Public health, culture, and colonial medicine: smallpox and variolation in Palestine during the British Mandate. Academic Article uri icon


  • In December 1921, in the Arab village of Duwaimeh near Hebron, an epidemic of smallpox broke out following variolation of the population. This practice of variolation included taking material from the blister of a sick person and purposely inoculating another healthy individual. It was carried out mainly by local healers and was a common practice among the local population at the time. This article reviews the history of smallpox in Palestine during the British Mandate, focusing on the smallpox outbreak in Duwaimeh and the interrelationship between the local population and British Mandate authorities in the course of dealing with the epidemic. Vintage photos from the period found at the Israeli Public Health Central Laboratories in Jerusalem reveal that attempts by Mandatory physicians to carry out a mass vaccination of villagers were met initially by fierce opposition. In the …

publication date

  • January 1, 2007