Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Jacob Norris

Senior Lecturer, University of Sussex

The Palestinian Americas in the Age of Third World Revolution

Palestine’s has enjoyed iconic status among anti-colonial liberation struggles since at least the 1960s. But we in fact know very little about the complex histories of transnational solidarity and exchange that underpin this status. This paper addresses this lacuna through an exploration of Palestinian revolutionary activism in Latin America in the mid-20th century. Rather than think about the reception of the Palestinian struggle across discrete regional/national blocs, the paper examines how diasporic Palestinians traversed the revolutionary cultures of both Latin America and the Middle East. Latin America matters to our understanding of the global Palestinian struggle, not only because of the region’s centrality to Third World imaginaries, but also because it is the site of the largest Palestinian communities in the world outside the Middle East – today around 1 million people. 

 A significant but overlooked number of diasporic Palestinians participated in Latin American revolutionary movements in the 1950s, 60s and 70, many of them combining this with involvement in the Palestinian struggle. Exiled and marginalised by authoritarian governments, nation-centric communist parties and the politically conservative leadership of their own diasporic communities, these Palestinians have largely disappeared from historical view. The paper uses ethnographic sources – oral history interviews, diaries, family ephemera – to reconstruct their precarious journeys and address a series of key questions: How did these actors seek to fuse Palestinian and Latin American revolutionary agendas within the fraught politics of the Palestinian diaspora? How did they forge new communities of kin and solidarity as they moved through specific local contexts? How gendered were these networks at a time when increasing numbers of women were joining revolutionary movements in Latin America? How can this seldom-told story help rethink notions of a global Palestinian revolution and, in so doing, speak to debates surrounding anti-colonial subjectivities in the global south? 

Based on ongoing research conducted in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile, the paper uses a series of case studies to rethink Palestine’s relationship to Third World revolution, from the Nakba of 1948 until the turmoil of 1979 when the Nicaraguan Revolution and outbreak of civil war in El Salvador ushered in more formalised relations between Latin American movements and the PLO. The goal is not only to denaturalise nations and regions, but to understand the alternative social formations created and inhabited by these actors as embodied human beings whose clandestine lifestyles required them to move between various mediated contexts. Thus, the focus is as much on the spouses and children, the cousins and friends, and the artistic and activist circles that sustained and nourished their journeys. 

Jacob Norris is senior lecturer in Middle Eastern history at the University of Sussex in the UK where he also co-directs the Middle East and North Africa Centre (MENACS). His research looks at the history of Palestine in the 19th and 20th century through a global history lens. His first book, Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial Development was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. His second book was recently published by Stanford University Press (2023) and is titled The Lives and Deaths of Jubrail Dabdoub (Or How the Bethlehemites Discovered Amerka). Jacob is also co-director of the Planet Bethlehem Archive. His current research looks at the circulation of Palestinian revolutionaries around Latin America in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.