Claiming the State: Palestinian Refugees in East Jerusalem and Israeli Citizenship Applications

January 21, 2021 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Europe/Rome Timezone
Valentina Bettin

The Israeli Citizenship law of 1952 states that East Jerusalemites, with Permanent Residency Status, are able to apply for Israeli citizenship in accordance with a number of conditions. Inter alia, these conditions pertain to the length of time lived in Israel prior to the application; having acquired a level of Hebrew language; and that the applicant swears an allegiance to the State of Israel. Historically, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have chosen not to apply, on the grounds that it serves as a way of legitimising the settler colonial acquisition of Palestinian land by the Israeli state, and because this could ultimately reduce the likelihood of a future Palestinian state coming to fruition. Scholarship within the anthropology of citizenship tends to focus on reading citizenship applications as an aspiration to be included in a political community. While this literature highlights some of the subversive or insurgent ways that people in different contexts under different kinds of state manage to do so, the Palestinian context tells a different story. Based on an ethnography conducted in a refugee camp in East Jerusalem, this paper examines the ways and reasoning through which Palestinian refugees, who are Permanent Residents in East Jerusalem are seeking Israeli citizenship. Through an analysis of access to healthcare and social welfare, it is argued that there is little intention among these East Jerusalemites to participate in Israeli political communities, and nor is there anything subversive about the way Palestinians go about making their claims to the Israeli state. Rather, these decisions and processes are tactical and pragmatic. The Israeli state routinely operates against its non-citizen Palestinian permanent residents through planning regimes in Jerusalem to incrementally exclude them from the demographic of the city. The author argues that is this tactical pragmatism and individual determination, rather than a revolutionary consciousness, that work as the driving factors behind the emerging kinds of political and social change enacted by refugees in East Jerusalem by seeking Israeli citizenship.


Prof. Maarten Vink


Dr. Caitlin Procter