Translator, ‘native informant,’ fixer: activism and translation in Mandate Palestine

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    In colonial environments, figures such as the interpreter, dragoman, fixer and ‘native informant’ are rarely viewed as radical. On the contrary, they are more likely to be viewed with suspicion, as ‘collaborators’ or at least unwitting facilitators of the colonial project, passing on knowledge that can be appropriated for nefarious purposes. By exploring these issues through examples from the period of British rule in Palestine (1920-1948), under a League of Nations Mandate, and considering the shifting and contingent place of power in their workings, I consider how such roles might be understood as activist. Going beyond the sometimes uncritical perceptions of cross-cultural contact as inherently generating closeness and understanding, rather than as resistant or assertive, I instead suggest that in the activities of individuals such as Elias Nasrallah Haddad (1878-1959), Judy (Judeh) Farah Docmac (1904-after 1987) and Khalil Baydas (1874–1949), who negotiated many paths through colonial institutions and systems of knowledge, we instead find other ways of understanding the mediating work done by the interpreter. These range from the defence of diverse and non-elite forms of Arabic and the demand for precision in how these (and the peasant cultures along with them) were recorded, transmitted, and taught, to an insistence on visions of society which, whilst on one hand defying the colonial and Zionist projects, also diverged from mainstream Palestinian Arab nationalism of the Husayni faction. This chapter foregrounds the ability of the translator, amid even the most complex of colonial systems, to question, disrupt and fragment conventionally political understandings of power in society.

    Original languageEnglish
    EditorsRebecca Gould, Kayvan Tahmasebian
    ISBN (Print)9781138555686
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

    Publication series

    NameRoutledge Handbooks in Translation and Interpreting Studies


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