Mandate Agent, Colonial Subject, and Jewish Citizen? The many profiles of Jamil Sasson, a francophone Syrian Arab Jew in the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon

By James Casey
Submitted to Session P4858 (Tales of Espionage, Diplomacy, and War, 2017 Annual Meeting
The 1920-1946 French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon facilitated the expansion and development of existing and novel state powers and capacities in the territory under its authority. Historians have increasingly emphasized the role of the Mandate state administration in centralizing provision of public goods and social services and the development of police and military power. Less attention has been paid to role of local institutions, particularly waqf, as a site of the production of state capacity related to surveillance and human intelligence gathering.
This paper examines the understudied role of pious endowment property - waqf - as a key site for the production of sophisticated state capacities related to surveillance and intelligence gathering through the lens of Jamil Sasson, a Damascene Jew employed in the French Mandate administration’s Contrôle des Wakfs.
A more fulsome account of the Mandate is impossible without careful consideration of the working lives and personal contexts of the people who worked in its administration. The Mandate employee personnel files contain the sort of granular and unconventional information ranging from performance reviews to travel reimbursement requests that provides intimate and revealing glimpses into working life in the Mandate administration. These insights illuminate the ways that state surveillance functioned beyond the formal police and security services, the extent to which French rule was built and sustained through negotiation and participation with local individuals and institutions at all levels, and the vital role of local interlocutors (other than Christians and Muslims) played.