Middle East Studies

Frances Hasso

Duke University

Racial Anxieties, Eugenics, and the Demographics of Life and Death in Colonial Palestine, Chapter 4 of my book manuscript on Palestinian Reproductive Death

The book project focuses on British colonialism and reproductive death in Palestine from a transnational lens, considering demographic policies, eugenics ideology and discourse, austerity policies, and health and hygiene priorities and practices. It also considers and theorizes Palestinian sensibilities and experiences with reproduction and reproductive death over a longer time period of time, including birth, stillbirth (deadbirth), spontaneous miscarriage, induced miscarriage, and birth control practices and experiences. This particular chapter, which at the writing of this abstract is very much a draft, focuses on the relationship between colonial and imperial science and the demographics of life and death in British Mandate Palestine. In their investment priorities in transportation, water, electricity, and health care, as well as decision-making in relation to land disfranchisement and devastating diseases such as typhoid and measles, the British were largely responsible for the fact that the median Arab Palestinian death rate was between two and three years old during the entire period of mandatory rule. Differences in mortality and morbidity rates between Jews and non-Jews during the mandate can be completely explained by the health care systems encouraged by mandate rule, which treated Jewish offices like "state bodies" (Borowy 2005, 429, 430). In comparison, all governing autonomy was stripped and little financial support was offered to Palestinian bodies by mandate authorities. Department of Health prose was more likely than statistical tables to express worry about the higher rates of Palestinian, and especially Muslim Palestinian, birth in comparison to Jewish birth rates in Palestine. Combined with my analysis of white colonial health campaigns in Palestine such as Baby Week, this chapter considers how British imperial (England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand) and U.S. public health leaders deployed and managed global eugenic anxieties in work targeting Palestinian women and children. While the British colonization of Palestine has not been considered by scholars as having its own demographic agenda beyond the degree to which it did or did not facilitate Zionist settler colonialism, colonial officials and professionals and their bosses and supporters in London were very much concerned with Palestinian birthrates and death and understood them through their global white racialist priorities.

Frances S. Hasso is associate professor in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University with secondary appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Department of History. She was an Editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (jmews.org) (2015-2018). Her scholarship includes the books: (with Zakia Salime) Freedom without Permission: Bodies and Space in the Arab Revolutions (Duke UP, 2016); Consuming Desires: Family Crisis and the State in the Middle East (Stanford UP, 2011); and Resistance, Repression and Gender Politics in Occupied Palestine and Jordan (Syracuse UP, 2005). Recent journal articles include: “Masculine Love and Sensuous Reason: The Affective and Spatial Politics of Egyptian Ultras Football Fans,” in Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography; “Civil and the Limits of Politics in Revolutionary Egypt,” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East; and “Bargaining with the Devil: States and Intimate Life,” in Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. She was a 2018 CAORC Senior Fellow and a 2018-2019 National Humanities Center Fellow for work on her current book project, titled “Palestinian Reproductive Death.”

Keywords: Demographics of life and death, reproductive death, British colonialism, mortality and morbidity, eugenics ideology and discourse, austerity policies, health and hygiene priorities and practices