Peter Ooi Teik Aun
2017 Emirates NBD Middle East Essay
Since the creation of the state of Israel 70 years ago, the condition of displacement has become a defining feature of being Palestinian. Entire generations of Palestinians have grown up as displaced persons in their various host countries. Some families have been displaced more than once, including the Palestinian families who fled the ongoing Syrian crisis to Europe. The relationship between Palestinians and Palestine is thus exceedingly complex. It cannot even be said that there is a singular Palestinian attitude towards the right of return. Hanafi (2011, 455) argues that understanding a prospective Palestinian return to the homeland requires “a sociological understanding of the political, social and cultural attributes of the Palestinian people” that takes into account the socioeconomic and cultural integration of Palestinians in their current places of residence. In this essay, I aim to contribute to such a “sociological understanding” by examining questions of integration and Palestinian identity among a particular community of Palestinians in Jordan, the ex-Gazans.
Jordan remains the only state to have granted full citizenship to Palestinian refugees en masse. Most of the country’s 2.2 million Palestinians are therefore able to express themselves as legitimate members of the political community. However, the same cannot be said of the approximately 158,000 ex-Gazans in Jordan who do not enjoy the suite of privileges that citizenship entails. These ex-Gazans are typically the families of Palestinian refugees who fled to Jordan from Gaza during the Six-Day War in 1967. Drawing on my own fieldwork, I argue that the status of ex-Gazans as legal ‘outsiders’ transforms them into political ‘outsiders’ who avoid making political claims on their host state, even on issues concerning Israel. This stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, for whom a sense of Palestinian identity translates into political demands on the Jordanian state. Through my discussion of the ex-Gazans, I will also dispute the notion that Palestinian refugees in Jordan generally enact a retreat into an ‘ordinary’ realm, a proposition put forward by political anthropologist Luigi Achilli.
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