Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Stripped: Ruination, Liminality, and the Making of the Gaza Strip, 1840-1950

My dissertation accounts for the transformation of Gaza, city and region, from what it was during the 1840s—a vibrant node on multiple webs of maritime and continental exchange—to what it had become by the 1950s—the ghettoized and isolated Gaza Strip. Departing from the common understanding of the "strip" as purely a consequence of the 1948 war, I situate Gaza instead within a century-long history of global circulation of people and commodities, imperial destruction and debris, and social struggle for the city and its environment. My work explores how and why the nineteenth-century Ottoman-British imperial race in the Eastern Mediterranean tied the Gaza borderland region to the capitalist world economy, turning it simultaneously into a global commodity frontier (a source for raw materials) and into an inter-imperial military frontier by the First World War. Consequently, I aim to show, when Gaza became part of Palestine under the British Mandate, it was both financially and physically in ruins, plunged into a slower, more convoluted historical trajectory than other parts of Palestine. Ruins, therefore, are a focal point of my inquiry. Pendulating between past and present, ruins are examined in my study as objects of temporal in-betweenness tying Gaza's physical space to its geographical in-betweenness as a borderland. In the intersection of these temporal and spatial liminalities, I argue, Gaza remained peripheral to the political upheavals of the Mandate period and finally remote from the battlefields of the 1948 war. It thus emerged as a safe temporary shelter for wartime Palestinian refugees, around which the Israeli and Egyptian armies demarcated the Gaza Strip. Taking Gaza as its vantage point, then, the dissertation challenges portrayals of border-making in the Middle East as external and artificial, contextualizing this process instead within broader history of geographical borderlands and their reemergence as imperial frontiers and national peripheries.