Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality
Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan ... have the full rights of citizenship and all its obligations, the same as any other citizen irrespective of his origin.
-King Hussein, Amman, July 31, 1988
We are Jordanians if the government needs us, but Palestinians if we want something from the government.
-Dr. Walid, Amman, January 29, 2009
More than half of the 6.3 million population of Jordan is of Palestinian origin-that is, from areas west of the River Jordan, including the West Bank, today's Israel, and Gaza. With the exception of persons from Gaza, the vast majority of those persons of Palestinian origin have Jordanian citizenship. However, since 1988, and especially over the past few years, the Jordanian government has been arbitrarily and without notice withdrawing Jordanian nationality from its citizens of Palestinian origin, making them stateless. For many of them this means they are again stateless Palestinians as they were before 1950.
Some Jordanian officials have said they are doing so in order to forestall supposed Israeli designs to colonize the West Bank, by maintaining the birthright of Palestinians to live in the West Bank. Yet the real reason may be Jordan's desire to be able to rid itself of hundreds of thousands of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin whom Jordan could then forcibly return to the West Bank or Israel as part of a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem caused by the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. At least that appeared to be the interpretation of a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official who in July 2009 said that certain Jordanians of Palestinian origin would remain Jordanian nationals only until such time that a refugee settlement had been reached.
So far, Jordan has withdrawn its nationality from thousands of its citizens of Palestinian origin-over 2,700 between 2004 and 2008 alone. It has done so, in the individual cases Human Rights Watch identified, in an arbitrary manner and in violation of Jordan's nationality law of 1954. Under that law Palestinian residents of the West Bank in 1949 or thereafter received full Jordanian nationality following Jordan's incorporation of the West Bank in April 1950.
The West Bank came under Israeli occupation in 1967, and Jordan ceased to exercise control over the area, although it maintained its claim to sovereignty, and Jordanian law continued to apply in the West Bank. In 1983 Jordan introduced color-coded travel cards for Jordanians of Palestinian origin in the West Bank, in order to facilitate their travel to and from the West Bank under Israeli occupation: a green one for West Bank residents, and a yellow one for West Bankers who had moved to the East Bank. The introduction of this system of green and yellow cards in practice created three tiers of citizenship rights, differentiating original East Bank Jordanians and the two groups of West Bank-origin Jordanian nationals (whom Jordanian law still formally considered its nationals and citizens with equal rights). Jordanians residing in the West Bank sometimes lost their right to live in the East Bank. Today, possession of a green or yellow card can serve as the official basis for withdrawing nationality.
In July 1988, at the height of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli military occupation, the late King Hussein decided to sever "administrative and legal" ties with the West Bank. The motivations behind that decision, as well as its constitutionality, remain disputed, but include a sharp decline in Jordan's economic fortunes at the time, and the growing international recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. King Hussein explained his decision as one of deference to Palestinian wishes for national autonomy.
One consequence of this severing of ties with the West Bank was that Jordanians of Palestinian origin residing in the West Bank at that time lost their Jordanian nationality. However, Jordanians of Palestinian West Bank or Jerusalem origin then living in Jordan's East Bank or residing in a third country generally maintained their Jordanian nationality. That is changing today for an undetermined number of Jordanians of Palestinian origin living in Jordan, as officials cancel, in a haphazard and arbitrary manner, the so-called national number that each Jordanian acquires as proof of Jordanian nationality.
Hundreds of thousands of Jordanians of Palestinian origin appear liable to have their national number revoked, including some 200,000 Palestinian-origin Jordanians who returned to Jordan from Kuwait in 1990-91.
Officials base withdrawal of nationality on the 1988 severance of ties with the West Bank. They also claim that League of Arab States decisions prohibit dual Arab nationality and that Palestinians may thus not hold Jordanian nationality too. In 1988 the Arab League adopted a decision prohibiting dual Arab nationality, but Palestine has not been recognized as a state under international law, and the Arab League decision is not binding law in Jordan.
Withdrawal of nationality in fact has not been based on Jordanian law, but on vague interpretations of the 1988 severance decision and on new, unwritten conditions that lack a clear legal basis. Jordanian officials claim that Jordanians of Palestinian origin must renew their residency permit for the West Bank as issued by the Israeli military's Civil Administration in order to maintain their Jordanian nationality. This Israeli permit grants the right to reside in the West Bank, and, therefore (for those permit-holders residing elsewhere) the right to return to the West Bank should a Palestinian state come into being. Some Jordanians have been unable to renew this permit, and on this basis had their Jordanian nationality withdrawn. Others had never obtained that permit, having lived in Jordan all their lives, or have an open-ended residency permit from the Israelis that does not require renewal, but nevertheless had their nationality withdrawn.
No official informs those whose nationality has been withdrawn of that decision: rather, they are told that they are no longer Jordanian nationals during routine interactions with the bureaucracy such as renewing passports, registering a child's birth, renewing a driver's license, or trying to sell shares. At best, officials explain that it is due to a failure to renew Israeli residency permits. There is no clear means of administrative redress. Some of those affected who have influence in high places have managed to have the decisions reversed, but judicial redress is difficult, if not impossible. The High Court of Justice, with jurisdiction over reviewing the legality of administrative decisions, has ruled that the 1988 disengagement was an act of sovereignty and thus not subject to its jurisdiction, but this precedent notwithstanding, it has taken cases against alleged arbitrary withdrawal of nationality. Lawyers described to Human Rights Watch, however, that toward the late 1990s the court rarely ruled in favor of those contesting their loss of nationality.
Withdrawal of nationality dramatically complicates the lives of those affected: children lose access to free primary and secondary education, and university education may be out of reach due to vastly higher costs for non-nationals. Some say that healthcare costs are higher than for Jordanians. The same goes for renewal of drivers' licenses, with higher fees and shorter validity. To live in Jordan, Palestinian non-nationals require a residency permit subject to approval by the General Intelligence Department (GID). Non-Jordanians cannot be employed by the state, and have greater difficulty on the private job market, as many employers will require proof of nationality to hire those of Palestinian origin, or clearance by the GID. Palestinians cannot practice one of the organized professions such as law, as membership in the corresponding professional association is mandatory but restricted to Jordanian nationals. Palestinians can still obtain Jordanian passports, valid for two or five years, but only as travel documents, not proof of nationality, and at higher fees than Jordanians.
Jordan should halt the arbitrary withdrawal of nationality from Jordanians of Palestinian origin. The government should appoint a commission to investigate and publicly report on the legal status of Jordanians of Palestinian origin who lived outside of the West Bank at the time of Jordan's 1988 severing of ties with the West Bank. Jordan should reinstate Jordanian nationality to those arbitrarily deprived thereof, and provide them with fair compensation.
To the Government of the Jordan
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, pursuant to the July 31, 1988 disengagement from the West Bank.
Clarify, based on the commission's findings, the meaning of the disengagement instructions specifying that "residents" in the West Bank at the time of disengagement lose their right to nationality, and review the constitutionality and legality of those instructions.
Restore Jordanian nationality to all persons who were arbitrarily deprived thereof, based on the findings of the independent commission. Each person deprived of their nationality should be entitled to a fair hearing, with the right of appeal to the courts if their nationality remains revoked.
Provide individual compensation for financial losses incurred as a result of arbitrary withdrawal of nationality, including fair consideration of foregone opportunities in education, work, and family life.
Publish any regulation, instruction, decree, or other governmental orders pertaining to maintaining or withdrawing nationality based on the disengagement instructions, even if they have since been abrogated.
Remove any distinction in the laws and regulations on nationality based on gender. The rules should be "leveled up" when removing these distinctions, that is, to the higher level of protection.
Accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1954 Convention relating to the status of Stateless Persons.
Work toward an equitable and just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem within the framework of international law.
Immediately restore the access of all children in Jordan to free, primary education and to secondary education that is available and accessible, without discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Allow non-Jordanians to freely exercise their civil, economic, social, and cultural rights in Jordan, including access to healthcare and their property rights, without discrimination on the basis of national origin or citizenship.
To the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority
Work toward an equitable and just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue within the framework of international law.
Pending such a solution, the Government of Israel should ensure that Jordanians of Palestinian origin and Palestinians living in Jordan are not removed from the population registry in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and should consider including persons of Palestinian descent born in Jordan in the population registry as a matter of humanitarian concern.
Human Rights Watch reviewed 11 cases in which nationality was withdrawn by interviewing the persons concerned in private and reviewing documents pertaining to their cases, such as official correspondence and copies of identity and travel documents. In two cases, officials restored the nationality. We reviewed Jordanian media reports on withdrawals of nationality, which have cited official figures indicating that such withdrawals in recent years number in the thousands. Our 11 cases reflect experiences of persons from different walks of life and social status. Their stories are diverse but consistent with other cases detailed in the media, reflecting the arbitrary nature in which nationality was withdrawn. We interviewed eight men and three women.
All but two persons interviewed requested anonymity, fearing further exclusion from citizenship rights they currently still enjoy and hopeful of restoring their nationality through private channels. Accordingly, their names have been replaced with pseudonyms.
We conducted interviews during visits to Jordan in January, April, and May 2009 and followed up with telephone interviews in July and October. Interviews were conducted in Arabic. During our visits, we also consulted with two former Jordanian Ministry of Interior officials, the Freedoms Committee of the Jordanian Engineers Association, and three independent observers and academics, Khair Smadi, Dr. Fawzi Samhouri, and Abbas Shiblak, who provided historical and legal context. In addition to interviews, we reviewed Jordanian, Israeli, League of Arab States and international laws, regulations, and decisions pertaining to nationality and Israel's residency system in the West Bank.
In May 2009 we requested a meeting with the head of the Follow-up and Inspection Department of the Ministry of Interior to seek answers to specific questions, but received no answer. In November we sent the government a detailed letter of our concerns, but received no response at this writing.