Against the Rule of Experts: The Arab Development Society in the Jordan Valley, 1945-67

By Nadi Abusaada
Submitted to Session P6040 (Between the Imagined and the Real: Spaces of Tensions in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, 2020 Annual Meeting
Archit & Urb Plng
Urban Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In 1945, towards the end of British rule in Palestine, Jerusalemite lawyer Musa Alami founded the Arab Development Society (ADS), a nongovernmental fund aimed at improving living conditions in Palestine’s Arab villages and protecting them from the threat of Zionist colonial expansion. The project, which was temporarily funded by the newly founded Arab League, soon faced a mass challenge when the 1948 Arab-Israeli war broke out, and most of its constituency of Palestine’s Arab rural population were forcibly displaced from their homes. In the face of this new crisis, Alami devoted his work in the next two decades to remodel ADS as an alternative refugee settlement scheme in the Jordan Valley.

Revisiting the history of ADS is equally significant to academic literature on the modern history Palestine and the Middle East, and to ongoing debates within and outside the fields of architecture and urban studies. On the one hand, as a Palestinian-led project, ADS presents, first, an alternative to the work of the UNRWA as the main basis for the conceptions of ‘displacement’ and ‘resettlement’ in the Palestinian context and, second, a new understanding of Palestinian initiatives in the under-investigated period of Jordanian rule in the West Bank (1948-67). On the other, the project’s geopolitical location at the ‘frontier’ between the West Bank and Jordan, its extreme environmental conditions, and its modernist ethos together offer a rich palimpsest of situations and choices that allow for a complex and dynamic reading of the political implications and limits of the natural and built environment in situations of human crisis and mass displacement.

The paper relies on a wide range of published and unpublished materials including historical photographs, Arabic and English newspapers, maps and brochures collected from the archives of St. Antony’s College Oxford, National Geographic, the United Nations and the National Library of Israel. The paper offers three intersectional readings of ADS; first, as a model that offers an alternative conception of ecology and the environment to that of the UNRWA; second, as an experimental scheme with multiple readjustments in terms of financing, scope, and operation; and third, as an ideological project that carried with it not merely a technical solution for refugee settlement but an entire vision for a new Palestinian society conceived in a time of crisis.