Dr Lori Allen, SOAS, University of London


This project is a history of Palestinian nationalism as it developed in dialectic tension with Israel’s legacy as a refuge for the Jews. I examine this history as a key aspect of the development of a global politics of suffering and human rights that emerged in response to World War II and the Holocaust. I trace those shifts through a history of commissions that have inquired into the political conditions and opinions of Palestinians throughout the 1900s until today.


In September 2000 the second intifada (uprising) against Israeli occupation began. Throughout, competing claims of suffering have been exchanged between Palestinians and Israelis, repeating a theme that has characterized the conflict for over six decades. It is in part on the basis of their victimhood that Palestinians have waged their struggle for national rights and legitimacy, called for international protection, and sought humanitarian aid. There is a tension in that Palestinians make their political appeals through the language of victimization to the human rights world, which consists of a set of norms, discourses and institutions that has emerged after WWII out of the traumatic historical experience of the Jews, during the same period that Israel achieved statehood. Are Palestinians confined within a paradigm that already defines them as inadequate to the standards of suffering set by the iconic tragedy of the Holocaust? If Palestinians inhabit this impossible status, how does it compel them to emphasize their worthiness as suffering supplicant?


This research addresses those puzzles through an exploration of the changing forms of political claim-making and the role of suffering and notions of rights in Palestinian nationalism. In order to trace the influence of the Holocaust and human rights in the growth of the victim as a Palestinian political identity, I examine archival material of those involved in select investigative commissions and whose papers contain Palestinian correspondence. Although historians and political scientists have written about many of these commissions individually, none has focused specifically on Arabs’ contributions. Nor have these commissions been examined together as a series, or been viewed as a history of transregional knowledge production, aspects which this project intends to explore.


Tracking the development of “suffering” as a significant theme in Palestinian nationalist practice, and the narration of Palestinian history and its engagement with Zionism, narratives of the Holocaust, and the Israeli state will yield critical insight into how suffering has been construed, discursively, symbolically, and practically, as the locus of proof for political merits. Through their interactions with investigative commissions Palestinians have presented their demands for liberty and justice to the international powers perceived to be most influential in determining the fate of Palestine after the rise of Zionism and the ongoing colonization of Arab lands. Research into the processes by which Palestinian representatives were identified, the idioms through which they appealed to these investigators and international powers, and how they understood or misunderstood Zionism, and the importance of the Holocaust and Jewish suffering as a justification for political rewards will provide an answer to central questions of this project: What effect has the global influence of human rights had on the growing significance of suffering and victimhood in Palestinian nationalism? How have the Holocaust, human rights, and “victimhood” shaped Palestinian national identity and politics? In addition to providing novel perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, my exploration of how Palestinians’ political claims have been made and framed to cross borders and cultural divides, and the politicization of victimhood and suffering that has emerged, will provide insights into the changing nature of the human rights and UN system more broadly.



RCUK Gateway to Research

Magazine articles in Jadaliyya and Badil

“Inquiring into International Commissions of Inquiry” in Middle Eastern Research Project