Student Report on “Buried in the Red Dirt: Race, Reproduction, and Death in Modern Palestine”

Reported by Lia Smith, Class of 2026

This lecture and workshop was a part of the Gender Studies Initiative’s event series. Each event connects gender to a range of topics where gender, sexuality, and feminism are discussed.

On March 29th, 2024 this event brought Professor Frances Hasso from the program in gender, sexuality and feminism at Duke University and 14 event attendees for a discussion of Professor Hasso’s most recent book, Buried in the Red Dirt. This book brings together a myriad of sources to tell a story of life, death, and reproduction, and missing bodies and experiences, during and since the British colonial period in Palestine. The discussion was based upon chapter 3, which focused upon the eugenic practices of both the British and Zionist colonizers of Palestine.

British colonial authorities blamed Palestinians for poverty, hunger, and disease, conveniently sidestepping the harsh realities of colonial extraction. This perspective, deeply rooted in gendered and racialized dynamics, perpetuated inequities in healthcare provision for Palestinians.

Central to the discourse was the exploration of demographic anxieties and eugenicist ideologies that tainted British and Zionist approaches to birth control in Palestine. Despite legal constraints, contraception and abortion emerged as vital methods of birth control for women across all communities, challenging simplistic explanations based solely on religion or culture.

The event unveiled the fallacy of portraying Palestinians as hyper-reproductive, offering a nuanced understanding of their reproductive desires and practices. Contrary to popular belief, Palestinian demographic competition with Jews has been largely irrelevant since 1948, with Palestinian fertility rates shaped by multifaceted factors beyond Zionist anxieties of demographic competition.

DKU faculty and students raises numerous questions throughout the discussions. Many questions tackled methodology, in particular Professor Hasso’s creative use of both archival sources and oral testimonies. Other questions pertained to the modalities of colonial rule, from the level of collaboration/conflict between British and Zionist colonizers, to the ways religious and racial differences were simultaneously deployed by the British to govern Palestine. Finally, questions concerning the contemporary situation in Gaza were raised, such as the differing positions towards the war amongst various Middle East and North African States, to the effect of the war in Gaza on US domestic politics.