The 1931 census of Palestine and the statistical (un)making of an Arab landless class

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This study sits at the intersection of census-making, colonialism, and the politics of statistical expertise. It considers the Palestine Census that the country’s British rulers had undertaken in 1931. It focuses on British intentions to include questions that could have yielded data about the alleged emergence of an Arab ‘landless class’. The validation of such a category would have justified British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine. We trace the trajectory of ‘landlessness’ as a statistical category. We show that disparity in statistical expertise between Arab and Jewish experts, and a parity between Jewish and British experts, played a decisive role in shaping the census schedule. Consequently, Arab landlessness failed to become a valid statistical category. Our case highlights British census-making in India as a broad colonial model to be applied in other colonies and to be used as a scientific justification for Britain’s various political agendas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-256
Number of pages18
JournalMiddle Eastern Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 3 Mar 2020


  • British Mandate
  • Palestine
  • Zionism
  • census
  • colonialism


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