Sand and the City: On Colonial Development and its Evasive Enemies in Twentieth-Century Palestine

Dotan Halevy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article traces the colonial origins of a crucial aspect of the environmentalist discourse since the mid-twentieth century – the idea that planetary substances should be stripped of ownership rights and become in and of themselves the subject of rights. The article looks closely at the Gaza region under British mandatory rule to explain how the rehabilitation of Gaza city, devastated during WWI, has failed. Gaza’s reconstruction efforts, the article argues, collided with the British initiative to arrest the drift of dunes along the coast of southern Palestine. Throughout this project, the British administration extinguished Arab property and usufruct rights to expand state domains. They backed this policy with an elaborate ecological perception that saw sand and its inhabitants as agents of environmental ruin. The quarrel that has developed thus made the Gaza region an imperial test ground for probing what sand is? Does it have a history? And, therefore, can it be claimed as an object of rights? Divorcing nature from culture, the British administration in Palestine rejected the validity of sandy lands’ economic past and constructed them as inhospitable ‘wastelands’ – a purely natural element. As such, sands could be subjected to governmental ‘development’ through afforestation and urbanisation while time-honoured agricultural practices and land rights of the local coastal population were neglected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-564
Number of pages28
JournalEnvironment and History
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • afforestation
  • colonial environmentalism
  • Gaza
  • Rights of Nature
  • Sand dunes
  • waste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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