The “revoking Palestinians’ citizenship en masse” meme

The meme of Jordan  “revoking Palestinians’ citizenship en masse”  has been recycling since last summer.   It resurfaced again last month, this time in a report from Human Rights Watch.

The New York Times:

A human rights group criticized Jordan on Monday for stripping the citizenship of nearly 3,000 Jordanians of Palestinian origin in recent years. Concerned about increasing numbers of Palestinians, who make up nearly half the population, Jordan began in 2004 revoking the citizenship from Palestinians who do not have Israeli permits to reside in the West Bank. Human Rights Watch said Jordan stripped about 2,700 Jordanians of Palestinian origin of their citizenship between 2004 and 2008, rendering them stateless.

The Washington Post provided a possible motive for the story gaining traction now:

AMMAN, Jordan — A U.S.-based human rights group criticized Jordan Monday for stripping the citizenship of nearly 3,000 Jordanians of Palestinian origin in recent years.

Nearly half the kingdom’s 6 million people are of Palestinian origin and Jordan fears that if Palestinians become the majority, it will disrupt the delicate demographic balance. Those concerns have been heightened by some Israeli hard-liners who argue that neighboring Jordan should become the Palestinian state and that more West Bank Palestinians should be pushed into Jordan.

The Jordanian government immediately said it wasn’t true:

The Jordanian government on Tuesday said a Human Rights Watch report on the government’s treatment of Palestinian-Jordanians was full of “fallacies” and unsubstantiated allegations…. “The Interior Ministry does not have the legal authority to withdraw the nationality of any citizen,” [Minister of State for Media Affairs Nabil] Sharif added.

…while others pointed out that the Queen herself is Palestinian, born in Kuwait.

The first instance I can find of this meme is from the Israeli newspaper, Jerusalem Post, Jul 20, 2009, “Amman revoking Palestinians’ citizenship”.  In this version, much echoed, the Palestinian population of Jordan has  swelled from “less than half” to “70%”.

The echo chamber that is the blogosphere picked it up and re-echoed it, always with the “70%” population number.  The Raw Story and Democratic Underground covered it (one commenter recommending over and over to “google Black September and Wasfi al-Tal”), as well as various Israeli blogs featuring articles about rebuilding the temple, a frequent concern of extreme right-wing Jewish groups. A month later Judith Miller and David Samuels wrote an excellent in-depth review of the situation in the The Independent, “No way home: The tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora”, restoring some factuality to the discussion, and giving Jordan due credit for its struggles with a difficult refugee problem. (I’m a bit hesitant to give it a link–Miller’s God Has Ninety-Nine Names was brilliant, but her subsequent neocon connections are disturbing.)

Oddly enough, the Jordanian government had already denied the accusations even before they were printed in the Israeli press on July 20, 2009. See the JordanTimes, July 17, 2009.  As the commenter at Democratic Underground puts it:

So in the past three years 638 Palestinians have had their yellow cards replaced with green (losing full rights of Jordanian citizenship), while in the same period 12,325 Palestinians traded in green for yellow (granting them full rights as Jordanians).

This is revoking Palestinians’ citizenship en masse?


While the Israeli paper was busy criticizing Jordan, their own Israeli government had been busy revoking papers for twice as many Palestinians as Human Rights Watch claims for Jordan. From the NYT June 12, 1997, “Israel Says Arabs Born in Jerusalem Are Aliens”

…1,000 East Jerusalem Arabs… residency permits have been revoked in the last year and a half.

and from the NYT December 2, 2009,

Separately, an Israeli human rights group said Wednesday that government statistics it had obtained showed a leap in the number of Palestinians who had their Jerusalem residency status revoked by the Israeli Interior Ministry in 2008. The group, HaMoked, said the 2008 figure of 4,577 residents of East Jerusalem whose residency was revoked equaled more than half the total recorded revocations in the previous 40 years since 1967.

For a more in-depth look at the Jordan situation, and a discussion of the issues of Palestinians with Jordanian papers living abroad, see yesterday’s New York Times, March 14, 2010, “Some Palestinian Jordanians Lose Citizenship”


There is no country that has done more for the Palestinians than Jordan.  During the 1948 and 1967 wars that forced so many Palestinians from their homes, only Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria accepted refugees.  The refugees went to hastily constructed camps. Today the Lebanon and Syria Palestinians and their descendants are still confined to those camps. They are not allowed to become citizens. Only Jordan has offered citizenship to the Palestinians who want it.  Many do not, and prefer to live in Jordan and wait for repatriation (which most observers believe is unlikely–there are some 5 million Palestinians now in exile, out of the half a million who originally left), or more probably some kind of international reparations for their exile. Many Jordanian Palestinians do have Jordanian passports–I have seen them–and many more became financially successful enough to either leave the camps and buy property elsewhere (I have been a guest in the villas with Mercedes parked on the marble driveways)  or improve the housing and living conditions they already have by rebuilding within the camps. I have seen the poor, with leaky corrugated metal roofs, and the well-off, with proper concrete housing, living side by side in the camps.  Don’t get me wrong, the Palestinians are not always treated as full Jordanians; Jordan’s 1970 civil war and the assassination attempts against King Hussein are still remembered.


So why is all of this coming out now? and why is it important? It probably has something to do with the sentence I highlighted at the top of the page:

Nearly half the kingdom’s 6 million people are of Palestinian origin and Jordan fears that if Palestinians become the majority, it will disrupt the delicate demographic balance. Those concerns have been heightened by some Israeli hard-liners who argue that neighboring Jordan should become the Palestinian state and that more West Bank Palestinians should be pushed into Jordan.

The same argument was made when I was living there.  Palestinians can go to Jordan, said the extremists.  But Jordan doesn’t have the water to handle even more refugees forced out of their homes.  Even now Jordan’s sweet aquifers are turning saline from overpumping, as the adjacent saline aquifers leech into them. (You should have seen the layer of crud on the inside of my Jordanian teapot.) And isn’t there a huge aquifer that’s been discovered under the West Bank?  Hmmm.

This is the nothing more than the scheme of the old Likud right-wing groups who according to Kamal Salibi’s The Modern History of Jordan, want a

transformation of the Jordanian East Bank into a Palestinian watan badil, or ‘alternative homeland’, so that the West Bank and the Gaza strip could be readily annexed to Israel.  This watan badil theory-summed up by the slogan ‘Jordan is Palestine’ – had first been advanced in Israel in 1975;  its leading exponent was Ariel Sharon, who was minister of agriculture, and then minister of defense, in two successive Likud cabinets.  In the opinion of Sharon and his followers, the Hashemite order in Jordan was the chief obstacle to the annexation of Palestinian occupied territories by Israel.   Since 1967, the Palestinians had actually come to form a substantial majority in the Jordanian East Bank.  Thus, Sharon  argued, Jordan would automatically become a Palestinian republic once the monarchy in Amman was overthrown.  If necessary, the Israeli government could hasten the process by massive expulsions of West Bank Palestinians to the East Bank.

The Israelis who are so anxious for a return to the days of Palestinian control of Jordan would do well to remember the days back before the 1967 war when the fedayeen from Syria and Lebanon operated openly from the Jordanian Wihdat and Husseini refugee camps, and the unguarded long border with Jordan was a sieve for those who would attack Israel nightly then escape back across the border into the safe haven of a nation that was sovereign, but as yet not strong enough to be able to prevent them.


This post is long, but I’m going to make it just a little bit longer, to make the events come full circle.  The original report in the Jerusalem Post was supposed to have been based on an interview with Jordan’s Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi in the London based Arabic paper Al-Hayat.  To make a long story short, I can’t find any such interview in the paper’s archives, and they do go back that far.  But I did find this at the Dar al Hayat website:  “The Salam Fayad Document: A Palestinian Initiative to Bear Responsibility” written by the the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority:

This is a Palestinian initiative to bear Palestinian responsibility, and that is a bold move on the part of the Palestinians, through a clear and detailed vision, to show that they are serious in taking on the task of building the state themselves, starting with Arab and international assistance and ending with self-reliance through state institutions. It is the project of proving the Palestinians’ ability to build and respect themselves and to inform everyone that something new has happened in Palestinian thought, vision and determination.

Traditionally, the Arabs in their private meetings have often discussed the Palestinians at great lengths in a language reflecting resentment towards Palestinian leaderships. Thus they would often level accusations of constant failure at the Palestinians and make them bear responsibility for the poor state of the Arabs. Today brings the opportunity for the Arabs to say that the Palestinians have become serious and can be supported and made to bear responsibility for success, not failure.

Of course, what we speak of here is the political, financial and economic support necessary for building the institutions of the state of Palestine, support which must flow in an organized manner to the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. However, we also speak of repairing the relationship between the Arabs and the Palestinians, as well as of lifting the spirits of Palestinians on Palestinian soil.

For example, Salam Fayyad’s plan of building an international airport in the West Bank, one in which Air Force One would land, carrying Barack Obama to the state of Palestine, is one of raising the spirits of Palestinians and of strengthening imposing Palestine as a de facto state. Thus it is necessary for Arab countries to extend their assistance and to lift the restrictions imposed on their citizens, so that they may visit Palestine as it builds its institutions, walk in the streets of Jerusalem, speak the Arabic language, stay at Palestinian hotels and eat at Palestinian restaurants. Such was the cry of Faisal Husseini: Come to Jerusalem to save it.

Palestinian vision.  I love it.

A review of the plan by former ambassador Edward S. Walker is here, analysis by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) is here, an interview by Christian Science Monitor is here, and the full text of the plan is here.
Says Dr. Fayyad:

“If we don’t do anything, people will criticize us, and if we come up with something that’s proactive, we’ll also have critics,” shrugs Fayyad. “Is this realistic? We’ll never know unless we try.”

Palestinian independence.  It’s a Nike thing.  Just do it.

Palestine should be printing their own frigging passports.

2 Responses to “The “revoking Palestinians’ citizenship en masse” meme”

  1. canehan Says:

    Nijma: I’m with that post all the way …

    One interesting thing about the camps I learned when I was there – from my grocer. He was a Christian Palestinian, of the ’48 exodus, and he said he was out of his camp six weeks after he arrived. He got a job, eventually worked in a big supermarket, learned the trade, and set up his own shop.

    He claimed such initiative was typical of the Christian Palestinians, while the majority Moslems usually stayed in the camps. I have no idea if this was actually true, but he was, we found, an honest man.

    His grocery was in a stand-alone one-car garage in the grounds of the apartment building where we rented in Smehsani (sp?), half way between the Muharbarat building (“the blue Hilton”) and 3rd Circle. His stock was extraordinary, New Zealand icecream, Bulgarian frozen turkeys, Dijon mustard. You could ask for anything and if he didn’t have it, he would be that afternoon. He had seven children, all in private school.

  2. Nijma Says:

    I knew quite a few Moslem Palestinians who had land outside the camps, but I had friends in the camps too. My Arabic tutor’s family had a small farm with bees, a math teacher friend’s family had a photography shop, and several of my students’ families had been successful enough in business to own villas, as well as a house in town.

    A Christian printer I took a job to for one of my employers said the Christians in Jordan are very nervous–they are only tolerated because the current Hashemite ruling family wants it. “Go back to America and tell that to everyone”, he said. It’s true; everything in Jordan that works has a royal sponsor.

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