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Sunday, July 22, 2007




Palestinian Nationality?

Last updated: July 25, 2007

July 22, 2007

Though an avid reader of this blog and a personal fan of nobody, I have very little knowledge of the Middle East . I would like to ask some questions.

We all know the theory that the Palestinians didn't exist as a nation before Israel was formed. But this raises several questions:

  1. Before 48 - what did the average Arab in Gaza saw himself as ? If the answer is just 'an Arab' then this raises more questions.

  2. Before 48 – did Arabs differentiate between Jordanians , Syrians and Palestinians? they must have differentiated between those three and Egyptians.

  3. If there is no ethnic difference between Palestinians and Jordanians (is there?), why did the Jordanians put the Palestinian refugees in refugee camps rather than integrating them into society?

  4. If there is no Palestinian identity , just an Arab identity, why didn't Egypt incorporated Gaza into Egypt instead of keeping it in sort of a limbo state.




July 25, 2007

Black Ubuntu said...

Great answer. Thank you

I will remember your tip next time i'm in a bar with a Lebanese. Though to be honest I haven't been to a bar in years and never met a Lebanese in my life!

Nobody - is there any way you can copy Nizo's answer into the main body of the blog. I would like to link to it sometimes but the fact that it's in the comment's section makes it difficult to link...

July 24, 2007 10:46 AM


Nizo's Answer

Nizo said...

Here are my two agorot (for those who care):

To start, it’s important to note that identities are fluid and can include different facets. I for one view myself as Palestinian, Arab-Christian, Galilean, Canadian etc... That said, I’m an amalgam of all of the above. Identity, for Palestinians and others also depends on the strata of society one belongs to and is affected by factors such as education, mobility, religion, urban/rural localization etc…


“ 1. Before 48 - what did the average Arab in Gaza saw himself as ? If the answer is just 'an Arab' then this raises more questions. “


A Palestinian in Gaza prior to 48 probably didn’t view himself as a Palestinian in the modern sense of the word, since contemporary Palestinian identity was created and was reinforced in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria crystallizing in the 1960s with the formation of the PLO. A pre-48 Gazan, depending on his education level probably identified as a member of his clan or tribe and as a member of “Arab Falasteen” or the Arabs of Palestine (an early 20-century term which came to being when the Arab inhabitants started fighting the Ottomans and later the Brits). The word “Arab” can have many meanings depending on the context. For example, an urban resident of pre-48 Yaffa (Yaffo) might refer to himself as a Yaffawi (Yaffa-ite) while referring to the Bedouin outside his town as “Arabs”. Levantine-Arab folklore holds that the descendants of the only true Arabs are the Bedouins and that the other inhabitants of the Levant were Arabized (and Islamisized) “______” (insert one of the following Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, Byzantines, Crusaders, Assyrians, Egyptians, Circassians, Africans, etc… )

Again, the term “Arab” is not monolithic, and it can have a whole spectrum of meanings depending on context and era

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“2. Before 48 – did Arabs differentiate between Jordanians , Syrians and Palestinians? they must have differentiated between those three and Egyptians.”

Arabs instantly identify one another based on dialect (and other factors such as dress, complexion). Arabs can be divided into 5 main blocks with a shared set of dialects and cultural elements.

Al-Khaleej (The gulf): Saudi, Oman and the other emirates and kingdoms.

Misr (Egypt) is it’s own block, it’s a stand-alone country culturally and linguistically speaking.

Iraq is stand-alone to a degree, although it’s the least truly “Arab” country, with significant Persian/Turkish influences.

Al-Maghreb (Greater Morocco) is made up of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia. Libya is sometimes defined as a Maghreb country as well.

Al- Mashriq (Levant): Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan.

The Levantine family of dialects can be divided into 2 major branches, northern (Lebanese and Syrians) and southern (Palestinians and Jordanians). There are hundreds of varieties and permutations within the above groupings.

For example, all Palestinians speak using a variation of the southern-Levantine dialect, a West Banker would speak the “Daffawi” sub-dialect, a descendent of Galilleans (like me) would speak “Akkawi”. However when a West-Banker and a Galiliean communicate they would speak in a neutral Palestinian accent. A Lebanese would immediately recognize the above two as Palestinians even if he could not pin-point where in Palestine they hail from. A Moroccan might not be able to tell the difference between a Palestinian from a Lebanese but would immediately know that both are from the Levant. Gaza is on the fault-line of two blocks, the Levant and Egypt. So it displays elements of both. It does remain mainly Levantine however.

Although I was not alive in 1948, I would safely assume that the region’s inhabitants used the same linguistic methods we use today to identify one another.

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“3. If there is no ethnic difference between Palestinians and Jordanians (is there?), why did the Jordanians put the Palestinian refugees in refugee camps rather than integrating them into society?”


A-There is no ethnic difference between Palestinians and Jordanians. However, modern day Jordanians include a significant portion of Circassians and Bedouin, both featuring less prominently among Palestinians.

b- Trans-Jordan was a sparsely populated land with some tribes both urban and rural. Those tribes had ties of kinship to the ones on the other side of the Jordan river (pre-48 Palestine), some tribes spanned areas that covered modern day Israel and Jordan. The wars of ‘48 and ‘67 bought an in influx of Palestinians. Jordan did integrate the Palestinians, more so than any other Arab state. There are different levels of integration however, most ‘48 refugees where given Jordanian citizenship and a “full” 5-year renewable Jordanian passport. The 1967 refugees faced a mixed fate, middle and upper class got the 5-year passport, while the poorer refugees got the lesser 1-year renewable passport. Palestinians (in Jordan and otherwise) remain in camps today for a host of reasons that include economic, political etc..

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“4. If there is no Palestinian identity , just an Arab identity, why didn't Egypt incorporated Gaza into Egypt instead of keeping it in sort of a limbo state.”

There are over 10 million people around the world who identify themselves as Palestinians and who differentiate themselves from other Arabs based on that identity and most importantly the way it was formed. I don’t buy the silly rhetoric about a homogeneous and long-standing Palestinian nation that dates back to the era of the Canaanites, nor was Palestine an independent state with its capital in Tal el Rabi before it was suddenly occupied by alien invaders. At the same time, you have to watch out from those who claim that Palestinians were *purely* an Arab creation for the sole purpose of fighting and destroying Israel. These people (and Procyonidae) have their own agenda, which includes gnawing furtively at the foundations of our case for a Palestinian state. But that’s another story. :--)

That said, the contemporary Palestinian identity-construct in its current form is a modern nationalistic creation, of this century, just like other identities that crystallized around the same time. It is no less natural or artificial than other labels such as Lebanese, Jordanian, Israeli, etc… Each label evolved in response to historical events that include war and bloodshed as well as “shared experiences”. The 2 main “shared experiences” for the Palestinians happens to be the refugee saga and the occupation.

As for Egypt not absorbing Gaza and keeping it under military occupation. I can’t say I’m an expert on that particular issue. I personally think it’s a mixture of the three reasons below, rather than an issue of identity:

a- Gaza, shortly after 1948 contained hundreds of thousands of non-Gazan refugees from other regions of the Palestine mandate. It was an unstable place with a large refugee-population, hardly an apple you want to bite into.
b-To use as a launching pad for attacks against Israel and be able to claim that attacks didn’t come from Egypt proper.
c-To limit the movement of certain militants in Gaza including the Islamic Brotherhood

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More points:

1-While we are busy talking about Arabs and Palestinians, those same people are increasingly identifying as Muslims. Not that all three labels are mutually exclusive of course.
2-Pan Arabism is dead, except in the realm of a couple of bloggers.
3-Greater Syria is a vulgar joke, most Arabs would say “Let them liberate the Golan first”, (followed by their regime and economy). No non-Syrian Arab (except for the 3 SNSP-followers in Lebanon) would identify as a citizen of fictional Greater Syria.
4-My impression is that Egyptians are moving away from the Arab label by embracing “Egyptian” as in descendant of the Ancient Egyptians and in many cases highlighting their Muslim identity.
5-Never call a Lebanese Christian/rich-Sunni an Arab. They are Phoenicians marinated in French perfume (both literally and figuratively). A sure-fire way to pick up Lebanese chicks or dudes at a club is to tell them you thought they were Italian or Greek. Then they’ll undress lay on the bar and lift up their legs in eternal gratitude for not calling them Arabs.

July 23, 2007 11:42 PM

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