Proto-refugees? Palestinian Arabs and the concept of statelessness before 1948

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The Palestine mandate was built around the assumption that the League of Nations and the British mandatory government would preside over a gradual demographic and political transformation there, creating a European Jewish settler majority to replace the Palestinian Arab one and allowing for the eventual emergence of a Jewish nation-state. This process required a corresponding de-nationalisation of the incumbent Arab population - a project that formally began with the language of the mandate and continued through the mechanisms of governance set by the British mandate state and the League of Nations throughout the mandate period. Through new legal, economic and political mechanisms, the mandate system coalesced around a project of producing Palestinian Arab statelessness that made notable use of a simultaneously emerging language of refugeedom elsewhere in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This paper explores the use of refugee-related discourse and institutions to produce this deliberate de-nationalisation of Palestinian Arabs during the mandate period, arguing that the League of Nations put into place conditions and categories of statelessness for Palestinians that set them up as 'proto-refugees' long before the physical expulsions of 1948 and set the stage for an international acceptance of their refugee status as a long-established and essentially permanent condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-81
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Migration History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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