Speaker: Mai Taha (Assistant Professor, Department of Law, American University in Cairo [AUC]). 


The partition of Palestine – entrenched in the legal imagination by the UN Partition Plan and preserved by the Oslo Accords – is often falsely depicted as a necessary evil to separate two historical enemies. While this paper shares the post-colonial critique of partition as a fundamentally colonial technology, it also introduces a different side of partition. Specifically, it focuses on the creation of a racialized and segregated labour regime as working-class formations started to take an exclusively Jewish or Arab character. Through labour partition, the British Mandate government maintained a colossal wage differential between what it called ‘an advanced Jewish proletariat and a primitive Arab working class.’ This paper shows how partition was mediated by a colonial legal system that sought to redirect working-class energies from the ‘anarchy’ of the Arab revolt (1936-1939) to an institutionalized stability secured by new labour laws, a Department of Labour, and a monitored trade union system.


Mai Taha is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Law, American University in Cairo (AUC). Before joining AUC, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP), Harvard Law School (2015-2016). Previously, she was a Visiting Assistant Professor and Catalyst Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (2014-2015). She completed her doctoral degree at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law (2015). Her research is broadly on the historical relationship between international law, empire and capital. Using a ‘law and humanities’ approach, she examines questions pertaining to class, gender, nationality, labor relations, and extraterritoriality in the Middle East during the colonial period.