Sunday, December 20, 2020

Lori Allen's "A History of False Hope"

Lori Allen is Reader in Anthropology at SOAS University of London. She is the author of The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine (2013).

Allen applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A History of False Hope: Investigative Commissions in Palestine, and reported the following:
This is a wonderful test for my book! This page concludes Chapter 2, which offers the reader a distinct telling of the Arab Revolt, a major uprising against the British and Zionists that lasted from 1936 to 1939. It describes a unique example in the story I tell about Palestinians’ engagement with investigative commissions and liberal internationalism, when Palestinians boycotted the British Royal Peel Commission (for a while) in 1936. The boycott of the Peel Commission was one of the few times in Palestinian political history that a collective rejection of the rules and assumptions of western investigators and their liberal demands shook (for a while) the confidence, the hubris, of their rulers— here it was the British who had been mismanaging Palestine for almost two decades.
Historians recognize the Peel Commission as one of the most significant for Palestine because it put partition formally on the table of political options, and because its report made public the British government’s recognition that the mandate’s contradictory promises were unworkable. What is more significant is the boycott of the commission. It shows that international law as arbitrated by commission, by the League of Nations, and by a version of liberalism defined by well-mannered gentlemen—those engaged in what they defined as rational discourse—no longer exhausted Palestinians’ tools and terms of nationalist claim making.

The Arab Revolt and Palestinians’ boycott of the Peel Commission were not a refusal of international law, not a rejection of liberalism, but an insistence on them.
Page 99 hints at one of the major innovations of this book, which is to explore investigative commissions and tell the story of international law from the perspective of Palestinians, based on how Palestinians from all walks of life have engaged with these systems and ideologies.

The boycott was an expression of Palestinians’ deep frustration with the train of investigations that had poked around Palestine but never resolved anything. This chapter argues that solidarity among Arabs with Palestinians and their struggle for independence was one thing that helped them just say no to yet another British commission. And it shows how Palestinians drew on liberal principles in doing so.

The boycott of the Peel Commission is an exception that helps illustrate the rule that A History of False Hope is explaining. What the rest of the book explores are all the other times that Palestinians did engage with investigative commissions. It explains why Palestinians have invested in international law as a system that might finally provide them justice, or at least support them in achieving their rights and independence—as yet to no avail. Human rights and humanitarian law are the core legal elements of the story, but this study focuses specifically on the social and political dynamics that have swirled in and around those legal systems. Far from being a self-evident good, I argue that this embroilment in human rights and humanitarian law— on the part of everyone from political representatives, technocrats, and lawyers to NGO activists, fishermen, and farmers—has narrowed political vision and action for Palestine.
Visit Lori Allen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue