Horizontal and vertical influences in colonial legal transplantation: water by-laws in British Palestine

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Abstract Local by-laws were the primary tool for local governments in British-ruled Palestine to exercise their authority, and water was the paradigmatic subject for local legislation. Looking at the diffusion of legal norms in local by-laws in the 1930s and 1940s, the article examines the dynamics of lawmaking in a context characterized both by imperial rule and intercommunal conflict. The article asks two major questions: to what extent did the by-laws adopt legal norms and forms across communal boundaries? And was the legislation passed by local governments as the product of local preferences and initiative, or did it rather reflect the desires of the British rulers? Understanding the processes of legal transplantation at the local level can help shed light on a number of issues. For the history of Mandate Palestine, it can refine our understanding of the degree to which the Arab and Jewish communities, engaged in sustained conflict, nonetheless interacted in the fields of urban infrastructure and local lawmaking. For imperial environmental history, it provides an opportunity to test theories about water policy as an expression of top-down power. For the legal history of empire, it highlights a level of lawmaking, located somewhere between imperial imposition and indigenous resistance, that has largely been neglected. And for understanding of legal transplantation or diffusion, it offers a fine-grained case study in the way in which legal norms might move—and transform—across jurisdictional, communal, and cultural lines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-331
Number of pages24
JournalAmerican Journal of Legal History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021


  • By-laws
  • Environmental aspects
  • History
  • Jewish-Arab relations
  • Laws
  • regulations and rules
  • Municipal water supply
  • Political aspects
  • Research


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