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This article draws on a collection of petitions by Palestinian Arabs and Jews to explore how families negotiated the admission of mentally ill relatives into government mental institutions under the British mandate between 1930 and 1948. In contrast to the conclusions of the existing literature, which focuses largely on the development of parallel Jewish institutions as establishing the foundations of the Israeli health system, these petitions reveal that the trajectories of both Arab and Jewish mentally ill were complex, traversing domestic, private, and government contexts in highly contingent ways. The second part of this article examines the petitions themselves as dense moments of engagement by Palestinian Arabs and Jews with the British mandate, in which the anxieties and priorities of the mandate were strategically re-deployed in order to secure admission into chronically underfunded and overcrowded institutions. Petitioners also sought to mobilize other actors, often within the state itself, as intercessors, a strategy which attempted to thread together state and society in a meaningful and advantageous way at a time when both seemed to be unravelling. Taken together, these pathways and petitions foreground the space of interaction between the British mandate and its subjects, thereby offering new perspectives on both.

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Corresponding author
Trinity Hall, Cambridge, cb2 1tj
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I am grateful to Sujit Sivasundaram and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and kind encouragement. I also wish to express my deepest thanks to Andrew Arsan, who shepherded this article from start to finish.

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1 Saha, Jonathan, ‘Madness and the making of a colonial order in Burma’, Modern Asian Studies, 47 (2013), pp. 406–7.

2 Ghandour, Zeina, A discourse on domination in mandate Palestine: imperialism, property, and insurgency (Abingdon, 2010), p. 3.

3 See Norris, Jacob, Land of progress: Palestine in the age of colonial development, 1905–1948 (Oxford, 2013).

4 Stoler, Ann Laura and Cooper, Frederick, Tensions of empire: colonial cultures in a bourgeois world (Berkeley, CA, 1997), pp. viiviii.

5 Amongst others, Arnold, David, ‘Orphans and vagrants in India in the nineteenth century’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 7 (1979), pp. 104–27; Clancy-Smith, Julia and Gouda, Frances, eds., Domesticating the empire: race, gender, and family life in French and Dutch colonialism (Charlottesville, VA, 1998).

6 Wheatley, Natasha, ‘The mandate system as a style of reasoning: international jurisdiction and the parcelling of imperial sovereignty in petitions from Palestine’, in Schayegh, Cyrus and Arsan, Andrew, eds., The Routledge handbook of the history of the Middle East mandates (London, 2015), pp. 106–22; Allen, Lori, ‘Determining emotions and the burden of proof in investigative commissions to Palestine’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 59 (2017), pp. 385414. For an exception, Ben-Bassat, Yuval, Petitioning the sultan: protests and justice in late Ottoman Palestine, 1865–1908 (London, 2013).

7 Feldman, Ilana, Governing Gaza: bureaucracy, authority, and the work of rule, 1917–1967 (Durham, NC, 2008), pp. 167–8.

8 Saha, ‘Madness’, pp. 414–16.

9 Many others would also have been destroyed during the mandate through routine bureaucratic practices: Feldman, Governing, pp. 31–61.

10 For example, a petition by J. Algazi of Tel Aviv, 26 Dec. 1939, forwarded to the Tel Aviv mayor and extant in Tel Aviv Municipal Archives, 4–4737. But these do not predate the 1930s, and mostly relate to other matters (e.g. noise, by residents of King George Avenue, 7 June 1942, Jerusalem Municipal Archive, A/14/23), are requests for subsidies from private institutions (e.g. director of institution at Bnei Braq, 31 July 1936, Central Zionist Archive, J1\6203), or directed to municipal – not government – authorities (e.g. to the mayor of Haifa, 5 Nov. 1944, Haifa Municipal Archive, 00388/6). I have not found similar petitions in the British National Archive.

11 Zalashik, Rakefet, Das unselige Erbe: die Geschichte der Psychiatrie in Palästina und Israel (Frankfurt, 2012).

12 An approach pioneered by Lockman, Zachary, ‘Railway workers and relational history: Arabs and Jews in British-ruled Palestine’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 35 (1993), pp. 601–27.

13 Wright, David, ‘Getting out of the asylum: understanding the confinement of the insane in the nineteenth century’, Social History of Medicine, 10 (1997), p. 139.

14 See Sadowsky, Jonathan, Imperial bedlam: institutions of madness in colonial southwest Nigeria (Berkeley, CA, 1999); Jackson, Lynette, Surfacing up: psychiatry and social order in colonial Zimbabwe, 1908–1968 (London, 2005); Edington, Claire, ‘Going in and getting out of the colonial asylum: families and psychiatric care in French Indochina’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 55 (2013), pp. 725–55; Swartz, Sally, Homeless wanderers: movement and mental illness in the Cape Colony in the nineteenth century (Cape Town, 2016).

15 Most recently, Linstrum, Erik, Ruling minds: psychology in the British empire (Cambridge, MA, 2016).

16 See Sufian, Sandy, ‘Arab health care during the British mandate, 1920–1947’, in Barnea, T. and Husseini, R., eds., Separate and cooperate, cooperate and separate (Westport, CT, 2002), pp. 930.

17 Simoni, Marcella, ‘A dangerous legacy: welfare in British Palestine, 1930–1939’, Jewish History, 13 (1999), pp. 92–6.

18 Ibid., p. 95.

19 A. Rosenthal to senior medical officer (SMO) Jerusalem, 20 Oct. 1931, Israel State Archive (ISA) M6552/17. See also acting director of medical services (DMS) to chief secretary (CS), 6 Aug. 1938, ISA M1752/20.

20 Decree of 19 Safar 1293 [1876], amended 3 Mar. 1892, ISA M6555/8.

21 SMO Jaffa to DMS, 16 Apr. 1935, ISA M6628/4.

22 Mother of S. M. S. Ayyad, Jaffa, to DMS, 8 June 1935, ISA M6628/4.

23 E. Frankel, Jerusalem, to high commissioner, 18 Apr. 1937, ISA M6627/28.

24 K. H. al-Dirr, Beit Hanina, to high commissioner, 23 Jan. 1937, ISA M6627/28.

25 Medical officer, villages, to SMO Jerusalem, 4 Mar. 1937, ISA M6627/28.

26 See medical report on R. M. Fityani, Bethlehem, 14 Nov. 1946, ISA M6627/31.

27 I. A. Wahid, Jerusalem, to DMS, 18 May 1938, ISA M6627/29.

28 A. A. Kamal, Mea Shearim, to superintendent, district health department, 3 Apr. 1937, ISA M6627/28.

29 One woman did not visit her hospitalized sister for four years to avoid these fees. See letter intercepted by Jerusalem postal censors to S. Cassis, Bolivia, 24 Sept. 1939, ISA M6627/29.

30 Edington, ‘Going’, pp. 751–2.

31 Owen, Roger and Pamuk, Sevket, A history of Middle East economies in the twentieth century (London, 1998), p. 60.

32 Palestine Arab Medical Association to DMS, 15 July 1945, ISA M325/19.

33 DMS to CS, 17 Nov. 1937, ISA M6629/13.

34 See acting director of public works to CS, 25 Jan. 1946, ISA M325/38.

35 Zalashik, Erbe, pp. 71–2.

36 See ISA M4986/38.

37 Annual reports of the Lebanon hospital for mental diseases, 1937 and 1938, in Saab Medical Library, American University of Beirut.

38 See Beinin, Joel, Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East (Cambridge, 2001), p. 114.

39 ISA M551/19.

40 Supreme Muslim Council to DMS, 17 Nov. 1946, ISA M6627/31.

41 Medical report on Y. A. al-Masri, Bethlehem, 16 Nov. 1946, ISA M6627/31.

42 See Blumenthal, Kurt, ‘Treatment of schizophrenia with insulin and cardiazol’, Harefuah, 15 (1938), pp. 173–9, and Electro-shock therapeutics in psychiatry’, Harefuah, 22 (1942), pp. 47.

43 ISA M4342/42.

44 H. F. Khalidi, Jerusalem, to acting DMS, 21 Aug. 1947, ISA M6627/31.

45 Palestine Arab Medical Association, to DMS, 15 July 1945, ISA M325/19.

46 J. Levy, Rishon-le-Zion, to DMS, 29 Aug. 1947, ISA M6627/31; C. Wachholder, Tel Aviv, to DMS, 20 Dec. 1945, ISA M6628/6.

47 A. Kletter, Jerusalem, to DMS, 1 Feb. 1947, ISA M6627/31.

48 DMS to medical superintendent, government mental hospital (GMH) Jaffa, 10 Feb. 1947, ISA M6627/31.

49 H. Bakr, Jerusalem, to DMS, 15 July 1946, ISA M6628/6.

50 Assistant SMO, Jaffa, to DMS, 10 Aug. 1946, ISA M6628/6.

51 Medical superintendent, GMH Bethlehem, to DMS, 17 Oct. 1946, ISA M6628/6.

52 Annual reports, ISA M323/22.

53 Sufian, ‘Health care’, pp. 18–21.

54 DMS to CS, 5 May 1942, ISA M323/30.

55 A. Rabinovitz, GMH Jaffa, to SMO Jaffa, 16 Dec. 1946, ISA M6648/6.

56 Medical report on Y. Wagnin, Bethlehem, 5 Dec. 1946, ISA M6627/31.

57 Wheatley, Natasha, ‘Mandatory interpretation: legal hermeneutics and the new international order in Arab and Jewish petitions to the League of Nations’, Past and Present, 227 (2015), pp. 205–48; Banko, Lauren, ‘Claiming identities in Palestine: migration and nationality under the mandate’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 46 (2017), pp. 2643; Bawalsa, Nadim, ‘Legislating exclusion: Palestinian migrants and interwar citizenship’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 46 (2017), pp. 4459.

58 Assistant SMO, Jaffa, to DMS, 11 Dec. 1945, ISA M6628/6.

59 Clinical assistant, GMH Bethlehem, to superintendent, MH Jaffa, 27 Aug. 1945, ISA M6602/17.

60 For instance, medical report on R. M. Fityani, Bethlehem, 14 Nov. 1946, ISA M6627/31.

61 See Hyam, Ronald, The Labour government and the end of empire, 1945–1951 (London, 1992).

62 Minutes of medical superintendents’ conference, Haifa, 15 July 1947, ISA M6576/28.

63 Eric Mills, Census of Palestine 1931, i (Alexandria, 1933), p. 224 n. 2. The enumeration of the insane was part of a wider inquiry into infirmities in the census, and was not unusual, having been included in British colonial censuses since the nineteenth century.

64 District superintendent, Southern district, to president, Jaffa district court, 1 Sept. 1930, British National Archives, CO733/201/2.

65 SMO, Jerusalem, to district commissioner, Jerusalem, 16 June 1936, ISA M6627/28.

66 DMS to E. Harris, Nahariya, 11 Apr. 1946, ISA M6628/8.

67 R. Sehayek, Tel Aviv, to DMS, 16 Dec. 1945, ISA M6628/6.

68 S. Zimbol and I. Shapiro, Petah Tikva, to DMS, 2 Feb. 1946, ISA M6628/6.

69 SMO, Jaffa, to DMS, 1 Jan. 1946, ISA M6628/6; SMO, Jaffa, to DMS, 28 Jan. 1946, ISA M6628/6.

70 Norris, Jacob, ‘Return migration and the rise of the Palestinian nouveaux riches, 1870–1925’, Journal of Palestine Studies, 46 (2017), pp. 6175. Lily Balloffet highlights the investment in health amongst the Syrian–Lebanese diaspora in Latin America too, in Syrian refugees in Latin America: diaspora communities as interlocutors’, LASA Forum, 47 (2016), pp. 1112. I am grateful to one of the reviewers for pushing my thinking on this, though I can only begin to address it here.

71 Medical superintendent, GMH Bethlehem, to DMS, 8 Mar. 1947, ISA M6627/31. Electro-shock therapy was also in use closer to home by the Second World War: see Annual report of the Lebanon Hospital for the Insane (1942), p. 15.

72 Allen, ‘Determining’, p. 387.

73 M. Malouf to SMO, Jerusalem, 10 Aug. 1944, ISA M6627/30.

74 M. Yacob, Beit Jala, to chief medical officer, 31 Aug. 1944, ISA M6627/30.

75 Acting DMS to M. Yacob, Beit Jala, Sept. 1944, ISA M6627/30.

76 Mukhtars of Lifta village to DMS, 24 May 1946, ISA M6627/31.

77 Thompson, Elizabeth, Colonial citizens: republican rights, paternal privilege, and gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York, NY, 2000).

78 Z. Bloch, Vaad Leumi, to SMO, Jerusalem, 30 Apr. 1936, ISA M6627/28.

79 Mea Shearim committee to DMS, 24 Jan. 1933, ISA M6627/26.

80 Chief rabbi to CS, 28 June 1933, ISA M6627/26.

81 DMS to CS, 19 July 1933, ISA M6627/26.

82 Though Douglas Duff, who joined the Palestine police in 1922, recounts one episode in which the potential for religious excitement generated by a ‘poor, deluded fanatic’ was met with a swift police response, so not everyone was as relaxed about this: Duff, Douglas, Bailing with a teaspoon (London, 1953), pp. 118–19.

83 Z. Bloch to district commissioner, Jerusalem, 12 May 1933, ISA M6627/26.

84 Z. Bloch to A. Katznelson, Vaad Leumi, 24 Jan. 1935, ISA M6627/27.

85 A. Katznelson to DMS, 25 Jan. 1935, ISA M6627/27.

86 Note on a petition to DMS, 13 Apr. 1948, ISA M6627/31.

87 SMO, Jerusalem, to DMS, 9 Feb. 1937, ISA M6627/28.

88 Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, Death without weeping: the violence of everyday life in Brazil (Berkeley, CA, 1992).

89 Amongst others, Khater, Akram, Inventing home: emigration, gender, and the middle class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley, CA, 2001); Baron, Beth, Egypt as a woman: nationalism, gender, and politics (Berkeley, CA, 2005).

90 Fleischmann, Ellen, The nation and its ‘new’ women: the Palestinian women's movement, 1920–1948 (Berkeley, CA, 2003); Katz, Sheila, Women and gender in early Jewish and Palestinian nationalism (London, 2003); Greenberg, Ela, Preparing the mothers of tomorrow: education and Islam in mandate Palestine (Austin, TX, 2010).

91 Thompson, Colonial citizens, pp. 42–3.

92 For examples: Latin patriarch to DMS, 3 Oct. 1933, ISA M6627/26; reverend J. Khadder, St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, to DMS, 12 Feb. 1936, ISA M6627/28; Anglican bishop in Jerusalem to acting DMS, 29 July 1944, ISA M6627/30.

93 Robson, Laura, Colonialism and Christianity in mandate Palestine (Austin, TX, 2011).

94 Thompson, Colonial citizens, pp. 59–65.

95 See director of education's letters to DMS, 24 Feb. 1941, ISA M6627/29; to DMS, 30 June 1944, ISA M6627/30; and to Dr R. S. F. Hennessey, 22 Feb. 1947, ISA M6627/31.

96 Acting postmaster general to DMS, 4 July 1947, ISA M6627/31.

97 R. Behrman to postmaster general, 14 Sept. 1932, ISA M6627/26.

98 Acting DMS to SMO, Jerusalem, 24 Sept. 1932, ISA M6627/26.

99 Feldman, Governing, pp. 18, 221–2.

100 Thompson, Colonial citizens, pp. 66–7.

101 Z. Ayyad, Jaffa, to DMS, 18 July 1935, ISA M6628/4.

102 SMO, Jaffa, to medical officer, GMH Bethlehem, 24 July 1935, ISA M6628/4.

103 Mutongi, Kenda, Worries of the heart: widows, family, and community in Kenya (Chicago, IL, 2007), pp. 78.

104 Swedenburg, Ted, Memories of revolt: the 1936–1939 rebellion and the Palestinian national past (Minneapolis, MN, 1995).

105 Arsan, Andrew, ‘Failing to stem the tide: Lebanese migration to West Africa and the competing prerogatives of the imperial state’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 53 (2011), p. 455.

106 Schayegh and Arsan, eds., Routledge handbook.

107 I have not found a comparable body of petitions on other illnesses; this does not necessarily mean they were never written, but it is nonetheless striking.

108 Wheatley, ‘Mandate system’, p. 107.

I am grateful to Sujit Sivasundaram and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and kind encouragement. I also wish to express my deepest thanks to Andrew Arsan, who shepherded this article from start to finish.

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