Introduction: Transformative Occupations in the Modern Middle East

This article defines and deploys the concept of transformative occupation to argue for its value in understanding the history of state formation (and prevention) in the Middle East across the twentieth century, during and after imperial and colonial occupation. It argues that socio-political histories of these occupations can in turn refine and extend the heuristic yield of the concept of transformative occupation, for use in other cases globally. The essay also identifies a set of sub-themes that inform our use of the concept: developmental ideologies, Continue reading → Continue reading →

Transformative Relief: Imperial Humanitarianism and Mandatory Development in Syria-Lebanon, 1915–1925

This article shows how emergency humanitarian food relief efforts fitted into the gradual establishment of French imperial occupation in Syria-Lebanon between 1915 and 1925. It argues that we should grasp the years from 1915–1925 as a unit – a distinctively transformative “occupation decade” in the Middle East, as the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the League of Nations Mandate system. It contributes thereby to current debates on the scope and chronology of the First World War. It also engages with a central question in the Continue reading → Continue reading →

Transforming the Holy Land: The Ideology of Development and the British Mandate in Palestine

 This essay resituates the British Mandate in Palestine within a broader picture of colonial development in the early twentieth century. While most scholarship depicts the mandatory administration as an arbiter between rival Jewish and Arab nationalisms, this essay argues the British regime should be viewed within wider trends in imperialist policy making at the close of World War I that produced a more interventionist style of colonialism. The essay firstly discusses the ideological and political frameworks that produced British policies in Palestine, before exploring the Continue reading → Continue reading →

Autonomy as State Prevention: The Palestinian Question after Camp David, 1979–1982

The context of Israel’s post-1967 rule over the Palestinian territories, which began well after the end of empire, the mandates, and the major waves of decolonization, sheds new light on the relationship between late-twentieth-century occupation and the persistence of prolonged statelessness. This essay examines how a particular practice within the political and diplomatic repertoire of transformative occupation—the promotion of local autonomy—was successfully deployed in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. It charts the emergence of autonomy from the time of the 1978 Camp David Accords and delineates its Continue reading → Continue reading →

Politicizing Resistance: The Transformative Impact of the Second Intifada on Hamas’s Resistance Strategy, 2000–2006

What does transformative occupation look like from the vantage point of the colonized? This essay explores modalities of resistance to occupation: how local indigenous actors engaged in a liberation struggle navigate, respond, and adapt to the structural realities of indefinite occupation. By reconstructing the resistance discourse of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas during the Second Palestinian Intifada, this essay demonstrates the manner in which the movement’s resistance strategy came to encompass a political dimension. It argues that Hamas’s political engagement was not a transition Continue reading → Continue reading →

Illuminating a State: State-Building and Electricity in Occupied Iraq

The U.S. statebuilding project in Iraq is a modern phenomenon of political engineering. Statebuilding, a set of practices and forms of knowledge that are produced and re-produced in academic and policy centers, is involved in perpetual forms of interpreting and intervening on the empirical reality in order to shape a particular order (the “state”). Under the U.S. occupation, electricity was one site of such interventions that was important for illumination and powering of machinery and the oil economy. The grid became a site for contesting Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Professional Middle Class in Afghanistan: From Pivot of Development to Political Marginality

This essay explores the various efforts to create an Afghan middle class through three periods: first under the Musahiban dynasty (until 1973) and republic (1973–1978), second during the communist period and Soviet intervention (1978–1992), and lastly since the United States-led invasion in 2001. Drawing on archival research and oral histories, the authors place the development programs of each era into broader context, while pointing to the similarities and differences. The authors also compare the Cold War period, when state-led modernization was in vogue, and the Continue reading → Continue reading →

Empire, Resistance, and Security: International Law and the Transformative Occupation of Palestine

In this essay, I identify and examine the legal-rhetorical mode of reasoning that justifies colonial-transformative occupations by legitimizing the repression of indigenous resistance via appeals to self-defense. The discretionary power authorized by the law of occupation in defence of the occupant’s security becomes, in the hands of a prolonged occupying power with territorial ambitions, the door through which an entire cart and horses of colonial apparatus can be driven. The essay traces this mode of reasoning since the early modern period, and exemplifies it in Continue reading → Continue reading →