Dual and Relational: Palestine as Technological Zone

By Fredrik Meiton
Submitted to Session P4346 (Technological Zones in the Middle East: Engineering Politics out of Flows of Energy and Infrastructure, 2016 Annual Meeting
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In the course of the mandatory period, Palestine emerged as an entity at once more precisely defined than ever before and, by the same process, the site of growing economic and ethno-national differentiation. The nature of the relationship between the Jewish and Arab communities of mandatory Palestine has long been a point of scholarly disagreement. Advocates of a ‘dual societies’ model emphasize ethno-national separation and dynamics generated internally in each community. Advocates of the ‘relational’ model, on the other hand, stress the importance of cross-communal interaction in shaping the two communities and the land.

Drawing on the records of state and municipal archives in Palestine and Israel, as well as the Israel Electric Corp. Archives, this paper seeks to bridge and move past the two paradigms by arguing that both the dual and the relational nature of Palestinian society emerged as historical products of the same world-making endeavors. It does so by tracing the gradual emergence of mandatory Palestine as an infrastructural state and technological zone.

Designed to mobilize natural resources, forge a unified market, and firm up political control, infrastructural technologies, including railways, ports, airports, electric grids, and currency regimes, divided as they unified. They provided the material undergirding for a new unit of account by which success and failure were defined and measured, risk managed, and violence redirected. As such, they also embodied and sustained political and economic visions and enacted a certain spatial order and division of labor. As a result, the paper argues, the making of Palestine as a technological zone had the paradoxical effect of also generating political, social, and economic division by virtue of the unified standard it imposed.