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Theses Doctoral

Stripped: Ruination, Liminality, and the Making of the Gaza Strip

Halevy, Dotan

The Gaza Strip may be the world’s most relentless conflict zone. After decades of destruction and resistance, it is hard to imagine a different reality. But before the Gaza Strip, there was Gaza—a gateway city within an eponymous region with a much-neglected history. Stripped is an exploration of the Gaza borderland that aims to salvage Gaza’s past from the conceptual and historiographic shackles imposed by the current reality of the Gaza Strip, as well as to render imaginable a horizon for Gaza beyond this reality. The work is the first to methodologically depart from the common understanding of the Gaza Strip as purely a consequence of the 1948 war. Instead, Stripped situates Gaza within a century-long history of the Eastern Mediterranean’s integration into the global market economy, the Ottoman-British quest for imperial sovereignty over the Sinai-Palestine-Hijaz desert corridor, and the Palestinian struggle to overcome the urban and environmental destruction of World War I in the face of British and Zionist colonialism.

Relying on little-studied sources in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Hebrew, English, and French, the dissertation explores how the Gaza region adapted to Ottoman agrarian reforms and gravitated into British economic orbit in the Mediterranean. As a result of these processes, Gaza of the late nineteenth century reoriented its economy from land to sea and turned to fully rely on exporting its locally cultivated barley to the British beer-brewing industry overseas. While generating promising growth for some two decades, global demand for grains diversified widely in the early twentieth century, leading to an abrupt collapse of Gaza’s new financial base. Concurrently, the very trade Gaza relied upon sliced this historic borderland into separate zones of imperial domination, turning it into a frontier between the Ottomans and the British. Gaza thus became one of the Middle East’s most devastating battlefronts during the First World War. When Palestine was made a formal political unit under the British Mandate, Gaza was both financially and physically in ruins, forced into a slower, more convoluted historical trajectory than other parts of the country. Ruins and their meanings, therefore, are central to the dissertation’s inquiry, as they turned in the interwar period into a contested ground in the struggle for Gaza’s recovery. Dwelling among the physical debris of their former city, Gazans had to marshal waqf regulations and Ottoman land legislation to restore their urban and agricultural environments against British antiquities preservation and land development schemes. Navigating often contradictory reconstruction initiatives, the people of Gaza toiled to carve themselves a space within the emerging Palestinian national collective as well. However, after a century-long “stripping” of its previous economic, social, and political centrality, Gaza could only remain peripheral to the political upheavals of the Mandate period and finally even remote from the battlefields of the 1948 war. It thus almost naturally emerged as a safe temporary shelter for wartime Palestinian refugees, around which the Israeli and Egyptian armies demarcated the Gaza Strip.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
History
Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2021