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March 25, 2013

Depriving Palestinians of Status

Reuel S. Amdur

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"Denationalization"-that has been the plight of Palestinians, according to Nadia Abu-Zahra, an Assistant Professor in International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa. What does that term mean?

When Palestinians were driven out during—and even before—Israel’s War of Independence, they were rendered stateless, deprived of nationality.  Even in the West Bank, Palestinians do not have passports.  They have identity cards that state specifically that they are not passports—just travel documents.  In a presentation at Ottawa’s Octopus Books, she described the 1948 events as “the largest denationalization in modern history.”

According to Abu-Zahra, the denationalization was carefully planned by Zionist agents.  Three top census officials in British-mandated Palestine were Zionists who, when independence was declared, gathered up the documents indicating Palestinian nationality.  The British were taking some of the other census files over to Jordan, and armed Zionist forces halted the transfer and stole the files.

She also reported that, prior to Israel’s independence, Zionist agents were spying on Palestinian communities and identifying activists, who were then eliminated.

Currently the identity cards issued for the West Bank have a great number of variations, over a hundred, which provide different permissions.  “They deny Palestinians of all rights and then give some back, temporarily.”  The Palestinian who wants his ID to permit him to, for example, go to work in Jerusalem or Israel will need to request this from Israeli agents, and in many cases the person requesting the permission will be asked to be an informer or collaborator—the price for the permission.  Palestinians constitute, for Israel, “a reserve army of labor.”

In the West Bank, she explained, people are confined to small areas.  There is no right to move at will throughout the territory.  Then there is the matter of the roads—“blocked passage for Palestinians, a clear path for everyone else.”  The system of Jews-only roads is of high quality, for the settlers, while the other roads for Palestinians are inferior.  Palestinians use roads that must, when meeting Jewish roads, run in tunnels under these roads. 

The restrictions on movement have created serious problems of access to services.  For health, access to basic and specialist medical care is blocked.  Supplies are cut off, and clinics are displaced.  In education, students and teachers are unable to get to school, and education and teacher training are forced to be very local.  Taxis have of necessity become ambulances, and the number of home births are increasing because of impossibility of getting to hospital.  The inaccessibility of care has led to death, as for example in the case of a dialysis patient refused permission to travel to the hospital.

“Because rights are taken away and given back selectively, people are afraid to complain.”  If one keeps quiet, the Israelis might give you a permission that you want.

She compared the plight of denationalized Palestinians to that of undocumented Mexicans in the United States.  Even if a Palestinian is able to get to a health facility in Israel, without an identification document there is no service.  Bad as the Apartheid Wall is, there is, she argued, one that is worse—the identification number.  “You carry the border with you.”

During her talk she also touched on the subject of “present absentees,” people who are in Israel but whose property has been denationalized, declared abandoned.  Such people are present absentees, even if they left their property for only a short time.  Tewfik Tubi was a present absentee while he was a member of the Knesset!

What is the purpose of all these difficulties and discriminatory measures that Israel inflicts?  She believes that they are designed to get Palestinians to leave.

Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay are co-authors of Unfree in Palestine, published by Pluto Press.

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