Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Diamonds and War

Diamonds and War: State, Capital, and Labor in British-Ruled Palestine

David De Vries
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 362
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Diamonds and War
    Book Description:

    The mining of diamonds, their trading mechanisms, their financial institutions, and, not least, their cultural expressions as luxury items have engaged the work of historians, economists, social scientists, and international relations experts. Based on previously unexamined historical documents found in archives in Belgium, England, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States, this book is the first in English to tell the story of the formation of one of the world's main strongholds of diamond production and trade in Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s. The history of the diamond-cutting industry, characterized by a long-standing Jewish presence, is discussed as a social history embedded in the international political economy of its times; the genesis of the industry in Palestine is placed on a broad continuum within the geographic and economic dislocations of Dutch, Belgian, and German diamond-cutting centers. In providing a micro-historical and interdisciplinary perspective, the story of the diamond industry in Mandate Palestine proposes a more nuanced picture of the uncritical approach to the strict boundaries of ethnic-based occupational communities. This book unravels the Middle-eastern pattern of state intervention in the empowerment of private capital and recasts this craft culture's inseparability from international politics during a period of war and transformation of empire.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-800-3
    Subjects: History, Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction. Global and National: War, Diamonds, and the Colonial State
    (pp. 1-14)

    The book was triggered not by the usual reasons that produce books on diamonds. After years of research in the social and urban histories of Palestine during the first half of the twentieth century, I found myself focusing on labor strikes. I was puzzled by the intensity of labor disputes during British rule, the centrality of strikes in Palestine towns in shaping relations between labor and capital and their use, with a strong national sentiment, in both anticolonialist struggles and in state building. While examining the peak levels of labor militancy during World War II and the concurrent cooperation in...

  2. Chapter 1 Palestine as an Alternative
    (pp. 15-44)

    The story of the birth of the diamond industry in Palestine has been told many times before.¹ The industry’s collective memory has always been part of its distinct sense of an ethnically based business network and a highly skilled occupational community. Its foundation on noncontractual business culture and on social and personal trust—themselves maintained by long-standing norms and shared memories of the diamond dealers, manufacturers, and workers—encouraged a popularization of the industry’s history and fascination with its mysteries. Adding to this appeal were stories of the initiative and valor of the founding fathers that succeeded in establishing an...

  3. Chapter 2 The Making of a Monopoly
    (pp. 45-66)

    The political and economic historiography of Mandate Palestine has long recognized the presence and power of private capital, in the Jewish sector in particular. It was reflected first and foremost in the centrality of small businesses and larger privately owned manufacturing units in the economic life of the country compared with the parts played by the British government sector and Jewish national Zionist institutions.¹ Despite the relative political weakness of the Jewish middle classes during the Man date, it found further social expression in the delimitation by private employers of the capacity of organized labor (the Histadrut) to achieve widespread...

  4. Chapter 3 Diamond Work and Zionist Time
    (pp. 67-108)

    It would have been expected that the traditional organization of diamond production as it had evolved for centuries in Amsterdam and Antwerp would be maintained in its new locations in Netanya and Tel Aviv. After all, the know-how of the craft, the methods of cutting and polishing, and the manner of enumerating the workers stood on deeply rooted norms and expectations, some of which were institutionalized in the nineteenth century in Amsterdam and after the First World War in Antwerp. Furthermore, the few diamond experts in Palestine who prior 1939 were already apprenticing the new workers carried with them from...

  5. Chapter 4 The Challenge and Its Constraints
    (pp. 109-144)

    The PDMA’s steadfast guarding of its autonomy and right for social incorporation in the Yishuv would not have been possible but for the dramatic performance of the nascent industry. Indeed the take-off of diamond cutting during the war gave the manufacturers an economic confidence in such a short span of time that they often seemed too self-assured to the bureaucrats at the Jewish Agency and to the workers’ unions and were occasionally disparaged. This imagery, cultivated by the enclosed ecology of the diamond-cutting workplace and the secretive aura of the PDMA’s inner deliberations and ties with the Diamond Syndicate, was...

  6. Chapter 5 Labor Unrest
    (pp. 145-176)

    The diversification of the rough diamonds in autumn 1943 emphasized the duality in the politics of supply. One the one hand it was the lifeline of the industry and allowed the PDMA to maintain its monopoly. On the other hand it harbored the seeds of the industry’s containment. This was the duality that shaped the character of the diamond industry and its practices from start—encouraging its expansion and limiting it at one and at same time. Accordingly, the manufacturers who persisted in building the industry’s economic infrastructure, the reputation of its qualities, and its financial future had also to...

  7. Chapter 6 Liberation and Liberalization
    (pp. 177-206)

    The evolution of the diamond industry has so far been shown to have been less a straightforward transplantation of expertise and occupational culture and much more a turbulent adaptation. In the technological makeup of the industry, in the organization of business, in relations with the sources of the diamond material and in the social unrest in the “diamond community”—in all these levels an intensive negotiation had been unfolding between the external and the local, the imported and the vernacular, between the diamond industry as an occupational specificity and its dynamic as a social and political happening. Affecting this turbulence...

  8. Chapter 7 Crisis and Restructuring
    (pp. 207-232)

    In early September 1946 some diamond manufacturers signalled the alarm that the industry was on the verge of crisis. They accused the PDMA of trying to hide the information from workers in Palestine and buyers abroad and insisted that the main economic indicator—the unabated decline since the early summer in prices for Palestinian-polished diamonds in the US—foreshadowed a real disaster. Some 50,000 thousand carats from Palestine were waiting now to be sold in New York and the quantities of stones in the hands of exporting merchants were accumulating alarmingly. The problem was graver, they said, than the occasional...

  9. Chapter 8 Reproducing the Pact
    (pp. 233-256)

    The effects of the crisis in the diamond industry accentuated its exposure and fragility. Fluctuations had always been an integral part of diamond production and trade long before the industry was founded in Palestine, and after the war they recurred with no less force. The downturn in Palestine was therefore not an unknown fact for the manufacturers and experienced dealers, and perhaps their adaptability to the vagaries of the postwar period was a clear proof of this accustomed fact. Furthermore, the shifting map of cutting centers was also a historically recurring phenomenon. Antwerp surpassed Amsterdam largely following the First World...