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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Gazans who are in an open-air prison - in Jordan

Did you know that there were well over 100,000 Gazans in Jordan with limited rights -  and no easy way to get out?

An Arab researcher named Oroub El Abed has been documenting the plight of two little-known groups of Palestinian Arabs - the Gazans who live in Jordan and the PalArabs who live in Egypt.

Here is an excerpt from an article she wrote in Forced Migration Review about the Gazans in Jordan:
Gazans in Jordan are doubly displaced refugees. Forced to move to Gaza as a result of the 1948 war, they fled once more when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967. Guesstimates of the number of Gazans in Jordan range between 118,000 and 150,000. A small number have entered the Jordanian citizenship scheme via naturalisation or have had the financial resources to acquire citizenship.

On arrival in Jordan, the ex-residents of Gaza were granted temporary Jordanian passports valid for two years but were not granted citizenship rights. The so-called ‘passport’ serves two purposes: it indicates to the Jordanian authorities that the Gazans and their dependents are temporary residents in Jordan and provides them with an international travel document (‘laissez-passer’) potentially enabling access to countries other than Jordan.

The ‘passport’ – which is expensive – has value as an international travel document only if receiving states permit the entry of temporary passport holders. Few countries admit them, because they have no official proof of citizenship. Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and some Gulf States are among those who refuse to honour the document. Any delay in renewing the temporary passport or in applying for one puts an individual at risk of becoming undocumented.

Since 1986 it has been harder for Gazans to compete for places in Jordanian universities as they must secure places within the 5% quota reserved for Arab foreigners. Entry to professions is blocked as Gazans are not allowed to register with professional societies/unions or to establish their own offices, firms or clinics. Only those with security clearance can gain private sector employment. Those who work in the informal sector are vulnerable to being exploited. Many Gazans are keen to leave Jordan to seek employment elsewhere but are constrained from doing so. Some have attempted to leave clandestinely.

Rami was brought up in Jordan, studied law and worked for over two years for a law firm in the West Bank city of Hebron. Lacking a West Bank Israeli-issued ID, he was forced to return to Jordan every three months to renew his visitor’s visa. Due to the high cost of living he returned to Jordan in 1999 only to find himself stripped of his Jordanian temporary passport. Now without any form of identity, he notes that “being Gazan in Jordan is like being guilty.”

In Jordan, as in most other Middle-Eastern countries, women cannot pass on their citizenship to their children. Neither is citizenship granted to a child born on the territory of a state from a foreign father. Married women are forced to depend on their fathers or husbands to process documents related to their children. Because of this patriarchal conception of citizenship, children of Jordanian women married to Gazans are at risk of being left without a legal existence.

Heba, a Jordanian national, married Ahmad, a Gazan with an Egyptian travel document. A year after their marriage, Ahmad was arrested for being in Jordan without a residence permit. Deported from Jordan, he was refused re-entry to Egypt and ended up in Sudan. Heba had a child but has been unable to register the birth due to the absence of her husband. She cannot afford to go to Sudan to be with him.
So there is a significant population of up to 150,000 Palestinian Arabs, living in the one Arab country that has granted other Palestinian Arabs full citizenship, who are left in legal limbo and danger of being deported. They are discriminated against and cannot leave. Even worse, most major Arab countries do not recognize their "travel documents" and effectively discriminate against them, forcing them to stay in Jordan or get deported forever.

How many times have you read about this "open-air prison?" How many human rights groups have championed the cause of Jordanian Gazans? What op-eds have ever been written, shaming the Hashemite Kingdom on how poorly they treat their Arab brethren? How many flotillas and convoys are being organized to help out the women and children? How many people are working to divest from Jordanian products because of this shameful discrimination?

Zero, zero, zero, zero and zero.