money.92 Of course, economy is a keyword in modern life, and since the nineteenth century has come to mean the sum of the sale and purchase of goods in national territory.93 It was the synthesis of the nation-state and industrial capitalism that birthed these configurations.94 When governmental bureaucracies began attempting to manage money, markets, and accumulation in a national space, “economy” as we know it today entered vernacular speech.95

The conception of economy as a self-reproducing flow of production and consumption was inextricable from new regimes of calculation, from a new emphasis on visibility. Thus, as Timothy Mitchell has shown, economy as a totality of relations emerged in a mid-twentieth century crisis of representation.96 This entity, the economy, which was squarely located in a geographical political space, required the compilation of new kinds of data.97 John Maynard Keynes and his work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) often provides a point of origin for the national articulation of economy. The constituent elements of the General Theory are economic aggregates like output, employment, investment, and consumption, and synthetic averages like rates of interests, real wage, money wage level, and price level.98 But Keynes is one point of many.

Mapping territory, growth, time, and the future became central preoccupations for bureaucrats and theorists alike in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Calculations made the future and progress statistically representable and rationally attainable.99 They also required the separations of various entities as constitutive outsides such as the state and the household. Such distinctions could work to render the so-called informal economy residual when in fact it could be at the very heart of economic production.100 The push to calculate and make visible also led to new possibilities in surveillance. Managing economy through statistics was a different art of government in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.101

Adam Tooze has argued that new technologies of data led bureaucrats to fantasize about controlling economy not only by manipulating national aggregates but also by innovating systems of individualized surveillance.102 Catherine Gallagher has shown that the health and vitality of the laboring body demanded constant attention from economic theorists.103 Economic representations and forms of knowledge dominated subjects. However, Janet Roitman has pointed out that new “techniques of the self” were also components of that domination.104 Through this calculability, and the many areas it rendered invisible or residual, men and women constructed the object of economy.105 Economy from this perspective is not a preexisting reality but an achievement.106

How did that entity, the economy, take shape outside the “the homes of Quesnay, Petty, Smith, Playfair, Ricardo or Marx?”107 Certainly, in Palestine, just as for much of the world outside the West, colonial domination accompanied the forging of economy as an autonomous sphere.108 The particular form of colonial domination in Palestine was the Mandate system. This system, Antony Anghie has argued, was an experiment in international management that attempted to address the gap between the civilized and the uncivilized in economic terms. The pervasive discipline of economics promoted the development of the colonized through new ostensibly neutral indicators.109 But as we have seen, the Mandate in Palestine was exceptional in its endorsement of settler colonialism. How then did the achievement of economy take shape in a settler colonial context? What happened when the large majority of bodies to be counted were not only colonized but also stripped of a political name and inhabited a foreclosed national future?

In Palestine, the division between politics and economics, the politics of growth and abundance, and the shaping of the household and the body as sites of management and surveillance were all in process. Moreover, the colonial regime did attempt to subject bodies and commodities to greater surveillance.110 But it was not growth that inspired these colonial efforts. It was the threat of war and the management of scarcity that necessitated them. Incoherence and inefficiency marked the metrological regimes that the British colonial regime introduced, through new indices such as the cost of living and the calorie. Time and again British colonial officers failed in standardizing and homogenizing everything from weights to rations. This failure was intimately linked to the settler colonial condition of the Palestinian present and future. It would be much longer before the overall project of constructing economy ushered in a “new sociality for things and persons.”111 It was elite Palestinian conceptions of social hierarchy that more quickly consolidated and marked those techniques of the self.

To map these Palestinian techniques, it would be wise to avoid what Tooze has called the “tree model” of cultural development where branches, stems, and shoots of conceptions of economy all sprout from Keynes and his cohort.112 Drawing on Franco Moretti, Tooze advises a “wave” approach to understand how innovations in conceiving and measuring economy swept the globe in the first half of the twentieth century.113 Following Manu Goswami, the aim here is not to map “a repository of pure difference”114 that will cleanse the “derivative”115 character of Palestinian economic thought. One of the reasons men of capital in Palestine are difficult to understand today is because they occupied multiple universes of thought that are not immediately accessible to us. It would be more productive to approach these universes not through a closed tautology of original and copy but through an attention to how the idea of economy, the imperative of management, and the crisis of bare needs worked across national, regional, and colonial divides.

To What End?

What does the visibility of men of capital accomplish? Is their existence simply a response to Golda Meir’s infamous declaration that there was no such thing as a Palestinian? Does it prove once and for all that there was a Palestinian economy that was more than a “negative assembly”? Or alternatively, is it a way to evidence a heroic character, invested in some pure and distinct space called civil society, as the historical alternative to the twentieth and twenty-first century suicide bomber, as Keith Watenpaugh116 has suggested?

To relegate the Palestinian businessman to the shadows of inferiority or to recover him as an artifact of the modern are two sides of the same conceptual bind. The first takes colonial epistemology for granted: The colonial figure and his shadow become an acceptable way to tell the history of Palestine. The second impulse, recovering the shadow into the light, appears at first glance to respond to this colonial logic. But it is trapped within it. The recovery works as a salve against everything that is wrong with the Palestinian and Arab present.117 To access and critique the debates that have shaped the present requires rejecting the logic of the colonial body and its shadow,118 decentering the colonial body, and asking new questions.


1. The Arab Higher Committee was first constituted in 1936 in response to the outbreak of the Great Revolt. In 1946, the Arab League reconstituted the committee. See Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin Al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), and Ilan Pappé, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

2. ISA AAD/RG65/al-Hussaini: Correspondence Fu’ad Salih Saba to Secretary of Arab Higher Committee, Jerusalem, 5 April 1948.

3. ISA AAD/RG65/al-Hussaini: Correspondence from National Committee of Bir al-Sab‘i to Secretary of Arab Higher Committee, Jerusalem, 17 March 1948.

4. Rashid Khalidi, Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 108.

5. Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A Photographic History of the Palestinians 1876–1948 (Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1984); R. Khalidi, Iron Cage; Benny Morris, The Birth of the Refugee Problem 1947–49 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

6. Shira Robinson, Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel’s Liberal State (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013).

7. Interview with Fuad Saba (grandson), 21 January 2013.

8. Charles Anderson, “From Petition to Confrontation: the Palestinians National Movement and the Rise of Mass Politics, 1929–1936,” PhD dissertation (New York University, 2013), 379; Alexander Schölch, “European Penetration and the Economic Development of Palestine, 1856–82,” in Roger Owen, ed., Studies in the Economic and Social History of Palestine in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London: Macmillan, 1982), 56.

9. Covenant of the League of Nations, Versailles, 28 June 1919, in force 10 January 1920, Article 22.

10. Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 31.

11. Susan Pederson, “Settler Colonialism at the Bar of the League of Nations,” in Caroline Elkins and Susan Pederson, eds., Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (London: Routledge, 2005), 124. As Darryl Li pointed out to me, Namibia was also a settler colony under the Mandate system. The Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) envisioned Namibia as a fifth province of South Africa. However, because the PMC did not recognize South Africa as sovereign in Namibia, the settler state, in legal terms at least, violated the League of Nations Covenant’s principles of trusteeship. See Pederson, Settler, 121.

12. Arthur James Balfour, Balfour Declaration, 2 November 1917.

13. Michelle Campos, Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth Century Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 12.

14. As Campos puts it: “Many memoirs argued that ‘native’ Sephardi and Maghrebi Jews shared cultural, spatial, and everyday practices with their Muslim neighbors that sharply differentiated them from ‘newcomer’ Ashkenazi Jewish co-religionists.” Ibid., 18.

15. Edward Said, “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims,” Social Text 1 (Winter 1979): 7–58; at 14. I am grateful to Max Ajl for pushing me on the processual and incomplete process of partition.

16. James Renton, “Flawed Foundations: The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate,” in Rory Miller, ed., Britain, Palestine, and Empire: The Mandate Years (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010).

17. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (New York: Dover Publications, 1988 [1896]). See here discussions in Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); and Said, “Zionism.”

18. Herzl’s contemporary, the cultural Zionist Ahad Ha‘am, warned as early as 1891 that the promise of an empty land was a myth; the truth from the land of Israel, as he titled his article, was that there was not one piece of tillable land that was not already being tilled. The Arabs, he explained, were not dupes, and they would most likely put up a fight. Across the political spectrum and several decades later, in 1923, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the father of the Revisionists, the forefathers of the Likud Party, weighed in on the debate on Zionism’s relationship to the Palestinians. Zionist colonization would not happen, he explained, without the use of force. The Arabs who lived on the land of Palestine would not accept the imposition of Zionism. Ahad Ha‘am, “The Truth from Eretz Israel,” in Adam Shatz, ed., Prophets Outcast: A Century of Dissident Jewish Writing about Zionism and Israel (New York: Nation Books, 2004 [1891]), 31–34. Vladimir Jabotinsky, “The Iron Wall: We and the Arabs” [published in Russian in 1923]: Retrieved 14 December 2014.

19. See Hannah Arendt, “Antisemitism,” in Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman, eds., The Jewish Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), 46–121; and Gabi Piterberg, “Zion’s Rebel Daughter: Hannah Arendt on Palestine and Jewish Politics,” New Left Review 48 (November–December 2007): 39–57.

20. See Ammiel Alcalay, After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993); Daniel Boyarin, “What Does a Jew Want?; or, The Political Meaning of the Phallus,” Discourse 19(2) (Winter 1997): 21–52; Amnon Raz-Krakotzin, “The Zionist Return to the West and the Mizrahi Jewish Perspective,” in Ian Davidson Kamlar and Derek Penslar, eds., Orientalism and the Jew (New York: Brandeis University Press, 2005); Said, “Zionism”; Ella Shohat, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims,” Social Text 19–20 (Autumn 1988): 1–35.

21. Barbara J. Smith, The Roots of Separatism in Palestine: British Economic Policy, 1920–1929 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 94.

22. Ibid., 46.

23. League of Nations Council, Mandate for Palestine (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1922).

24. Ronen Shamir explores how electric current, poles, and networks made politics rather than simply transmitting it. Ronen Shamir, Current Flow: The Electrification of Palestine (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013).

25. The concession to the Palestine Salt Company lasted until 1928, when the government extended the company’s poor quality and expensive salt preferential treatment in the form of a protective customs duty on the higher-quality and lower-cost salt from Egypt. Smith, The Roots, 131.

26. Ibid., 131, 164. See also David de Vries, Diamonds and War: State, Capital, and Labor in British-Ruled Palestine (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2010).

27. Jacob Metzer, The Divided Economy of Mandatory Palestine (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 183, fn. 9.

28. Smith, The Roots, 189.

29. Ibid., 131, 167.

30. Yuval A. Ohana, Fellahim ba-mered ha-‘aravi be’eretz yisra’el, 1936–1939 [The Fellahin in the Arab Uprising in the Land of Israel, 1936–1939] (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 1978).

31. Nahla Zu‘bi, “The Development of Capitalism in Palestine: The Expropriation of the Palestinian Direct Producers,” Journal of Palestine Studies 13(4) (Summer 1984): 88–109.

32. S. N. Eisenstadt, Israeli Society (New York: Basic Books, 1967), and Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989).

33. Simha Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians (New York: Croom Helm, 1979).

34. Owen, Studies, 1–9; Alexander Schölch, “European Penetration,” in Owen, Studies, 10–87; Roger Owen, The Middle East in the World Economy, 1800–1914 (London: Methuen, 1981); and Beshara Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

35. Metzer, Divided Economy.

36. Metzer’s postscript on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 is a continuation of these convictions: “[T]he simple fact that the territories were economic lightweights meant that they stood to be the main beneficiary of the bilateral economic relations with Israel, which dominated their external trade. These relations were conducted under the control of the occupational administration.” Ibid., 208.

37. Amos Nadan, The Palestinian Peasant Economy Under the Mandate (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2006). See also Riyad Mousa, “The Dispossession of the Peasantry: Colonial Policies, Settler Capitalism, and Rural Change 1918–1948,” PhD dissertation (University of Utah, 2006).

38. Metzer, Divided Economy, 154 (emphasis added).

39. Indeed, it is not coincidental that subsequently since 1948 Israeli incursions in Beirut, Nablus, and Gaza have often targeted archives. See Gish Amit, “Ownerless Object? The Story of the Books Palestinians Left Behind,” Jerusalem Quarterly 33 (Winter 2008): 7–20; Lauren Banko, “Occupational Hazards, Revisited: Palestinian Historiography,” Middle East Journal 66(3) (Summer 2012): 440–452; Beshara Doumani, “Archiving Palestine and the Palestinians: The Patrimony of Ihsan Nimr,” Jerusalem Quarterly 36 (Winter 2009): 3–12; Hannah Mermelstein, “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s ‘Abandoned Property’ of 1948,” Jerusalem Quarterly 47 (Autumn 2011): 46–64; Tom Twiss, “Damage to Palestinian Libraries and Archives During the Spring of 2002,” International Responsibilities Task Force (2 August 2002): Retrieved 16 December 2014; Wahid Gdoura, ed., Libraries of Jerusalem (Tunis: Arab Federation for Libraries and Information, 2003). Thanks to Mezna Qato for leading me to these sources.

40. Jacob Metzer, “The Economy of Mandatory Palestine: An Overview of the Development of Research,” in A. Bareli and N. Karlinski, eds., Economy and Society in the Mandatory Period (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University Press, 2003 [in Hebrew]), 14.

41. Shamir, Current Flow, 137.

42. Ibid., 138.

43. Ibid., 134.

44. On approaching archives with skepticism, see Carolyn Steedman, “After the Archive,” Comparative Critical Studies 8(2–3) (2011): 321–340.

45. On archival production as an act of governance, see Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

46. Baruch Kimmerling, Zionism and Economy (Cambridge: Schenkman, 1983) and Zionism and Territory: the Socio-Territorial Dimensions of Zionist Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

47. Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

48. Abigail Jacobsen, From Empire to Empire: Jerusalem between Ottoman and British Rule (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011); Mark LeVine, Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv, and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Sandra M. Sufian, Healing the Land and the Nation: Malaria and the Zionist Project in Palestine, 1920–1947 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); and Sandra M. Sufian and Mark LeVine, eds., Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel–Palestine (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

49. An abridged list of such efforts includes but is not limited to: Adnan Abu-Ghazaleh, Arab Cultural Nationalism in Palestine During the British Mandate (Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1973); Musa Budeiri, Tatawwur al-haraka al-‘ummaliyya al-‘arabiyya fi filastin: muqaddima ta’rikhiyya wa-majmu‘a wataha’iq [The Development of the Arab Workers Movement in Palestine: A Historical Introduction and Collection of Documents] (Beirut: Dar ibn Khaldun, 1981); Musa Budeiri, Shuyu‘yin fi filastin: shathaya tarikh mansi [Communists in Palestine: Fragments of a Forgotten Narrative] (Ramallah: Muwatin: The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, 2013); Sarah Graham-Brown, Palestinians and Their Society, 1880–1946 (London: Quartet Books, 1980); Tarif Khalidi, “Palestinian Historiography: 1900–1948,” Journal of Palestine Studies 10(3) (Spring 1981): 59–76; Ylana Miller, Government and Society in Rural Palestine, 1900–1948 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985). And more recently: Ami Ayalon, Reading Palestine: Printing and Literacy, 1920–1948 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004); Ellen Fleischmann, The Nation and Its “New” Women: The Palestinian Women’s Movement, 1920–1948 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003); Zeina B. Ghandour, A Discourse on Domination in Mandate Palestine: Imperialism, Property, and Insurgency (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2010); Noah Haiduc-Dale, Arab Christians in British Mandate Palestine: Communalism and Nationalism 1917–1948 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013); Mustafa Kabha, The Palestinian Press as Shaper of Public Opinion 1929–38: Writing Up a Storm (Edgware, UK: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007); Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); LeVine, Overthrowing Geography; Lockman, Comrades; Weldon C. Matthews, Confronting an Empire, Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006); Jacob Norris, Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial Development 1905–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Andrea L. Stanton, “This Is Jerusalem Calling”: State Radio in Mandate Palestine (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013); Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt: The 1936–39 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003); Salim Tamari, al-Jabal didd al-bahr: Dirasat fi ishkaliyyat al-hadatha al-filastiniyya [The Mountain Against the Sea: Studies in Palestinian Urban Culture and Social History] (Ramallah: Muwatin, 2005); Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar, eds., Madinat al-hujjaj wal-a‘yan wal-mahashi: dirasat fi tarikh al-quds al-ijtima‘i wal-thaqafi [Pilgrims, Lepers, and Stuffed Cabbage: Studies of Jerusalem’s Social and Cultural History] (Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem Studies, 2005).

50. Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine.

51. Matthews, Confronting an Empire.

52. See, for example, Ghandour, A Discourse; Ilan Pappé, The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis, 1700–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Smadar Lavie, “Blowups in the Borderzones: Third World Israeli Authors’ Gropings for Home,” in Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg, eds., Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996); Ihab Saloul, Catastrophe and Exile in the Modern Palestinian Imagination: Telling Memories (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Camelia Suleiman, Language and Identity in the Israel–Palestine Conflict: The Politics of Self-Perception in the Middle East (London: I. B. Tauris, 2011); and Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt. Zachary Lockman gently pointed out to me that my use of the term aristocracy was inaccurate many years ago. I have been grateful ever since.

53. Walid Kazziha, “Another Reading into al-Husari’s Concept of Arab Nationalism,” in Marwan Buheiry, ed., Intellectual Life in the Arab East, 1890–1939 (Beirut: Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies, American University of Beirut, 1981).

54. Salim Tamari, “Factionalism and Class Formation in Recent Palestinian History,” in Owen, Studies, 199.

55. See Yehoshua Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918–1929 (London: Frank Cass, 1974) and The Palestinian Arab National Movement: From Riots to Rebellion, 1929–1939 (London: Frank Cass, 1977); and Smith, The Roots, 14. For a critique of this depiction, see Haiduc-Dale, Arab Christians.

56. Porath, The Palestinian Arab.

57. Whether or not the nineteenth century was the triumph of the bourgeoisie class was a heated debate in the historiography of Europe. For some canonical examples see: Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth Century Germany (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution: 1789–1848 (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1962); David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969); and A. J. Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981).

58. Robert Vitalis, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), and Robert Vitalis, “On the Theory and Practice of Compradors: The Role of Abbud Pasha in the Egyptian Political Economy,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 22(3) (August 1990): 291–315.

59. Vitalis, “On the Theory.”

60. See the work of Toufoul Abou-Hodeib, “The Material Life of the Ottoman Middle Class,” History Compass 10(8) (2012): 584–595; Michael Gasper, The Power of Representation: Publics, Peasants, and Islam in Egypt (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); Athanasios Gekas, “Class and Cosmopolitanism: The Historiographical Fortunes of Merchants in Eastern Mediterranean Ports,” Mediterranean Historical Review 24(2) (2009): 95–113; Will Hanley, “Grieving Cosmopolitanism in Middle East Studies,” History Compass 6(5) (2008): 1346–1367; Aliye F. Mataraci, Trade Letters as Instances of Economy, Ideology, and Subjectivity (Istanbul: Ottoman Bank Archives and Research Centre, 2005); Akram Fouad Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Kevin Martin, “Enter the Future! Exemplars of Bourgeois Modernity in Post-World War II Syria,” PhD dissertation (Georgetown University, 2005); Robert L. Tignor, Capitalism and Nationalism at the End of Empire: State and Business in Decolonizing Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya 1945–1963 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); Keith David Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

61. Watenpaugh, Being Modern, 18.

62. Keith Watenpaugh, “Being Middle Class and Being Arab: Sectarian Dilemmas and Middle Class Modernity in the Arab Middle East, 1908–1936,” in Barbara Weinstein and Ricardo Lopez, eds., The Making of the Middle Class: Towards a Transnational History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

63. Weinstein and Lopez, Making of the Middle Class, 3.

64. Ibid., 8.

65. ISA RG2/CSO/87/19: “Representations by the Arab Chamber of Commerce to the Control Department of Post-War Trade,” 1945.

66. Rema Hammami, “Gender, Nakbe, and Nation: Palestinian Women’s Presence and Absence in the Narration of 1948 Memories,” in Ron Robin and Bo Strath, eds., Homelands: Poetic Power and the Politics of Space (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2003), 35–60.

67. Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism 1917–1948, trans. Haim Watzman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 18.

68. Ibid., 261, 263.

69. The big landowning families in this period were: Khuri (Haifa), ‘Abd al-Hadi (Nablus), al-Taji al-Faruqi (Ramli), al-Ghusayn (Ramli), Baidas (Shaykh Mu’nis), Abu Khaddra (Jaffa, Gaza), Shawa (Gaza), Hanun (Tulkarm), Baydun (Acre), al-Fahum (Nazareth), al-Tabari (Tiberias), Jarrar, and Nimr (Nablus).

70. Shulamit Carmi and Henry Rosenfeld, “The Origins of the Process of Proletarianization and Urbanization of the Arab Peasants in Palestine,” Annals of the New York Academy of Science 220 (1974): 470–485. Issa Khalaf provides a thorough critique of this conclusion (see following note).

71. Issa Khalaf, Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration 1939–1948 (New York: SUNY Press, 1991), 46.

72. Ibid.

73. Ibid.

74. Ibid., 49.

75. Metzer, Divided Economy, 154.

76. Khalaf refers to the work of Bayan N. al-Hout, “The Palestinian Political Elite During the Mandate Period,” Journal of Palestine Studies 9 (1979): 85–111. She surveys 100 political figures, including individuals in various political institutions throughout the Mandate: the Arab Executive, the Supreme Muslim Council, the Arab Higher Committee, Muslim Christian societies, National Committees, the Arab League, and delegations to the United Nations.

77. Khalaf, Politics in Palestine, 52.

78. Ibid.

79. Ibid., 52–58.

80. Ibid., 52.

81. Sarah Graham-Brown, “The Political Economy of the Jabal Nablus 1920–1948,” in Owen, Studies, 102.

82. Matthews, Confronting an Empire, 52.

83. Khalaf, Politics in Palestine, 74, 86.

84. Notable in this regard is Rashid Khalidi’s work, which details identity formation along the competing but not necessarily mutually exclusive lines of religion, locality, and family. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity. Musa Budeiri also provides an entry into the cross-fertilizations of Islamism and nationalism in Mandate Palestine. Musa Budeiri, “The Palestinians: Tensions Between Nationalist and Religious Identities,” in James Jankowski and Israel Gershoni, eds., Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).

85. This definition of the nahda is adapted from Akram Fouad Khater’s work, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 155. The call for “awakening” had wide resonance in pan-Arab movements as well as Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian Arab nationalist movements. “Awake, O Arabs, and arise!” were the first lines of the 1868 ode Tanabbahu wa istafiqu by the Syrian poet Ibrahim al-Yaziji. George Antonius later evoked these words in his treatise The Arab Awakening (London: H. Hamilton, 1938). This theme of awakening was to characterize the language of Arab nationalists and its historians for decades to come. In the wake of the 2011 uprisings and revolutions in the Arab world, this theme of awakening has again found dominance in intellectual and media circles.

86. T. Khalidi, “Palestinian Historiography,” 59.

87. For a taste of this debate: Onur Ince, “Colonial Capitalism and the Dilemmas of Liberalism: Locke, Burke, Wakefield, and the British Empire,” PhD dissertation (Cornell University, 2013); Domenico Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter History (London: Verso, 2011 [first published in 2005 in Italian]); Mehta, Liberalism and Empire; Karuna Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Jennifer Pitts, “Free for All,” Times Literary Supplement 23 (September 2011): 8–9; Jennifer Pitts, “Theories of Empire and Imperialism,” Annual Review of Political Science 13 (2010): 211–235; Andrew Sartori, “The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission,” Journal of Modern History 78(3) (September 2006): 623–642; and Andrew Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). Scholars have convincingly argued that the project of British and French liberalism cannot be fully understood outside of the material conditions of imperialism and colonial capitalism that informed it. Here, the shift is not to trace how European liberals understood and acted on the colonized, but how colonized elites adapted a variety of ideas and practices to navigate the promises and dangers of economic growth.

88. Tarif Khalidi punctured this narrative by detailing Palestinian intellectuals’ turn to history. Khalidi, “Palestinian Historiography,” 59, 60.

89. Subhi Yasin among others speaks of the post-Revolt period in Palestine as one of severe political stagnation. See Subhi Yasin, al-Thawra al-‘arabiyya al-kubra fi filastin, 1936–1939 [The Great Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936–1939] (Cairo: Dar al-Katib, 1967), 230. The “frustration trope” can be read in such works as Ann Mosely Lesch, Arab Politics in Palestine: The Frustration of a Nationalist Movement, 1917–1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979); and Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity. For a critique of this narrative, see Munir Fakher Eldin, “Communities of Owners: Land Law, Governance, and Politics in Palestine, 1882–1948,” PhD dissertation (New York University, 2008).

90. Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 335, fn. 10.

91. For Margaret Schabas, economy as “as an autonomous set of relations” is a configuration that is about “two hundred years old.” Margaret Schabas, The Natural Origin of Economics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 3. For Susan Buck-Morss as well, the conceptual elaboration of the economy as a distinct sphere takes place in the eighteenth century. Susan Buck-Morss, “Envisioning Capital: Political Economy on Display,” Critical Inquiry 21(2) (Winter 1995): 434–467; at 439.

92. Chris Hann and Keith Hart, Economic Anthropology: History, Ethnography, Critique (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011), 4.

93. Ibid., 6.

94. Ibid.

95. Ibid.

96. Timothy Mitchell, “Fixing the Economy,” Cultural Studies 12(1) (1998): 82–101; at 82.

97. Hugo Radice, “The National Economy: A Keynesian Myth?” Capital and Class 8(1) (Spring 1984): 111–140; at 121.

98. John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (Cambridge, UK: Macmillan and Cambridge University Press, 1936).

99. U. Kalpagam, “Temporalities, History, and Routines of Rule in Colonial India,” Time Society 8(1) (March 1999): 141–159; at 151.

100. Julia Elyachar, Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); and Janet Lee Roitman, Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 19.

101. Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, eds., The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 92. See also Janet Lee Roitman, An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

102. J. Adam Tooze, Statistics and the German State, 1900–1945: The Making of Modern Economic Knowledge (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

103. Catherine Gallagher, The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

104. Roitman, Fiscal Disobedience, 8.

105. Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx—The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

106. Koray Çalıșkan and Michel Callon, “Economization, Part I: Shifting Attention from the Economy Towards Processes of Economization,” Economy and Society 38(3) (August 2009): 369–398; at 369.

107. U. Kalpagam, “Colonialism, Rational Calculations and Idea of the Economy,” Economic and Political Weekly 32(4) (25–31 January 1997): PE-2–PE-12; at PE-2.

108. Gustavo Estava, “Development,” in Wolfgang Sachs, ed., The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992), 17.

109. Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

110. Kalpagam, “Colonialism, Rational Calculations,” PE-8.

111. Ibid., PE-7.

112. Tooze, Statistics, 14.

113. Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review II(1) (2000): 54–68, as cited in Tooze, Statistics, 13.

114. Goswami, Producing India, 24.

115. Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (London: Zed Books, 1986).

116. Watenpaugh, Being Modern, 301.

117. Here I am adapting Julia Elyachar’s critique of the use of neoliberalism as an epithet that stands for everything that is wrong with the present. Julia Elyachar, “Before and After Neoliberalism: Tacit Knowledge, Secrets of the Trade, and the Public Sector in Egypt,” Cultural Anthropology 27(1) (2012): 76–96.

118. It is useful to remember here Gayatri Spivak’s reflections on the intellectual’s complicity in constituting the other as the self’s shadow. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak? Speculations on Widow Sacrifice,” Wedge 7–8 (Winter/Spring 1985): 120–130.