History from Below: Writing a People's History of Palestine
Baroud, Ramzy Mohamed
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis is available for Library use on the understanding that it is copyright material and that no quotation from the thesis may be published without proper acknowledgement.
This submission for PhD by Publication includes three studies designed to reflect the popular view of ordinary Palestinians regarding events and politics in Palestine throughout modern history. They aim to primarily provide a ‘history from below’ political discourse of the Palestinian people. While the studies do not purport to determine with certainty the exact dynamics that propel Palestinian politics and society - as in where political power ultimately lies - they attempt to present a long-dormant argument that sees ‘history from below’ as an indispensable platform providing essential insight into Palestinian history to explain present political currents. Over the course of 11 years, I conducted three studies which resulted in the publication of the following volumes: The first work, Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion (2003) is centered on the events that surrounded the Israeli siege, invasion and subsequent violence in and around the Palestinian West Bank refugee camp of Jenin in April 2002. The study includes forty two eyewitness accounts, collected from people who witnessed the violence and were affected by it, were recorded and positioned to create a clear and unified narrative. The reality that the refugees portrayed in these accounts was mostly inconsistent with the official Israeli narrative of the violent events that occurred in the refugee camp, on one hand, and that were provided by the Palestinian Authority (PA) or factions, on the other. The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (2006) shows the impact of the Israeli military policies used against revolting Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and the popular response to these policies during the first five years of the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005). The results of the study also demonstrate the inconsistencies between the views and practices held by the official political representation of Palestinians, and the popular view, as demonstrated in the discernible collective behavior of ordinary Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. In My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (2010) my research pursues the roots of the current situation in the Gaza Strip – that of siege, political deadlock and violence. The study traces the lives of selected refugees before the Nakba - the Catastrophe of 1947-48 - back in Palestine during the British Mandate in the 1920s and just before the Zionist colonial project went into full swing. In the three studies, the central argument is that historical and political events are best explained through non-elitist actors, who although at times lack political representation and platform, are capable of influencing, if not shaping the course of history, thus the present situation on the ground. The studies also indicate that such notions as popular resistance, collective memory and steadfastness (sumud in Arabic) are not mere idealistic and sentimental values, but notions with tangible and decipherable impact on past events and present realities. The central argument endeavors to demonstrate that although the Palestinian people are divided into various collectives, they are united by a common sense of identity and an undeclared political discourse, and they have historically proven to be a viable political actor that has influenced, affected, or, in some instances, deeply altered political realities. To examine my thesis, my paper will be reviewing several theoretical notions of historiography including the Great Man Theory, which uses an elitist approach to understanding the formation and conversion of history. The Great Man Theory argues that single individuals of importance have made decisions that drive the outcomes of history. This notion is challenged by Group Theories which argue that history is shaped by the outcome of competing interest groups belonging to socio-economic elites, and that multidimensional forces often shape political realities. Furthermore, I examine a third theoretical approach that of ‘history from below’, which argues that history is scarcely shaped by ‘great men’ or socio-economic elites. Such historiography rarely contends with how history is formed; instead, it is mostly concerned with attempting to reconstruct the flow of history. It does so through deconstructing largely collective phenomena that are believed to be responsible for shaping current political movements. I attempt, through these volumes, to present a flow of Palestinian history based on the ‘history from below’ approach. The following paper will attempt to explain the logic behind my choice.
The accompanying publications for this thesis are available to read in the University's Main Library. References are as follows: My Father was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story. (London: Pluto Press, 2010). ISBN 978-0-7453-2881-2; The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle. (London: Pluto Press, 2006). ISBN 0-7453-2547-5; Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion. (Seattle: Cune Press, 2003). ISBN 1-885942-34-6.
PhD by Publication in Palestine Studies
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