Roger Owen Book Award
University of New Hampshire
2019 Roger Owen Book Award Winner
Fredrik Meiton’s meticulously researched and beautifully written book, Electrical Palestine, illuminates and essentially rewrites the history of economic transformation in interwar Palestine by examining the process of electrification. Meiton shows how a monopoly concession granted by the British authorities to Pinhas Rutenberg and his Palestine Electric Corporation played an essential role in deepening uneven economic development and ethno-national divisions between Palestinian Arabs and Jews during the British Mandate and after. The centralized, large-scale system that Pinhas built not only lit streets, powered industrial enterprises and consumer goods, and pumped irrigation water, but also knit Jewish settlements and populated areas together even as it marginalized and bypassed most Palestinian Arab communities. Meiton further deftly explores how the deep affinities between Zionist and British imperial understandings of modernization and capitalist development delegitimized Palestinian opposition to the expansion of the central grid and foreclosed options for decentralized, local systems of generating electricity.
Meiton’s highly engaging narrative reconstructs the history of these politicized networks of wires and power stations from a variety of perspectives and sources, from Rutenberg himself to colonial officers to Palestinian Arab mayors and their constituents. The author draws on impressive work with archival documents and press accounts in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, with fieldwork in Israel, Palestine and the UK.
Like Roger Owen, Meiton succeeds in making economic history essential to understanding contemporary realities in the region. His analysis of how electricity was introduced in Palestine in a context of colonial hegemony and Zionist expansion sheds nuanced lights on the realities of the Palestine-Israel conflict today.