Palestinians unfairly stripped of citizenship in Jordan

WASHINGTON, (IPS) - The Jordanian government should halt the arbitrary revocation of nationality from its citizens of Palestinian origin, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Monday.

The report, “Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality,” details the Jordanian government’s efforts to strip more than 2,700 Jordanians of their citizenship between 2004 and 2008.

The New York-based group says the policy continued throughout 2009 as well.

“High-handed officials are withdrawing nationality in a wholly arbitrary manner … One day you’re Jordanian, and the next you’ve been stripped of your rights as a citizen in your own country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Jordanian officials rebuffed criticism of the practice, saying it is used to counter any future Israeli strategy to transfer the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Jordan.

HRW outlines the policy through which Jordan deprives its citizens, who are originally from the West Bank, of their nationality, thus withholding their access to public education and health care.

Citizens of Palestinian descent make up more than half of Jordan’s 6.3 million inhabitants, according to the UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This Jordanian policy described by HRW hinges upon Israeli-issued residency permits or identification cards that all Palestinian residents of the West Bank must hold.

HRW detailed reports of officials in Jordan stripping Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenship for failing to possess these Israeli-issued documents. But according to the report, this condition for citizenship has no foundation in Jordanian law.

Israel’s restrictions on granting West Bank residency rights to Palestinians means that such documents are extremely difficult to obtain.

According to the report, “Given the vague, changeable, and apparently unknowable criteria that Israel has applied to granting residency to persons from the West Bank, for Jordan to use these criteria, issued by another country, as the basis for the maintenance of Jordanian nationality is arbitrary.”

The idea of a population transfer of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan is not new, especially within the right wing of Israeli politics. Discussions of Palestinian population transfers were largely absent from popular discourse during the previous Israeli administration’s tenure, but re-emerged last summer in a proposal from Aryeh Eldad, a Knesset member from the far-right National Union Party.

Though Israel’s President Shimon Peres quickly dismissed the proposal as a “baseless hallucination,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the mere mention of the idea has emboldened the Jordanian government in its policy of stripping Palestinians of their citizenship.

Last summer, soon after Eldad’s proposal was raised, The Jordan Times quoted unnamed officials as explaining the practice of stripping citizenship as a tactic to “counter Israeli policies to ‘empty the Palestinian lands from their legitimate residents.’”

Jordan’s relationship with its Palestinian neighbors is a complex one, spanning generations.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — a constitutional monarchy — was relatively uninhabited before the Palestinian refugees, created by the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the June 1967 War, fled across the Jordan River that separated the kingdom from the West Bank.

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, Jordan annexed and administered East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Almost 20 years later in 1967, Israel captured those territories from Jordan. However, Jordan still retained administrative ties to the area until 1988, when it formally relinquished them at the behest of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

HRW details a system where Jordanian citizenship is also determined by a color-coded card system that the Jordanians instituted in 1983 to facilitate travel to and from the West Bank, for its citizens of Palestinian decent.

West Bank residents received a green card and those originally from the West Bank, or having fled there in 1948, but now residing in Jordan, received a yellow card. Green card holders lost their rights to full citizenship, including the right to reside in Jordan, when this system was instituted.

Also addressed in the report is Jordan’s halt on granting citizenship to Palestinian refugees in 1988 and the subsequent plight of 250,000 Jordanians of Palestinian origin who worked and resided in Kuwait during the institution of this policy. Many returned home after Iraq’s invasion of the neighboring Gulf state to find their citizenship in question.

The report also asserts that Jordan’s efforts to revoke citizenship contravene international law, as Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies every person has the right to a nationality. Also, the 2004 Arab Charter for Human Rights, ratified by Jordan and six other members of the Arab League, recognizes “the right to nationality.”

Despite their sizable constituency, Palestinians in Jordan have historically been discriminated against, according to the US State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released in 2008.

The HRW report calls on the Jordanian government to “halt the withdrawal of nationality from Jordanians of Palestinian origin who hold or once held that nationality … appoint a commission tasked with performing an independent audit of all cases in which nationality was withdrawn … [and] restore Jordanian nationality to all persons who were arbitrarily deprived thereof, based on the findings of the independent commission.”

HRW requested a meeting with the Ministry of Interior and submitted a letter of concern to the government of Jordan in May and November of 2009. They have yet to receive any formal response.

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