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Twentieth-Century Partitions: An Interim Report

Dr. Ayelet Ben-Yishai, Dr. Alexandre Kedar, Dr. Ornit Shani,



Two territories were partitioned under British administration in 1947 and 1948: India and Palestine. In South Asia the partition ultimately resulted in the formation of three states: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In the Middle East it led to one independent state, Israel, and the statelessness of another people, the Palestinians. The trajectories and circumstances of the two partitions differ in many respects. Nonetheless, and as our research group is constantly discovering, these two partitions, as well as other partitions which are legacies of British rule (namely, Cyprus and Ireland), share commonalities that can be traced directly back to the unprecedented emergencies in their respective areas, stemming from sectarian violent conflict, and leading to deep socioeconomic crises and severe sociopolitical fragmentations. All of these disparate and extreme phenomena are grouped together under the umbrella term “partition,” a seemingly innocuous term that belies the complexity and acuity of these ongoing crises.

In our presentation we will give a brief overview of our findings to date and address what we consider the thorniest practical and theoretical paradox of partition, namely, it status of “ongoing crisis.” By definition, a crisis is limited in time, it is an extreme condition which has to be recognized as a break from that which came before it, and that which comes after. Because of the extreme conditions – so the logic goes – a crisis requires special, unusual measures with which in can respond and intervene to end the crisis. But what happens when the crisis itself generates more (similar or different) extreme conditions? What happens when the attempts to control the crisis by various legal means are themselves constituted as (similar or different) crises, or, conversely, when disaster is normalized and its treatment routinized? Do extreme conditions that extend over decades still merit the designation of “extreme”? What is the status of “emergency” laws, rules, and practices that become not only normative, but normal? These questions come up in every one of our case studies, where we identify crises – extreme conditions – that are ongoing, as are the “emergency measures” taken to contain them.