Producing National Spaces in the Levantine Borderlands, 1920–54

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:50 AM
Murray Hill Suite A (New York Hilton)
Fredrik Meiton, New York University
Much of twentieth-century Middle Eastern history flows from borders, established in the wake of World War I. This paper explores the impact of these new borders on political and economic relations in the region from the perspective of the borderlands that they created. In contrast to the common view of these new borderlands as in all senses peripheral, this paper argues that the territories’ new status as sites of division blended with their longstanding function as regional nodes. The result was new divisions, but also new connections.
The paper will focus on the riparian system constituting the borderlands of Palestine, Transjordan, and Syria. Specifically, it will use the efforts to build a hydro-electrical powerhouse at the confluence of the Yarmuk and Jordan rivers, separating Transjordan from Syria and Palestine from Transjordan. Plans for the powerhouse – hailed as “the future nerve-centre of Palestine and Trans-Jordan” – figured prominently during the border negotiations between the British and French mandatories and subsequently in the political and economic development of these “backward” territories.
Colonial officials, businessmen, peasants, fishermen, and political activists looked at the same two rivers and saw very different things: a “natural” border, a means of irrigation, a source of motive power, or sustenance for men and animals. The two rivers thus emerged as sites of contending visions and practices. The negotiations that followed were central to maintaining the border, ordering the borderlands, and configuring relations more broadly between state, people, and environment.