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Max Ajl


Critical Readings in Political Economy: 1967

Guy Laron, The Six-Day War (Yale University Press, 2017). Amidst the forest-felling libraries of literature on the question of Palestine, Israel’s 1967 war of aggression is perhaps responsible for the largest clear-cuts. So much is manufactured. Yet so little is useful or new. Part of the problem is the massive industry – literally – whose product is perpetual dispute over the most basic facts. Colonial expansion generates resistance. Both processes require intellectual ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy: Apartheid

Andy Clarno, Neoliberal Apartheid (University of Chicago Press, 2017). In some of the earliest editions of Al-Hadaf, the journal of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, there is explicit mention of the myriad similarities between the “racist, settler colonial regimes” occupying the antipodes of Africa and the crossroads of the Levant. The Popular Front in theory and practice understood their struggle as linked to that of the South African liberation ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy: Mechanisms of Imperialism

Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik, A Theory of Imperialism (Columbia University Press: 2016). Exactly 70 years ago, Hubert Humphrey stated, “If you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their co-operation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.” Humphrey expressed something simple: the centrality of food production to dependence and independence, sovereignty and servitude. Of course, the ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy: De-development

Sara Roy, The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development (Expanded Third Edition), (IPS, 2016).   In this third and last edition of The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development, Sara Roy writes, “de-development is a process, shaped by a vision of denial and renunciation.” Roy has recurrently argued that the Gaza Strip is a place that theories of development, modernization or dependency, cannot explain. She lists the Israeli policies which forced ...

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Introduction: Interviews with Students for Justice in Palestine Chapters

I conducted the following interviews with a number of chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine over email in the spring and summer of 2016. The aim was to use this space to allow student activists involved in the Palestine movement to speak to the non-student sectors of the movement about their organizing strategies and principles. I also sought to understand how they saw their political work and its relationships with a wide spectrum of anti-racist and anti-colonial ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy: Resilience

Sean Yom, From Resilience to Revolution (Columbia, 2015); Suzanne Maloney, Iran’s Political Economy since the Revolution (Cambridge, 2015). Why do governments last? What kind of governments last? Increasingly, studies on the stability of regimes in the Middle East/North Africa region focus on how elites enfold the middle and working classes into socio-political orders. Such enfoldment happens through turning the state into not merely an instrument of violent class rule ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy: Deserts, Soils, and Colonialism

Fazal Sheikh and Eyal Weizman, The Conflict Shoreline (Steidl, 2015); Diana Davis, The Arid Lands (MIT, 2016); Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, Ecology, Soils, and the Left (Palgrave, 2014). David G. Hogarth was a turn of the twentieth century archaeologist. He was also an archetype of the British Orientalist. In The Nearer East, a book which did excellent labor justifying colonial rule, he wrote that the nomads “impoverish the land [in Palestine] and lightly abandon it to ...

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Critical Readings in Political Economy

Welcome to the first installment of Critical Readings in Political Economy. This column will appear on a monthly basis and will discuss work—mostly new—in the discipline. It will address the disciplinary residue of Cold War post-colonial containment, the Middle East, including North African countries. It will select and highlight, summarize and critique, and identify trends in subject matter and methodology. Historical materialism is the orienting pole. It will also look to ...

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A Different Kind of Future

The United States’ founders were taken with the idea that they were building a New Jerusalem. Rhetoric of a City on the Hill animated the state-building project, particularly during what some historians call the colonial era. Such symbolism, and the shared tropes of settler-colonial land redemption, have ensured for Palestine a long history in the life of the United States. But from 1960 onwards, argues Keith Feldman in his new book, A Shadow Over Palestine, Palestine and ...

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Petrodollars and Profit: Rethinking Political Economy through the Middle East

Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler. The Scientist and the Church. World Economic Association, 2015. Howard Page, a director at what was then Exxon, was once asked, “What would have happened if Iraq production had also surged during the 1960’s,” like that of Saudi Arabia and Iran. He responded, “I admit we would have been in one tough problem.” The company was pumping fast from the latter countries, as well as Libya. “Can you swallow this amount of oil?” the ...

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Militarized Neoliberalism: Jeff Halper's "War Against the People"

Jeff Halper, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification. London: Pluto Press, 2015. Dew drops as dual use remote sensors; mechanized micro-drones the size of wasps wandering the skies; and cannons blasting water at such high velocity as to turn globules of liquid into bullets and shells. These are the new technologies coming out of Israel’s military-industrial-security workshops. Once in hand, the Israeli army tests its tools through the ...

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The Settling of the United States from the Perspective of its Victims

[Cover of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz,

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014. The Acoma poet Simon Ortiz writes in From Sand Creek that “the future will not be mad with loss and waste though the memory will.” People will not forget their past, but that should not stand in the way of change. Ortiz adds, “Be there: eyes will become kind and deep, and the bones of this nation will mend after the revolution.” Ortiz’s words are an invitation—an appeal ...

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The Limits of Humanitarianism

[Watchtower, Rafah, Gaza Strip border with Egypt, April 2009. Image by Marius Arnesen.]

The prose of collapse increasingly punctuates reports and communiques concerned with the well-being of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. As early as 2006, as the Israeli siege slowly settled into place, reports cautioned of the collapse of the health system. On 4 January 2009, the Israeli human rights organization Gisha warned, “Gaza’s water and sewage system is on the verge of collapse following bombardments that have destroyed electricity lines.” On 27 May 2009 the ...

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From Containment to Counterinsurgency in the Gaza Strip

[Destruction in Gaza, 2009. Image by Wikimedia Commons User Gloucester2Gaza.]

Israel’s recently terminated “Operation Protective Edge” against the Gaza Strip was beyond destructive. Little is left standing in Shuja’iya, Khoza’a, Beit Hanoun, and Rafah’s east, where photos reveal a tableau of grey ruin. Israel shelled hospitals, targeted ambulances, killed paramedics, leaving the health sector strained beyond the breaking point. As Israeli munitions rocked graveyards, even the dead rested uneasy. According to one development NGO, the war simply ...

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Revolution and Return: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon and the End of Politics

Diana Allan, Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2013.   For some reason while reading Diana Allan’s wonderful new book, Refugees of the Revolution, I had the idea that its title was Ghosts of the Revolution. I am not sure why. It may be because that revolution, in its silences and absences, so insistently haunts the pages of this study, its traces scattered and lingering in the lives of those who lived ...

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Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s “City for All” – Is There Emancipatory Potential in Israeli Municipal Politics?: An Interview with Matan Kaminer

[Aharon Maduel (right, in black v-neck) and Ir LeKulanu activists in HaCarmel Market, Tel Aviv, October 15th, 2013. Image by Eyal Eithcowich]

Max Ajl (MA): Start by telling us a little about the Ir LeKulanu campaign. Matan Kaminer (MK): Ir LeKulanu, “city for all of us” in Hebrew, is a municipal political party in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. It was founded six years ago by a number of activists who had been involved in different local struggles. Among the groups represented at the founding conference were the Palestinian community in Jaffa and the working-class Mizrahi Jewish community in Kfar Shalem–formerly ...

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What was at Stake at Brooklyn College?

[Image of Michael Bloomberg. by MTAPhotos.]

It was an odd spectacle: Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor responsible for a quite a bit of repression against New York activists, was also the one chiding New York politicos for their threats to cut funding for the city’s public colleges. As he quipped, “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.” Brooklyn College’s hosting of activist Omar Barghouti ...

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Why Chuck Hagel Is Irrelevant

[Senator Chuck Hagel shakes hands with Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Willard Intercontinental Washington Hotel, Washington D.C, 9 May 2012. Photo by Glenn Fawcett/Flickr.]

The latest non-scandal scandalizing the American commentariat is whether Barack Obama will be able to nominate former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his new Secretary of Defense. The narrative is that the Zionist lobby is eager to scuttle Hagel’s nomination because he has uttered one too many words “critical” of Israel, and displayed too many sentiments suspected of being contrary to the agenda of the lobby: namely, destroying Iran. The narrative is true enough. That ...

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Who's Afraid of the Qassams?

[Crowd progressing slowly towards the main Israel-Gaza checkpoint access holding flags and signs, in a united

One of the more remarkable yet less remarked upon moments of the recent Israeli massacre in Gaza came when the Qassam Brigades gave a press conference on 17 November. They had a message for the Israeli public: “It was your leadership,” they said, “that dragged you into this and into the shelters to score cheap political points.” The causes for the latest Israeli massacre in Gaza are more complex than the Qassam Brigades statement made them out to be. The main driver is the ...

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The Foibles of Thomas Friedman

[Cover of Belen Fernandez,

Belén Fernández, The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. London and New York: Verso, 2011. A researcher once carried out an informal study to try to find out whether or not people actually read the books on bestseller lists. To find out, he put envelopes in the reputedly high-selling books. In each envelope was a note saying that if those who found the envelopes were to send them to a designated address, the researcher would send them five dollars. According ...

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Max Ajl


Max Ajl studies development sociology at Cornell University and has been published widely, including in Middle East ReportHistorical Materialism, and the Guardian's Comment is Free.  He is an editor at Viewpoint Magazine and edits Jadaliyya's Palestine and Political Economy Pages (Other Jadaliyya writings are available here and here). He is on Twitter at: @maxajl.

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