The Politics of Pragmatism: 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 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are able to apply for Israeli citizenship in accordance with a number of conditions. Inter alia, these conditions pertain to the length of time they have been resident in East Jerusalem prior to the application; having acquired a level of Hebrew language; and require the applicant to swear 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. Yet Permanent Residency is a precarious status in East Jerusalem, and one that can easily be revoked. This paper is based on an ethnography conducted over 20-months between 2016-2018 in a refugee camp in East Jerusalem. It examines the reasoning by which Palestinian refugees, who are Permanent Residents in East Jerusalem are engaging in new ways with the Israeli state, culminating in citizenship applications. Although the number of Palestinians who eventually receive Israeli citizenship are low, I argue that the reasons and processes behind this shift pose challenging questions to the purposes of citizenship acquisition. 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. Through an analysis of ‘claims’ that Palestinians in East Jerusalem make on the Israeli state through access to healthcare and social welfare, I argue that there is little intention among these East Jerusalemites to participate in Israeli political communities. Rather, a combination of pragmatism and tactical engagement with the state are driving the emerging kinds of social change taking place among refugees in East Jerusalem.

The seminar is fully booked. If you wish to be included in the waiting list please contact Valentina Bettin.


Prof. Maarten Vink


Dr. Caitlin Procter