The Introduction situates the invocation of Palestine as rallying cry during the Arab Spring within a decades-long history of "transcolonial identification" with Palestine in the region: processes of identification that are rooted in a common colonial genealogy and a shared perception of (neo)colonial subjection. Elaborating on Mahmoud Darwish's image of "Palestine as metaphor" and Edward Said's reflections on the utopian dimensions of Palestine, the Introduction argues that Palestine has become the figure par excellence of the colonial, broadly conceived, in the purportedly postcolonial present, from the decolonizing Global South to minority communities in the Global North. After a brief discussion of the history of transcolonial identification with Palestine in the Maghreb, it concludes with an overview of the corpus and a summary of the six chapters and epilogue of the book.
Chapter One analyzes the representation of Palestine in the bilingual Moroccan Marxist-Leninist journal Souffles-Anfas (1966–1971), the first text explicitly to connect cultural change in the Maghreb to an engagement for Palestine. It shows that Palestine was a central interlocutor not only in the journal's increasingly militant political positions against the Moroccan regime, but also in its efforts at "cultural decolonization," including the recovery of the Arabic language and the development of experimental literary forms independent from both French and Arabic canons. Abdellatif Laâbi's translations of Palestinian poetry in particular became the site of a reflection on the politics of culture, displacing the journal's founding mission—the elaboration of an autonomous Moroccan literature—onto the Palestinian context. If the poets who launched Souffles-Anfas could only write in the colonial tongue, Palestinian poetry in Arabic provided the model for cultural decolonization in an imperfectly decolonized Morocco.
Chapter Two analyzes the figure of Palestine in Kateb Yacine's Algerian Arabic play, "Mohamed arfad valiztek" (Mohamed pack your bags) as the vehicle of a two-pronged critique of the postcolonial Algerian state and of French and Israeli colonial discourses. The play compares France-Algeria and Israel-Palestine to condemn both anti-immigrant racism in France and Israel's treatment of its Palestinian subjects. Aimed at a popular Algerian public, it also satirizes the Algerian state's instrumentalization of the Algerian and Palestinian revolutions to rally popular support. Kateb's popular theater begins to make evident the convergences and overlaps between two apparently antithetical discourses, which will be the focus of the final three chapters of Transcolonial Maghreb: the discourse of assimilation, characteristic of French colonial discourse (Algeria is France), and the principle of separation that undergirds Zionism and the Israeli state (Jews/Arabs).
Chapter Three analyzes the best-selling author Ahlam Mosteghanemi's Algerian trilogy, which deploys the figure of the Palestinian guerrilla fighter and poet as a transnational allegory of revolution in the era of postcolonial disillusionment, reversing the classic nationalist trope of nation as woman. Mosteghanemi's contrapuntal allegories of Algeria and Palestine are symptomatic of "the transcolonial exotic": a marketing of the margins (Algeria and Palestine) for consumption at the center (Beirut and Cairo). This is even more evident in the Syrian television series based on her first novel, which aired during the 2010 Ramadan in Tunis, months before the onset of the Tunisian revolution. Partly due to the constraints of the teledrama genre, the series goes even further than the original in exoticizing Palestine and Algeria for mass consumption, removing all traces of criticism of national allegory and postcolonial Algeria in the interest of pan-Arab patriotism.
Against the critical tendency to read Albert Memmi's texts on colonialism and Zionism separately, Chapter Four examines his pro-Israeli essays through the lens of his theoretical analyses and fictional representations of the colonial separation between Jews and Arabs. Memmi's early critique of colonial minority politics seems to disappear from his later work, which endorses the colonial (and Zionist) separation between Jews and Arabs in order to claim Jewish indigeneity in Palestine. Yet even his most pro-Israeli essays make surprising comparisons between Palestinians and Maghrebis, including those he hesitantly calls "Arab Jews." Despite Memmi's apparent about-face from anticolonialism to Zionism, his later writings betray a transcolonial understanding of Palestine.
Chapter Five begins by examining Abdelkebir Khatibi's 1974 pamphlet, Vomito blanco. A violent polemic against Zionism, this treatise is markedly different in tone and genre from Khatibi's later writings, and in particular, his exchanges with the Jewish Egyptian psychoanalyst Jacques Hassoun and the French-Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida on the topic of "the Abrahamic," the tie that binds Jews and Muslims in spite of colonial/Zionist efforts to separate them. Revisiting Khatibi's fiction in light of his Abrahamic reflections, this chapter argues that he deploys bi-langue—the in-between language he is compelled to practice as a result of the imposition of French—to resist not only assimilation, but also the separation between Jews and Arabs. The crossed reading of Khatibi and Derrida further reveals that the latter's little known writings on Palestine and Israel are rooted in his experience of French colonialism in Algeria.
Chapter Six begins with an explicit refutation of Memmi's position on Jews and Arabs by the Moroccan Jewish writer Edmond Amran El Maleh. The chapter argues that El Maleh's representation of Jews in Morocco is inseparable from his disidentification with Israel and his rejection of the European and Zionist construction of Jews and Arabs as opposite terms. Focusing on El Maleh's novel Mille ans, un jour, the chapter further shows that his Judeo-Arabization of the French language works simultaneously against colonial assimilation and the divide and rule policies aimed at separating Jews and Arabs. Yet in pointing to the distance that remains between Maghreb and Palestine, El Maleh also articulates transcolonial identification against identity, revealing the intimate connection, both historical and structural, between Palestine and the Maghreb without collapsing these heterogeneous figures.
The Epilogue returns to the use of Palestine as a metaphor of the colonial during the mass protests of the 2010s with a close reading of the Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek's memoir of the Syrian uprising. Without effacing the important contextual and historical differences between and amongst current and past forms of transcolonial identification with Palestine, the Epilogue shows that Samar Yazbek's comparison between Palestinian refugees and Syrian subjects of Bashar al-Assad's regime participates in a decades-long political imaginary of Palestine as the figure par excellence of the kind of subjection epitomized in colonial rule, including in its post- and neo-colonial guises.