The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918-1947
THE INVENTION OF PALESTINIAN CITIZENSHIP – Book Sample
Inventing the National and the Citizen in Palestine: Great Britain, Sovereignty and the Legislative Context, 1918–1925
In October 1922, just two years after the establishment of the mandates system by the League of Nations, the Arab members of the Palestine Mandate’s administrative advisory committee met High Commissioner Herbert Samuel in Jerusalem to read through the draft of a law to regulate Palestinian nationality. Nationality did not yet exist as a legal status within the territory ceded to Great Britain’s administrative control as a mandate, nor as an internationally recognised identity.
By that point Palestine’s first attorney- general, an Englishman named Norman Bentwich, wrote a large portion of the draft legislation and submitted drafts to the Colonial Office for approval. Prior to the First World War, Bentwich served as a barrister in England but he had no specialisations in national- ity law. None of the officials in the Palestine Administration, whom historian Michael Cohen once classified as either ill-trained or not at all trained for their positions, had such a specialisation.1
Those seven Arabs who attended the meeting with Samuel and looked over Bentwich’s proposal on Palestinian nationality belonged to prominent Palestinian families. Most of these men received a Western-style education, had some knowledge of Ottoman-era law and they all professed sympathies with the anti-Zionist Palestinian Arab nationalist movement.
As the men – certainly not specialists in English law – studied the draft, they were struck by Bentwich’s plan to give Jewish immigrants ‘provisional nationality’ while the Arab population in Palestine remained ‘former Ottoman subjects’ categorised as ‘ex-enemy aliens’ by Great Britain. One member of the committee, Abdul Khader al-Muzaffer, bewildered as to why the mandate’s Arab-majority population was not given the same status as the new immigrants nor even that of officially recognized nationals, proclaimed ironically that ‘Palestine is a land of mar- vels and this new regulation [for provisional nationality] is one of them’.2
The so-called provisional status held by the Jewish immigrants reinforced the identity of the Arabs as akin to ‘natives’ in colonial terminology. By 1922, as the mandatory in Palestine, Great Britain undeniably acted more as an imperial power than as a trustee and the colonial nature of its rule is evidenced by the ways in which the civil administration created and implemented nationality and citizenship as well as other pieces of legislation in cooperation with the British Colonial, Foreign, Home, and Dominions Offices, the Crown and the Zionist Organisation.
Until 1938, the Colonial Office’s per- manent members jointly devised policy for Palestine in cooperation with each high commissioner, and ultimate approval for policy came from the Cabinet and government in London.3 The members of the short-lived High Commissioner’s Advisory Council disbanded soon after the meeting, owing to these Arab members’ dissatisfaction with the limitations of their solely advisory role.
When the final draft of the order-in-council to institute Pales- tinian citizenship came into effect in 1925, its regulations offered more favourable means for the acquisition of citizenship to Jewish immigrants than to Arabs from the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and North Africa.
Even Palestinian Arab students or merchants who had temporarily relocated outside of Palestine were disadvantaged by the provisions of the order-in-council. The nationality-turned-citizenship order bolstered the cornerstone of mandate policy: the facilitation of a Jewish national homeland as embodied in the mandate charter. Despite misgivings by certain members of the Colonial Office and the Palestine Administration, this policy influenced most pieces of legislation proposed for Palestine from 1918 to 1925.
The intricacies of Palestinian nationality and citizenship legislation reflected the obligation of Great Britain to adhere to the man- date’s policy to support the establishment of a Jewish national home. In order to ensure the successful establishment of that national home, which the government professed to be its moral duty, Cabinet min- isters in London favoured arrangements that allowed Jewish immigrants to acquire easily Palestinian citizenship upon their arrival to the territory. At the same time, Great Britain worked – albeit with varying degrees of success – to ensure that the legislation in each of their mandates remained in line with new, post-war international regulations.
Alongside consideration of the country’s obligations to the Zionist Organisation, broader debates on nationality, citizenship the legislative context, 1918–1925 and colonialism by Great Britain and, to some extent, other mandate and colonial administrations, framed the specific creation of nation- ality and citizenship in the quasi-colonial Palestine Mandate.
Discussions and disagreements among colonial officials, inhabitants and immigrants over sovereignty in Palestine and in the mandates sys- tem, as well as over the meaning of post-war identity prior to the 1922 ratification of the mandate, influenced the shape of nationality legisla- tion for the territory from 1922 through 1925.
These same discussions did not take place only for the case of Palestine, but were replicated in the wider British Empire and throughout the post-Ottoman Levant. In particular, direct colonialism had given way to indirect colonial rule in many parts of the Empire. A number of colonial administra- tors expounded upon the benefits of indirect rule from the turn of the century, and the trusteeship system proposed for the mandated ter- ritories was not construed as outright colonialism.
These discussions, ideas, practices and identities developed trans-imperially as officials of empire (and others in non-official capacities) moved between imperial sites.
However, as ‘new’ imperial historians David Lambert and Alan Lester argue, ideas about race, national identity, governance, civilisation and, in our case, citizenship, were not simply imported from the imperial centre or from the periphery, but developed across multiple spaces. Even within the same region, not all imperial ideas, practices and ideologies travelled well from place to place.4 At the same time, external discussions of the nature of empire impacted these ideas and practices even while they were in transit.
The new language of internationalism and self-determination in a number of locales meant that traditional notions of subjecthood lost their former meanings in the metropole as well as in colonies, protectorates and the Dominions. These changes are reflected in the muddled nature of belonging in Palestine as envisioned by mandate and colonial authorities and policy-makers, as well as those precedents that they turned to for guidance.
As demonstrated in what follows, the disagreements over sovereignty and the growing uncertainty by colonial officials over the post-war imperial world-view led to the separate codification of Jewish-Palestinian nationality from Arab-Palestinian nationality as first mentioned in the mandate’s 1922 basic law. Through the early 1920s as the British codified nationality provisions, Arab natives were treated differently from Jewish ‘provisional’ citizens in the practical matters of travel, passports, diplomatic protection and the regulation of the franchise.
The latter represent some of the immediate impacts upon Palestine’s Jewish immigrants and native Arab inhabitants of the Treaty of Lausanne and the subsequent Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council as a citizenship order signed by the King of England rather than a nationality law passed by the local administration. The debates over the creation of Palestinian citizenship were not confined to Whitehall and the Palestine Administration, but were framed more broadly by ambiguity and various definitions of nationality and citizenship based upon Britain’s experience with imperial subjecthood, national status and imperial consular protection.
Immediately after the end of the First World War and by the time of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, British officials and the military administration in Palestine grappled with the contradiction between fulfilling both the trusteeship obligations of the proposed mandate and the obligations of the Balfour Declaration that required sovereignty and direct administration of the territory.
Although officials found points of comparison with colonial administrations else- where in the Middle East and India, the post-war rhetoric of national self-determination and the strength of nationalist movements that inspired the idea of trusteeship over certain groups of people ran sharply against imperial practice.
Although, as enshrined in the declaration, the mandate could not prejudice the civil and religious rights of the Arab majority, Great Britain could not offer Jews and Arabs an equal, rights-based citizenship or even equal representative institutions for self-government.
Administrators feared that giving political rights to the Arabs to vote or sanction the enactment of legislation would pose a threat to their obligations towards the Zionist movement. Therefore, citizenship had to be framed as a legal, apolit- ical status with minimal accompanying civil rights, and the ultimate power to give or take away citizenship status rested with the British high commissioners in Palestine overseen by London.
The British in Palestine institutionalised a dual administrative structure that offered Arab and Jewish individuals separate and unequal civil, economic, social and political positions. A number of historians, including Bernard Wasserstein and Zachary Lockman, have debated the limits of classifying the mandate’s administration in such a way, but for the creation of legal nationality two different classifications existed for the territory’s inhabitants.5
In light of British practice before and after 1922, the bewilderment expressed by Abdul Khader al-Muzaffer and his colleagues was not misplaced.
The foundations of this structure can be traced back to the years immediately after 1918 when the British, in their capacity of military administrators in Palestine, made every attempt to exclude the demands of the Arab leadership on matters of political rights from the commentary on nationality and citizenship.
In response to the unwillingness of High Commissioner Samuel to consider certain measures of self-government and to repeal the Balfour Declaration’s inclusion in mandate policy, his Arab advisors expressed their disagreement with the nationality law draft in 1922, and not only terminated their service on the advisory committee but also supported a popular boycott of elections to a proposed legislative council that same year.
First, however, it is to the parameters of state succession after 1918, and the notions and debates within the League of Nations and by Great Britain on sovereignty in the mandate system, that the chapter now turns.
Great Britain, Palestine and the League of Nations: Sovereignty, Nationality and State Succession, 1919–1922
The end of the First World War did not immediately change the status quo of legislation on the ground in the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces; in fact, no internationally recognised bureaucratic measures existed to allow for any changes. The practice of sovereign rule by Great Britain, whose soldiers entered southern Syria and Jerusalem at the end of 1917, was ushered into a new era in which direct colonialism of conquered lands could no longer be considered legitimate in the eyes of the newly created international community of nations.6
Still, despite Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of support in early 1918 with groups resisting imperialism, the British Government initially had space in which to claim measures of sovereign control over the Arab-majority provinces that became the mandates of Palestine, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq.
The first order of business for the British occupation forces was to install a temporary administration in southern Syria, which lasted from December 1917 to mid-1920 and became known as Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA) South. The military officials in this area, unofficially referred to as Palestine, decided in 1918 to keep the status quo of Ottoman laws until bureaucratic measures could be undertaken by a civilian administration.
The arrival of the first High Commissioner Herbert Samuel in July 1920 marked the start of civil rule. During these two years of military government, and for quite some time after, the most pressing issue was that of sovereignty in the territory that was to become the Palestine Mandate. The basic structures of the League of Nations were not yet fully formed when the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 decided the future status
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