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TURNER Mandy and SHWEIKI Omar editors, Decolonizing Palestinian Political Economy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 288 p

Marcelo Svirsky
p. vol 144

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1As the late Australian historian Patrick Wolfe influentially argued, settler polities are established on, and maintained by the logic of elimination of the Native, though the means to eliminate Indigenous peoples can take different forms – from expulsion and physical extermination, to forced assimilation, and even multicultural politics. Mandy Turner and Omar Shweiki’s edited collection schools the reader on one more form of Native elimination – de-development – as it historically inhibited Palestinian economy and life opportunities since 1948. Though not settler intentions but deeds are what the understanding of settler colonialism needs mainly to focus on, policy statements are nevertheless part of the discursive assemblage of a regime, and Israeli government officials’ testimonials are indeed very informative. Recounting her research experiences from the West Bank and Gaza in the mid-1980s, Sara Roy reports in the Foreword to the book:

I spent a good deal of time with Israeli government officials all of whom made one point clear almost immediately: there would be no economic development in the Palestinian territories. There were two reasons for this I was told: the first (and relatively less important) was the need to eliminate any source of competition with the Israeli economy. The second and far more crucial reason was to preclude the establishment, in any form, of a Palestinian state (ix).

2In 1987 Roy introduced the concept of ‘de-development’ in a journal article published in the Journal of Palestine Studies and few years later the article became a book, The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (1995, 2001, 2004, and 2016). According to Roy, de-development is expressed in policies purposely designed to ‘thwart meaningful economic development’ (x). To take the cue from Giorgio Agamben, policies of de-development amount to a form of Native elimination simply because they unfold processes that imperil the experience of potentiality. Thus, ‘despite billions of dollars in aid since the beginning of the 1993 Oslo peace process, the Palestinian economy in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is failing’ (Roy, x). Since its publication Roy’s concept of de-development has been incorporated into the analysis of oppressed societies and reviewed many times, but Turner and Shweiki’s engagement with the concept and its associated policies in Palestine is exceptional in two respects: firstly, it addresses the political economies of the geopolitical fragmentation of the Palestinian people imposed by the state of Israel since the Nakba of 1948, and secondly, it offers an analysis of different routes of decolonisation targeted to divest from settler colonial policies of de-development. Insisting on the idea that the Palestinians are one people that have been fragmented during the struggle against the settler colonisation of Palestine is in itself part of that struggle. What binds the Palestinians together is not only their history and ancestral connection to the land but also their shared experience of dispossession and oppression by Israel, thus it is imperative to think of Israel’s economic policies towards the Palestinians inside the Green Line, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and also towards the Palestinian refugees – as interconnected segments of one project – the economic elimination of the Palestinian people.

3As Turner and Shweiki rightly claim, their book is a decolonisatory operation in the field of political economy. In this sense, Turner and Shweiki’s work is a significant corrective to the coloniser’s narrative by critically addressing what Indigenous scholarship more broadly defines as the epistemology of ignorance that draws on power advantages in settler societies. The book analyses that deficit making abundantly clear that one never decolonise power without decolonising knowledge. Specifically, the book is divided into three sections. In the first part – ‘de-development explored’ – the contributors evaluate Israel’s economic policies towards the Palestinians, the political economy of Western donor aid, the politics of water distribution, and the gendered impacts of annexation in East Jerusalem. In the second part of the book – ‘de-development applied’ – the focus turns to case-studies of de-development as experienced by Palestinian refugees, Palestinians inside Israel, Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab Desert, and Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The third part of the book focuses on resisting de-development.

4Epistemological reconstruction of Indigenous experiences requires listening to Indigenous scholars and their close supporters but in many occasions also to puzzle anew already existent forms of knowledge. In more ways than one, this is the sort of combined knowledge Turner and Shweiki’s book offer. Therefore, at times the chapters engage with historical analysis, and at other times contributors are at pains to capture the logics of economic elimination at work in particular sections and instances of Palestinian life. Overall, Israel’s de-development policies towards the Palestinians since 1948 need to be thought in their historical relation to the pre-state Zionist practices that conceived Jewish existence in Palestine in exclusivist terms, as a zero sum game. It is that eliminatory Zionist motivation that survived through generations and is present today expunging the economic potential of the Palestinians as part of the more general project of Native elimination. Methods of de-development may vary but the orientation remains. As Sahar Taghdisi-Rad explains in the opening chapter, since 1967 in the oPt (occupied Palestinian territories) ‘the main aims of Israel’s policies have been, firstly, to integrate Palestinian resources, where beneficial, to its own economy; secondly, to limit and undermine the development of an independent Palestinian economy; and thirdly, to discourage Palestinian demands for sovereignty and self-determination by creating mechanisms and “rents” which would ensure compliance with Israel’s security priorities, as well as political and economic priorities, and buy-off resistance, or obstruct indigenous institution-building’ (13-14). Taghdisi-Rad surveys pre and post Oslo periods to conclude that what characterises the oPt’ economy is a permanent trade deficit, poor infrastructure, distorted labour market, and total lack of economic institutional development – which the 1993 Oslo accords and particularly the 1994 Paris Protocol of Economic Relations have not corrected but in fact, these arrangements institutionalised the dependence of the West Bank and Gaza on Israel’s economy.

5Yet, the post-Oslo era cannot be properly understood without a critical analysis of the political economy of western donor aid in the oPt, offered in Mandy Turner’s chapter. The truth of the matter is, as Turner stresses, that ‘the necessity for large and continuing amounts of aid is caused by the lack of control that Palestinians have over their resources’ (38), to be explained only in terms of the occupation itself. That is, the failure of the donor economy to rescue Palestinian life has to do with the Palestinian society itself only to the extent that donor activity benefits the few but the core of this failure needs to be found in what Turner calls ‘the ideational framework’ leading this activity that for twenty years has perpetuated ‘the fiction of a peace process where none has existed’ (39). Put simply, the donor economy operates as part of the occupation not as a transitional economy departing from it. Therefore, ‘aid cannot prevent or reverse de-development as long as the Oslo peace paradigm remains in place’ (45). Two chapters conclude the first part of the book. While Clemens Messerschmid meticulously elaborates on the role of the control and access to water resources in the pauperisation of the Palestinian economy by tracing the historical building up of power asymmetries in this realm since the days of Ottoman rule all the way to the entrenchment of Israel’s hydro-hegemony that the Oslo Accords furthered, in their chapter, Nadera Shalhoub-Kerkovian and Rachel Busbridge bring women’s voices in their everyday life ordeals to uncover the gendered impacts of de-development in East-Jerusalem. Their ethnographic account is rich in revealing ‘the ways in which military occupation and its regulatory spatial and legal apparatus affect Palestinian social and economic networks’ (87), but it also offers a look into how under such conditions these women exercise their capacity for agency.

6A Palestinian strategy to counter de-development, it is claimed in chapter five by Ingrid Jaradat Gassner, needs to take into account the conditions of Palestinian forced displacement and to return the Palestinian refugees to the Palestinian agenda. Anything short of this inclusion would be de-historicising the settler colonisation of Palestine. Aligning this conclusion with the chapter on the Palestinian citizens of Israel by Mtanes Shehadeh and Raja Khalidi ratifies the need to study the political economies of the Palestinians as one people facing the structural denial of economic potential as a form of Native elimination. Within the geopolitical boundaries of what is called by some ‘Israel proper’, Judaisation has been the axiom of dispossession and discrimination being applied to land resources, infrastructure, governmental allocations, education, and labour – that maintain Jewish advantages at the time it forestalls ‘the de-facto emergence of an alternate Arab economy’ (121). De-development may take the form of enforced selective development as with the case of the Indigenous Bedouins in the Naqab. As Ismael Abu-Saad explains, Israel’s policies towards the Naqab’s Bedouins cannot be possibly considered as development. The continuing physical elimination of the ‘unrecognised villages’, the forced urbanisation of the community alongside confiscation of ancestral land, and the control of education – these are the pillars of the Zionist de-development policies. Importantly, these policies do not remain unchallenged. Grassroots activism is expressed as refusal (to move to planned towns), advocacy and litigation, and by means of alliances with interethnic civil-society organisations. The second part of the book ends with a study of the impacts of Israel’s 2020 Master Plan on East Jerusalem’ Palestinians. As explained by Rami Nasrallah, the policies comprising this super-plan are intended to restrict land use and building, delay development, and increase regulations.

7The last part of the book – ‘de-development resisted’ – analyses the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) state-building programme, the Gaza tunnel economy, the socio-economic strategies of the PLO (1965-1982), and lastly, an alternative development agenda is considered. Raja Khalidi and Shobi Samour demonstrate that the neoliberal PA state-building programme ‘is not so much a feasible plan to establish an independent, geographically contiguous state with a strong economy’. Rather, this programme serves no one but ‘the interests of a faction of Palestinian capitalists and international donors’ (187). I was particularly inspired by Nicolas Pelham’s reading of the tunnel economy of Gaza and by this form of Palestinian inventiveness. As Pelham states, ‘the tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border offer a powerful example of human endurance amidst adversity’ (200). In fact, the tunnels redeveloped Gaza’s economy and saved a humanitarian crisis ‘from degenerating into a humanitarian disaster’ (213). The book ends with two chapters: Shweiki’s is a historical review of the PLO economic doctrines, and Mushtaq H. Khan’s is a sophisticated articulation of what is called a ‘larger freedom’ as a framework for a longer and wider strategy of development. Essentially, the main point in Khan’s analysis is the need to develop a significant bargaining power to force Israel to abandon its racist doctrine of differential rights, namely, Zionism.

8Though this collection, strictly speaking, falls within the category of political economy, it is not written exclusively for economists. Far from that, the contributors balance a rigorous approach to their topic of study with a very accessible language to scholars across different fields, activists, and also public policy officials – with an interest in Palestine. Rather than offering the classical tedious ideological argumentation that pervades much of the literature in the field of Palestine-Israel studies, this edited collection gives the reader what is really needed to win the conversation on decolonisation: materialist analyses of the dismal reality in Palestine.

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Marcelo Svirsky, « TURNER Mandy and SHWEIKI Omar editors, Decolonizing Palestinian Political Economy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 288 p », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], Lectures inédites, mis en ligne le 12 avril 2017, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL :

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Marcelo Svirsky

University of Wollongong, Australia

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