Settler colonialism because and not despite endemic disease: Omri Tubi, ‘Kill me a mosquito and I will build a state: political economy and the socio-technicalities of Jewish colonization in Palestine, 1922–1940’, Theory and Society, 2020


Abstract: Scholars see Israel as a settler state, comparable with North American, South African and Oceanian cases. But how was Jewish settlement-colonization in pre-Israel Palestine even possible? In the North American, Oceanian and South African cases, European settlers did not encounter diseases like malaria that scholars argue impede settlement. Palestine, however, had high malaria morbidity rates. The disease incapacitated and killed settlers and was one of the most serious threats to Jewish settlement and political economic development. I argue that the exigencies caused by malaria are exactly what fostered Jewish settlement-colonization in Palestine because they prompted the formation of socio-technical arrangements in order to combat the disease. These arrangements included, among other things, people, organizations, scientific knowledge, procedures and larvicides as well as considering the agency of mosquitos and other elements in the environment in disrupting settlement. These arrangements were marshalled by medical-national and political institutions that developed to combat malaria. Only then were Jewish settlers able to effectively colonize Palestine, make their colonies economically viable and make Palestine habitable for future Jewish immigrants. I demonstrate this argument by drawing on archival and library materials that describe the work of an important Zionist Malaria Research Unit (MRU) as well as malaria control efforts in Hefer Valley in the 1930s–1940s, after the unit’s disbandment. Then, I discuss the theoretical implications of this paper to settler-colonial and state-building literatures that, for the most part, neglected the socio-technical nature of state-building and settlement.

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