Palestinians in Jordan anticipating end to legal limbo

An Orwellian system that arbitrarily deprived them of citizenship may be rescinded, on the king’s orders.

By DAVID E. MILLER / THE MEDIA LINE
October 27, 2010 17:04
3 minute read.
Illustrative photo - Jordanian man

jordanian311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Thousands of Jordanians in a citizenship limbo because of their West Bank roots may be on their way to rescue amid reports that the government is about to revise an Orwellian policy that deprived them of their passports and papers unannounced and without explanation.

More than 2,700 Jordanians were stripped of their nationality between 2004 and 2008 and many more faced a similar threat, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. A quarter of a million Palestinians expelled from Kuwait to Jordan after the 1991 Gulf War are at particular risk for nationality deprivation, it said. Many have stopped dealings with the government for fear they would find themselves stateless.

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Officially there is no change in the policy and no official Jordanian comment on the matter was available. But government sources have reportedly confirmed a policy overhaul on the matter was in the works.

"We welcome this step by the government," Sa'id Diab, secretary-general of the opposition Jordanian Democratic Popular Union Party, told The Media Line. "The revocation of nationality should have stopped a long time ago. It harmed large segments of Jordanian society."

The Palestinians who left or were expelled in the 1948 war that led to creation of Israel have created a citizenship dilemma for the countries hosting them. In Lebanon, 220,000 Palestinians still live in refugee camps, deprived of jobs and citizen's rights.  Last July, Lebanon amended its Labor Law, for the first time allowing Palestinians to file for work permits.

In Jordan, some 70% of the population is Palestinian in origin, many of whom have been given full citizenship while an estimated two millions live as refugees. Authorities have justified their policy of revoking citizenship to some of those who already had it as a means of countering Israeli plans to transfer Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan.

Darwish Al-Qawasmi, a Jordanian-born merchant of Palestinian parentage, is one of the victims of Jordan’s population policy. Two years ago, he had his ID number revoked when he went to renew his passport. The decision meant his family was no longer entitled to education or health services.



"I was told that my Israeli family visitation permit for the West Bank had expired," he told The Media Line. "They immediately typed into the computer: 'should not be treated as a Jordanian, but as a Palestinian'." 

Diab said that revoking a citizen's nationality was illegal.

"Many legal opinions oppose this," he said. "It is, in fact, more a political matter than a legal one."

Government sources told the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-'Arabi they were now preparing a comprehensive policy concerning the citizenship of Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

Past Jordanian governments usually refrained from revoking nationality, and the practice only became commonplace under the current government, Diab added. Ironically the Palestinians most vulnerable to having their citizenship revoked were those most firmly rooted in Jordan and no longer have significant family or business ties with the West Bank, according to Cristoph Wilcke, a senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Wilcke told The Media Line that the issue of nationality revocation was so sensitive, that the Royal Palace attempted to ban the publishing of an article in the Jordanian weekly Al-Majd, claiming that King Abdullah was reconsidering the policy.

The article, eventually published on October 11, reported that the Jordanian Ministry of Interior recently stopped revoking citizens' nationality after receiving direct orders from the Royal Court. It claimed that in recent months, many Palestinian Jordanians had avoided renewing their identity cards or requesting voting ballots for the upcoming parliamentary elections for fear of having their nationality revoked.

In 1988 Jordan officially severed its political and economic ties with the West Bank, annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom in 1950. It also withdrew Jordanian nationality from all West Bank Palestinians. King Hussein explained the move in his support for Palestinian independence, acknowledging the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. 

Jordanian officials have previously expressed concern over a crawling transfer of West Bank Palestinians into Jordan by Israeli authorities.

"Our goal is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants," Jordanian Interior Minister Nayef Al-Qadi told the Arab daily Al-Hayat last July.

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