Motzafi-Haller new


PhD Researcher in International History and Politics
Spoken languages
English, French, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian
Areas of expertise
  • Micro-History
  • Settler Societies
  • Transnational Social History
  • Social history
  • Family histories
  • Critical Development Studies
  • Micro-History
  • Settler Societies
Geographical Region of Expertise
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Europe

PhD Thesis


Title: Developing Families: Israeli Developers in the Middle East and Africa, 1930-1970

PhD Supervisor & 2nd Reader: Cyrus Schayegh and Jean-François Bayart

Expected completion date: June 2024

David’s doctoral project is a social history of the transnational non-humanitarian development sector. Focusing on 5 Zionist-Israeli families involved with Israeli parastatal contractor Solel Boneh, David analyzes how upward social mobility occured among developers during the final decades of empire and decolonization.  
David uses micro-histories of individual families and kin groups as a way to revisit and nuance the material dialectics of world-systems theory by highlighting how everyday accumulation and investment on the family level transformed a career in development into lasting upward mobility. In focusing on how the social and physical mobility of men’s careers implicate extended kinship networks, wives and husbands, children and family friends, and a wide array of household arrangements, David's PhD dissertation advances our understanding of development experts and expertise as a set of socially, politically and materially grounded actors and practices.  




David Motzafi-Haller is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. His work revolves around themes of social mobility and capital accumulation among developer families. He is broadly interested in social history of settler societies, the development encounter and in transimperial and transnational history. A major strand of his work is concerned with internationalizing and de-particularizing Israeli history, particularly bringing the history of Israeli development work closer to that of Israeli settler colonialism. David's PhD dissertation follows Zionist involvement in regional and international circuits of infrastructure construction and economic development through a prosopographical study of 5 Israeli engineers and construction foremen and their families. 

Alongside his academic work, David works as a translator (Hebrew - French - English), is involved in Mizrahi and anti-colonial activism in Israel, and once dabbled in podcasting. His translations have seen light in academic journals and in a 2021 collected volume.  The podcast he produced, ""the Transimperial History Podcast"", is available wherever you get your podcasts. 


Research Interests


  • Family History
  • Micro-History
  • Kinship Studies
  • Transnational and Transimperial History
  • Families on the move
  • Border Studies
  • Anthropology of the State


Relevant Publications and Works


Peer Reviewed Articles

  • David Motzafi-Haller (Under Review) Familiar Experts: The Rise of an Israeli Expert Class in Africa, Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development.
  • David Motzafi-Haller (Revisions) Towards an international turn in the study of Israel's Development Towns, Israel: Journal for the Study of Israel and Zionism – History, Culture, Society. In Hebrew.
  • David Motzafi-Haller, Adeeb Naccache and Alona Nitzan-Shiftan (Forthcoming) Levantine Modernism: The Production of a New Architectural Style in the Garden Mansions, Haifa 1936-1945, International Journal of Islamic Architecture.
  • David Motzafi-Haller (2022) Families and the Social Infrastructure of War: From Palestine to North Africa and Back Again, 1942–1944, Mashriq & Mahjar 9(2). DOI: 
  • David Motzafi-Haller (2020) Androcentric amnesia and patronage micromanagement: the Mutchnicks from Nahalal to Yeruham, Journal of Israeli History 38(1): 103-122. DOI: 10.1080/13531042.2020.1793491.
  • David Motzafi-Haller (2019) Patronage and development in the Israeli Negev: Yeruham, 1952–1953, Middle Eastern Studies 56(2): 290-304. DOI: 10.1080/00263206.2019.1663503.

Select review Articles

  • David Motzafi-Haller (2021) Levi Ex-Machina: David Levi and the Black Box of the Development Towns, Israel: Studies in Zionism and the State of Israel – History, Society, Culture 29-30. In Hebrew.
  • David Motzafi-Haller (2020) The Imperial Craft of Partition, Hazman Haze (20 May 2020). In Hebrew.
  • David Motzafi-Haller & Pnina Motzafi-Haller (2019) The Mizrahi Era of Rebellion: Israel’s foreign civil rights struggle, 1948-1966, Journal of Israeli History, 7(1), 144-146.  DOI: 10.1080/13531042.2019.1633798.

Select translations

From French

  • Fanny Gillet (2020) Abstraction/Emancipation – ‘Free, but United’? Artistic and Political Issues of Intercommunal Solidarity in Tunisia and Algeria, 1940-1960. In Samuel Everett and Rebekah Vince (eds.), Jewish-Muslim Interactions: Performing Cultures Between North Africa and France. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Pp. 121-138.
  • Miléna Kartowski-Aïach (2020) A Newfound Voice from across the Mediterranean: Kamal Hachkar’s Retour au pays natal (2019). In Samuel Everett and Rebekah Vince (eds.), Jewish-Muslim Interactions: Performing Cultures Between North Africa and France. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Pp. 235-252. 

From Hebrew

  • Fatina Abreek-Zubiedat and Alona Nitzan-Shiftan (2021) Mediterraneanism in Conflict: Development and Settlement of Palestinian refugees and Jewish immigrants in Gaza and Yamit, Ethnic and Racial Studies. DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2020.1863443. 
  • Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder (2019) The paradox of diversity in the Israeli academia: reproducing white Jewishness and national supremacy, Race Ethnicity and Education, DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2019.1694502

Work Published in Popular Outlets

  • Host and producer, the Transimperial History Podcast (Apple / Spotify / Google Podcasts)




2022: Bucerius Ph.D. Scholarship, “Beyond Borders”, ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius.
2019 – 2023: Doctoral Excellence Scholarship, International History and Politics Department, The Geneva Graduate Institute (IHEID).