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The identity of Jordanians of Palestinian origin Free essay! Download now

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The identity of Jordanians of Palestinian origin

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The identity of Jordanians of Palestinian origin


2As far as the Jordanian state in concerned, at least officially, nationality is primarily a juridical category and therefore can only be decided upon by the law. Palestinian refugees who arrived in Central Palestine and in Jordan in 1948 were nationalized by the Jordanian government through an amendment to the Law of Nationality in December 1949. Prior to that, however, and as a preliminary step on the way to nationalization, the Jordanian government had enacted in February 1949 an amendment to the passport law wherein “any Palestinian Arab holding Palestinian nationality can obtain a Jordanian passport according to the Passport Law number 5 for the Year 1942” (Sakhnini 1975, p. 71). Indeed, not only did Palestinians become Jordanians juridically, but so did parts of Palestine itself. By the end of 1949, all steps, administrative and legal, were taken to “unify” Central Palestine, now renamed the West Bank, with Jordan. This process was so thorough that the Jordanian prime minister declared early in 1950 that “on the occasion of the lifting of barriers between the East and the West banks of the Hashemite Jordanian Kingdom, there is no longer a reason to consider the country [al-bilad] located in the West Bank a foreign country… the two countries located in said two Banks are considered one unity [wihdah wahidah]” (Sakhnini 1975, p. 72). It was with this as background that the postal ordinance of March 1,1950, abolished the word Palestine and replaced it with the West Bank and parliament passed the annexation proposal a month later in April. What is ironic is that the Palestinians of Central Palestine were rendered Jordanian by the law several months before their country, in which they were still living, became Jordanian. This is an important development in light of the subsequent denationalization of both the West Bank and its Jordanian citizens in 1988, who were reverted juridically, at least as far as Jordanian law was concerned, to Palestinianness.
The New Jordan
3The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 along with the Zionist expulsion of about 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland led to the flooding of those parts of Palestine not yet conquered by Jewish forces as well as neighboring Arab countries with hundreds of thousands of refugees. Almost 360,000 refugees entered Central Palestine (soon to be renamed the West Bank) and 110,000 refugees entered Jordan proper (soon to be renamed the East Bank). At the time, the population of Central Palestine was 425,000 people while Jordan’s population was 375,000 (Sayigh 1987, p. 12-14). As a result, the total population of the East Bank rose to 485,000 while that of the West Bank rose to 785,000 people making the total population of the new expanded Jordan 1, 270,000 people. Therefore, Jordan was transformed demographically overnight from a country of 375,000 people to one of 1, 270,000 people, meaning a rise of almost 300 percent. As a result, the proportion of the newcomer Palestinians in the 1951-1952 period was about 65% of the total population of Jordan (which included all the West Bank Palestinians as well as all registered Palestinian refugees in the East Bank) and one third of the population of the East Bank alone. In 1961, their proportion rose to 43% on the East Bank, which increased to 47% on the eve of the 1967 War. Moreover, the proportion of the total Palestinian population to the whole population of the East and West Banks had risen to over 70% on the eve of the 1967 War (Sayigh 1987).
4Following the 1967 war and due to the new wave of refugees expelled by the conquering Israelis, the proportion of Palestinians living in the East Bank increased to approximately 60% (although estimates are inaccurate for this period) (Sayigh 1987, p. 34-35). These numbers increased substantially after the Gulf War in the early 1990s with the return of 200,000-300,000 Palestinian-Jordanians who lived in Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf raising the proportion of Palestinians – the majority of whom live in Amman and neighboring cities – in the East Bank even further.
5Indeed, this immense and sudden demographic expansion had a major impact on all aspects of life in the new Jordan. It is important to stress here the urban nature of much of that expansion on the East Bank, as the majority of the Palestinian population who took refuge there resided in the cities. Thus, Amman’s population alone rose from a pre-war 1948 population of 70,000 people to 120,000 in 1952, further increasing to 246,475 people in 1961. Amman had already seen much expansion during WWII whereby its population increased to 30,000 in 1943 and again to 70,000 in 1948 (Sayigh 1987, p. 14-16).
6In addition, there existed a number of socioeconomic differences between the incoming Palestinian population and the indigenous Transjordanian population. Palestinians were more urban; more educated, more experienced in political participation, and had more exposure to the mass media (newspapers and radio). The Palestinians were also used to better medical help and higher health standards as well as lower child mortality rates (Mishal 1978, p. 1-9, Aruri 1972, p. 49-69). Palestinian merchants brought with them their capital as educated Palestinians brought with them their expertise and skills. Palestinian workers also brought with them their organizational expertise and political experience. These differences placed new economic, social, and political demands on the Jordanian State and on Jordan’s pre-war population more generally.
7On the social level, these visible markers of difference created more tension. There was a general perception among the Transjordanian urban population that the Palestinian upper class and middle class, expelled from their cities to relatively less developed small towns in Jordan, were engaging in a nation-class narrative of superiority over Transjordanians. Such a discourse was clearly offensive, especially to the Transjordanian upper class and middle class who had a comparable education to the Palestinians, although they were smaller in number. Jordanian Christians, disproportionately educated thanks to missionary schools, especially took offense and felt endangered by Palestinian competition. The Palestinian élite, however, lacked political power which would allow it to institutionalize this discourse against the Transjordanians, as its political power was always derived from the Hashemite regime whose antipathy to Palestinian nationalism (and sympathy to a Transjordanian nationalism of its own making) was always in evidence. Moreover, the Palestinian working classes and former peasants, who were living in refugee camps, did not partake in this discourse of superiority, as they lacked any real material superiority over indigenous Transjordanians. On the contrary, their economic lot came to infuriate rich land-owning Jordanians, including Circassians, on some of whose lands the refugee camps were set up by the government. At the time, the land had very little value. As the 1970s encroached and the land appreciated measurably, many among such Transjordanians expressed horror at these “squatters” whom they wanted to evict off the land. Thus nation and class were intertwined in the discourse of both Palestinian and Transjordanian chauvinists at different periods since 1948.
8With the exception of the early opposition to annexation by many Palestinians, most Palestinians came to accept their new status as a fait accompli that they did not wish to challenge. Whereas Palestinian-Jordanians were politically active in the anti-colonial struggle of the 1950s, which centered on Jordan’s relationship to Britain on the one hand, and to Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir’s Egypt on the other, they did so in conjunction with Transjordanians who spearheaded and led the nationalist mobilization efforts. If anything, the popular discontent of the mid 1950s manifested itself in demonstrations which mostly took place on the East Bank where the opposition was based, although many demonstrations took place on the West Bank also. Moreover, imaginary and real threats that the regime claimed to have faced from the military centered exclusively on Transjordanian figures, as, with very few exceptions, there never were high-ranking Palestinian officers in the army.
9This does not mean that Palestinians were completely satisfied with their new situation as Jordanian citizens. Palestinian demands that the Jordanian government treat the West Bank like the East Bank as far as development policies were concerned were being voiced from the start (Plascov 1981, p. 36-37). In 1950, Palestinian merchants, for example, claimed that they were discriminated against in the issuance of import licenses, “a complaint that seems quite reasonable given that two-thirds of the import licenses were given to East Bank residents” (Mishal 1978, p. 21). The Jordanian government, in fact, did channel most development funds into the East Bank, expanding its transportation systems (including railways), as well as developing its agriculture and industry. Jamil Hilal states that the Jordanian government, faced with an economically more advanced West Bank,
followed a specific economic policy based on encouraging investment and the development of some industries only in the East Bank, hoping in the meantime to weaken the productive base of the West Bank…This regionalist/chauvinist (iqlimiyyah) policy manifested itself toward the West Bank through specific practical procedures, the most important of which was the concentration of large industrial projects in the East Bank of Jordan and the placement of obstacles and difficulties in the way of the employment of Palestinian capital in productive projects in the West Bank of Jordan (Hilal 1975, p. 77-176, 133-134).
10This situation led to the migration of many West Bank Palestinians to the East Bank where the bulk of work was, and to the Gulf Arab states (Hilal 1975, p. 82-106). Avi Plascov remarks that the “development of the East Bank was carried out mainly by Palestinians, who, having little option, put their knowledge, skill, and talents at the disposal of the regime. Amman, the kingdom’s backward capital, was to become a flourishing town thus shifting the center of economic gravity” (Plascov 1981, p. 37). “The only sector that was developed at all in the West Bank was tourism on account of the importance of Jerusalem” (Plascov 1981, p. 36). It is unclear if government discrimination was directed at Palestinians generally or at the West Bank more specifically.
11The competition that the 1960s and 1970s ushered in between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Jordanian government would expose much of the tension surrounding how those whom Jordanian law rendered Jordanian in December 1949 were to be identified. Indeed, there was little room to allow this population to choose a national identification in any democratic structural manner. Both the PLO (whether under Arab League control until 1968, or under guerrilla control since 1969) and the Jordanian government understood from the onset the high stakes involved in how this population was to be identified. This central question (along with other equally important and related questions) would explode in the civil war and carnage of September 1970.
• 2 High-ranking PLO official Abu Iyad admits to such mistakes, especially the failure of the (...)

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