“Colonial contingencies: the political marginalisation of the municipality of Jerusalem under the British Mandate”

The Historicity of Democracy (Online) Seminar. Academic Year 2020-2021

Organized within the framework of the HISDEMAB international and collaborative research programme of the Leibniz-Association (ZMO-ZZF-IEG) in collaboration with IFPO and Manouba University.

“Colonial contingencies: the political marginalisation of the municipality of Jerusalem under the British Mandate”

June 24, 2021. 15h00-17h00 (Berlin Time). Registration: https://forms.gle/A8AJDvdaQyUiG5qD8


During the transition from the end of the Ottoman period to the instauration of the British Mandate rule in Palestine, the sphere of urban governance in Jerusalem underwent a major transformation. Ottoman civic institutions such as the municipal council were slowly stripped off their power in favor of confessional representatives and British “experts”.

Under British military rule, many powers originally vested in the municipality, such as town planning, were transferred to the Pro-Jerusalem Society, a non-governmental organization established by Governor Robert Storrs. Once the mandate was officially established, these powers were given to the Town Planning Commission. The municipality thus lost much of the influence and importance it used to have during the late Ottoman period.

Whereas the composition of the Ottoman municipal council had been determined by the condition of Ottoman citizenship, population statistics and the censitary suffrage system, during the Mandate period, confessional identity became a structuring element of this level of governance. In fact, the mayor had to be Muslim, one deputy mayor Jewish and the other Christian.

Municipal elections were the only ones more or less successfully organized by the British mandate authorities in Palestine, since the attempt of holding legislative elections failed due to massive Arab boycott. So in the absence of political representation on the level of the country, municipal councils were the only government-sanctioned space for representation.

The Municipal Corporations Ordinance of 1934 was supposed to revise the legal basis on which the municipal council had continued to function after the end of Ottoman rule. The elaboration of the bill, hotly debated both in London and in Palestinian cities, was lengthy and difficult. The analysis of its drafts, as well as the comments and petitions received, shed light on the conditions under which Arab political representation and organization occurred during this period.

Falestin Naili is a historian associated with the Institut français du Proche-Orient (Ifpo) in Amman. She specializes in the social history of the late Ottoman and Mandate Palestine and Jordan and has focused much of her recent research on local governance and politics, particularly in Jerusalem. Through her interest in collective memory and oral history she often reaches present-time issues, including the politics of heritage and folklore.

Among her publications:

The DeMunicipalization of Urban Governance Post-Ottoman Political Space in Jerusalem” (2018); (with A. Muhtadi) « Back into the Imperial Fold: The End of Egyptian Rule through the Court Records of Jerusalem, 1839-1840 », in Angelos Dalachanis & Vincent Lemire (ed.), Ordinary Jerusalem 1840-1940, Leiden, Brill, 2018, p. 186-199; “Chronique d’une mort annoncée* ? La municipalité ottomane de Jérusalem dans la tourmente de la Première Guerre mondiale” (2017); (with Y. Avci & V. Lemire), « Publishing Jerusalem’s Ottoman Municipal Archives (1892-1917): A Turning Point for the City’s Historiography », Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 60, 2015, pp. 110-119; « Memories of Home and Stories of Displacement: The Women of Artas and the “Peasant Past”», Journal of Palestine Studies, no. 152, Summer 2009, p.63-74; « Les déplacés de 1967 : des réfugiés en devenir ? », in A. Signoles/ J. Al-Husseini (eds.), Les Palestiniens entre Etat et diaspora. Le temps des incertitudes, Paris : IISMM/ Karthala, 2012, p. 67-94