- 1 Israel State Archive: Memo on meeting with High Commissioner, 30 Oct. 1922, M/4/16.
1In 1922 when members of the Arab advisory committee to the Palestine Mandate Administration High Commissioner Herbert Samuel read the draft of a law to regulate Palestinian nationality under the mandate they were struck by its plan to give Jewish immigrants ‘provisional nationality’ whilst the Arabs remained ‘former Ottoman subjects.’ 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 nor even that of officially-recognised nationals, proclaimed ironically that “Palestine is a land of marvels and this new regulation [for provisional nationality] is one of them.”1 This ‘provisional’ status held by the Jews reinforced the status of the Arabs as something akin to ‘natives’ in colonial terminology—all despite their history as subject-citizens of the Ottoman Empire since the mid-nineteenth century, their possession of Ottoman passports and documentation that proved their birth in Palestinian territory or descent from fathers born in that territory. When the final draft of the order-in-council to institute Palestinian citizenship came into effect in 1925, its regulations offered more favourable means for the acquisition of citizenship to immigrant Jews than to Arabs from elsewhere in the former Ottoman Empire or even Palestinian Arabs who had temporarily relocated outside of Palestine.
2The main focus of this paper is the Palestine Mandate in the interwar era beginning with the 1918 end of the First World War—years in which the identities of the national and the citizen changed to reflect international, colonial and imperial norms. The paper aims to demonstrate the social and political transitions experienced by the Arab population of Palestine from their status of imperial subjects to recognized citizens as the mandate progressed. The paper will thus analyze the social and political development of a new understanding of civic and national identities that began with pieces of mandate legislation—devised by British officials and influenced by the mandate’s support for a Jewish national home—in order to define a new citizenship code. It argues that local, regional and international actors were forced to stop framing Palestinian nationality as part of a larger imperial question within the Ottoman and British contexts as they arrived at an understanding of this status as a national question. The Ottoman and British contexts both stimulated this new understanding of identity through reactions both against and in favor of provisions implicit in imperial notions of identity and belonging. Through mandate legislation, by the mid-1920s ‘Palestinian nationality’ and ‘Palestinian citizenship’ came into existence and middle-class Palestinian Arab nationalists, local leaders, and emigrants in the diaspora felt that the two statuses were indeed ‘marvels’ meant to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home and to encourage Jewish immigration.
3With the introduction of new mandate administrations in the Levant by 1920 and the accompanying shifts in politics and society, British, French and other colonial models of the administration of ‘native’ populations and of citizenship codes circulated. The paper argues that the British government and Palestine Administration adapted these colonial models to fit the context of Palestine and to satisfy the Zionist Organization. In particular, nationality laws became a tool to create discrimination between Arabs and Jewish immigrants. The mandate administration used these laws to serve political and colonial ends, inadvertently shaping and sharpening notions of national bonds of belonging and identity. These bonds did not only form within the mandate’s territory. The role of Arab emigrants (al-muhājirūn) in developing notions of civic and social belonging through cross-border mobilisations is discussed in the second half of the paper. The paper’s main sources are the British archives for the Palestine Mandate (including correspondence, draft legislation and directives) and Arabic-language newspapers published in Palestine, which included editorials, articles and letters that expressed opinions, demands and criticisms of the mandate administration and its policies.
4In Palestine the British did not follow former Ottoman legislation of generous jus sanguinis (by descent) and jus soli (by territorial right) regulations and the legalities of citizenship and nationality were felt to be even more of an unusual new creation—the ‘marvel’ which one Palestinian Arab nationalist leader called the British-created citizenship in the early 1920s. The current section also argues that the British imperial context of citizenship and nationality prior to 1918 allowed mandate officials in Palestine to favour the Jewish immigrants who arrived to that territory based on the immigrants’ general connection to Europe in terms of both their descent and their ‘whiteness.’ Excepting Palestine, the Arabic-speaking population of the Ottoman territories did not contend with numbers of European immigrants who received preferential treatment in nationality provisions. This treatment is explained in the current section, as is its sanction in Palestine by not only the mandate power but also by the League of Nations based on earlier colonial precedents.
- 2 Prior to the Tanzimat, individual identity and individual rights and obligations in the Empire was (...)
5As part of the reform period in the Ottoman Empire, known as the Tanzimat, legislators issued the Ottoman Citizenship Law (tabiiyet-i Osmaniye kanunnamesi) in 1869. On paper, the law conferred a status similar to citizenship upon the Empire’s population: it gave an equal political and civic status regardless of religion or ethnicity. In practice the populace remained subjects of the sultan as a goal of the Tanzimat was to keep the empire and the Ottoman imperial system together rather than give way to fully representative democracy. The population could acquire Ottoman citizenship through provisions of jus sanguinis, jus soli or by naturalization and that status was not at all tied to religion.2 These means of acquisition of citizenship were central to the later discourses under the mandate that supported Palestinian Arab demands for the British to change the mandate’s citizenship order to be more inclusive to native-born Arabs.
- 3 “Nafir Suriya 4, 25 Oct. 1860,” in Al-Mu‘allam Boutros al-Bustani: Dirāsa wa wathā’iq [The Teacher (...)
6In the 1860s, the concept of wattan (homeland) gained some popularity among the educated Arabs in the Levant as part of the cultural renaissance initially spearheaded by educated Arab Christians. Both tabiiyet-i Osmaniye and the concept of Osmanlılık, or Ottoman patriotism, were intended to cultivate greater measures of loyalty by the population toward the Ottoman state rather than toward ethnic or religious allegiances (Kern, 2007: 8). Shortly before the citizenship law, the Syrian scholar Butros al-Bustani urged his fellow ‘patriots’ (abnā’ al-wattan), primarily other Ottoman Arab intellectuals, to actively work toward a secular citizenship that could be “developed, taught, and embraced simultaneously at an imperial and local level” (Makdisi, 2002: 605-608). This laid the socio-political aspect of citizenship for the inhabitants of the Arab provinces. Importantly, al-Bustani wrote that Syrians were bound together as one nationality (jinsiyya) within the larger Ottoman state. He stressed that all Syrian nationals as Ottoman citizens must “sacrifice for the nation” so that the Empire could protect the rights of its citizens.3
- 4 This is too big a subject to be discussed here but more on these identities of Arab nationalism, Ar (...)
7It was then that the word jinsiyya, from the Ottoman term cins for race, came into usage in the following latter decades of the nineteenth century among the Arab intellectuals such as the Syrian Muslim reformer Rashid Rida. This nationality most commonly referred to an ethnic, cultural and territorial one—but one which fit into the wider imperial context of Ottoman patriotism even through the first decade of the twentieth century. Both Ottoman and Arab identities did not exist in opposition to one another but rather the imperial context made them inseparable as evidenced in through to in 1914.4 Despite stronger calls for measures of administrative autonomy for the Arab provinces after 1912, the Arab leaders did not envision a separate, non-Ottoman citizenship.
8The end of the First World War and the Ottoman imperial system brought an end to Ottoman patriotism, subject-hood and Ottoman citizenship. The Palestine Mandate, officially granted to Great Britain in 1920 by the League of Nations, was unique in the British and larger imperial context of the interwar period. The 1925 Palestine Citizenship order was the only such order enacted by Great Britain in any of its mandates: the mandatory power placed local Arab authorities in charge of nationality legislation in Iraq and Transjordan. The provisions of the citizenship order-in-council concerning naturalization and the paternal transmission of nationality were drawn from the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act of 1914. In Britain’s African mandates, inhabitants remained British-protected persons (Qafisheh, 2008: 75). In Syria and Lebanon, the French also gave the mandatory representative bodies the power to enact nationality legislation. Still, the citizenship laws in the mandates had imperial contexts at their roots—this being most-pronounced in mandate Palestine.
9Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, administrators in territories of the British Empire, similar to Dutch, French and other colonial officials, included a number of assumptions about ‘the native’ in colonial legislation that marked national status. British India from the late eighteenth century and Egypt after 1882 were testing grounds for the import of British law into protectorates and colonies. Liberal thinkers like John Stuart Mill claimed nationality was a quality achieved by only those societies at a certain level of development. Indian natives were thus not entirely fit to have their own Indian nationality (Pritts, 2005: 97-98). Britain applied its own nationality and alien acts, passport legislation and judicial procedure in India (Sethi, 1981: 108). It would be arguments such as Mill’s that influenced policies in the Middle East after the imposition of the mandates system. In the Egyptian case, the British kept in place the system of personal status laws and sharia courts to regulate the native Muslim population.
10By the turn of the twentieth century, colonial law in the West and East Indies accounted for ‘colonial mixing,’ a process which called into question imperial criteria for citizenship and nationality. As a result, the Dutch and French in the Indies, Indochina and North Africa began to recognise that jus soli and jus sanguinis could not determine national identity in the new colonial nation (Stoler, 2002: 27). In other words, birth or descent from indigenous inhabitants of the colonies did not confer the subject-hood or nationality of those colonies but rather denoted a lesser status—that of the native. National identity represented a more cultural, educated and ‘civilised’ affiliation within territories under European rule, and this identity could not be automatically assumed as one understood by indigenous inhabitants. The colonial conceptualisation of the native fit into the wider British imperial system in the early years of the twentieth century. What the British administration in Palestine adopted from this after they took control in Palestine by 1918 were provisions that rendered birthplace and descent to no longer be the only determinants for the acquisition of nationality by that territory’s inhabitants. It should be noted however that in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq under mandate, both birthplace and descent were made basic to acquiring nationality—Palestine remained the anomaly. In Palestine, on the borderline between direct and indirect colonialism, the British did away with the generous jus sanguinis and jus soli provisions of nationality that the Ottoman Empire had instituted.
11In more ideological terms, the assumptions about the native had an impact in post-war Palestine in regard to the view of some officials that the Zionist and Jewish settlers increasingly going to that territory were to be ‘civilising influences’ upon the native Arab population. This influence could only come from immigrants of a certain character (Norris, 2013: 84-85). Character did not derive from abstract or universal values, argues Ann Stoler, but rather “at its heart was a conception of being European that emphasized a bearing, a standard of living, a set of cultural competencies and practices to which members of the European community were to subscribe” (2002: 97-99). Social norms certainly came into play as early colonial discourses linked race, culture and national identity, with culture determining the codification of racial distinctions and national identity.
12Mandate Palestine fit into the wider colonial context of legislation based upon ideologies of colonial control. As Martin Bunton has shown, from citizenship to land laws, the wider colonial project from Nigeria to Cyprus to Tanganyika informed administrators in Palestine (1999: 35). However, for purposes of the transfer of Ottoman imperial citizenship into Palestinian nationality and citizenship for the population of the mandate, Great Britain needed to adhere to international regulations put into effect with the post-war peace treaties.
13In Palestine, after the 1920 inauguration of both the mandate and the British-controlled civil administration under British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, colonial and immigration officials recognised Jewish immigrants as ‘provisional Palestinian nationals’ before 1925. The administration in Jerusalem, and the colonial, foreign and home offices in London rarely agreed in the early part of the decade what a ‘Palestinian national’ was, since the Treaty of Lausanne only came into force in 1924 and the mandates’ Arab inhabitants had been considered Ottomans until that time. The Jewish immigrants were considered ‘provisional’ nationals if they agreed to remain resident in Palestine upon their arrival, spoke English, Arabic or Hebrew and did in fact receive permission by immigration authorities to stay in the territory. The authorities assumed that the immigrants’ provisional status would change to that of permanent citizens or nationals once the administration approved a law to grant such a civil and political status.
14Prior to 1924, the British colonial and mandate officials made known their intention to pass a nationality law for Palestine, which was influenced by the Zionist Organization whose own members (such as Chaim Weizmann) were close to British politicians and members of the mandate administration. At the time, disagreements arose within the administrations in Palestine and London over whether to treat the native Arabs as British-protected persons, Ottoman subjects, foreigners, or as members of an altogether new legal category. Not all members of the mandate administration or of the Foreign Office supported the aims of the Zionists in Palestine.
- 5 Only in the 1930s did the Dominions Office, among others in Whitehall along with the Palestine Admi (...)
15Meanwhile, Jewish arrivals to Palestine were treated differently. When they made applications for provisional certificates of nationality some lost the nationality of their birth country but others were able to keep their original nationality. This depended upon the passport and immigration regulations of the immigrants’ original home governments.5 To complicate matters further, a uniform passport system for the Palestinians did not exist and travelers used Ottoman passports. The Arabs’ status as ‘former Ottomans’ was further reinforced by the electoral legislation of 1922, which stated that the basis of their provisional nationality in order to vote was the Ottoman Nationality Law of 1869.
16The standardization of nationality through state succession as based upon the post-war treaties conflicted with the self-identification of many Arabs. Many Palestinian Arab national leaders, who questioned the mandate policies that allowed for immigrants to receive provisional nationality by right upon their arrival with intent to settle in the territory, found their self-identification as Arabs first and foremost challenged. The educated nationalist leadership in the provinces found this transfer of national status, and by extension transfer of imperial loyalties and duties, as novel idea. Importantly, state succession and the colonial creation of new nationalities sharply contrasted with the notions of patriotism, homeland and the society and culture of the Nahda generation.
- 6 Bentwich Archives, St. Anthony’s, Oxford: Memo, Herbert Samuel to Secretary of State for the Coloni (...)
- 7 Colonial Office, London: Draft Palestinian Nationality Order, 7 June 1921, 733/12/13-14. See also, (...)
17The consensus on state succession also affected which ethnic groups could take on the citizenship of individual mandates in the former Ottoman Arab provinces; again, this complicated the ideology of Nahda-era national identity. One article in the Sèvres treaty stated that only those individuals who belonged to racial minorities in their new post-war states could opt for the nationality of other territories (such as the mandates) composed of the racial majority they desired to join. In his position as Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill advocated that Palestine be included as one of the territories listed as compliant with this article. The inclusion of Palestine among such territories exclusively benefited the Jewish national home plan: it meant that Arabs of Syria or Iraq could not opt for Palestinian nationality since they belonged to the racial majority in their own country.6 Further, the Home Office suggested that jus sanguinis should be limited so that nationality did not pass indefinitely through native-born Palestinian fathers to future generations resident outside of Palestine. Contrary to the peace treaty, the Home Office recommended that citizenship should pass only to the first generation born outside of Palestine.7 As a matter of general imperial policy, the Foreign Office adamantly opposed granting nationality to native Palestinian Arab emigrants who lived even temporarily abroad if any chance existed that applicants would use their status to claim British protection. In the late 1920s Arab local and nationalist leaders accused the Palestine government of applying the policy to specifically decrease the number of Palestinian Arab citizens vis-à-vis Palestinian Jewish citizens.
- 8 Colonial Office, London: Zionist attitude on the draft Palestinian Nationality Order, 7 June 1921, (...)
18In the four years preceding the Treaty of Lausanne and for several months after its implementation, the British government and the Colonial and Foreign Offices in London could not agree upon the provisions for Palestinian nationality. The Foreign and Home Offices insisted that mandate nationality follow empire-wide regulations, whilst the Colonial Office, with its members on the ground in Palestine, knew that exceptions had to be made to provide support for the Jewish national home policy of the mandate and to allow for Jewish immigrants to easily receive nationality and rights of residence. The Palestine Administration, mainly in the form of its attorney-general Norman Bentwich, voiced its opinions on final drafts of legislation to regulate nationality, also taking into account the international treaties and influences of the Zionist Organization.8 The interpretations and the actions taken by officials in Palestine were not done in a vacuum but the categorisation of inhabitants can be seen in light of the wider concept of citizenship and social and political practices in the British Empire.
19The new citizens of Palestine, like those of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan under mandate, were forced, with the inauguration of nationality laws, to negotiate their new post-Ottoman identities. This necessitated a new understanding of a narrower national and social community and the need for ordinary Arabs and nationalist leaders alike to come to terms with the internationally-sanctioned separation of the Arab provinces in terms of borders, documentary identities and travel regulations. The section demonstrates the ways in which the Palestinian Arab population gradually transitioned toward the idea of civic, territorially-defined citizenship. It analyses how the identities that stemmed from social and cultural norms were reconciled with new citizenships in the post-1918 period, and offers the historical context for the creation of the Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council of 1925.
20After the imposition of the mandate, the Palestinian Arabs negotiated their new mandate citizenship by highlighting the socio-cultural differences between their own, supposed Arab nationality, and the socio-cultural practices of the Jewish immigrants. Local political and nationalist leaders, such as those on the Palestine Arab Executive, envisioned this citizenship as a status that could only be regulated by an Arab-majority government. The notions and characteristics of this status included, for example, that the Palestinian Arabs were united not only by their Arab ethnicity (qawmiyya) but also linguistically through the Arabic language and its rich cultural uses, by the ‘national’ past that the Arabs of Palestine experienced from the pre-Islamic community in the region to the reverence for Saladin and the Arab defeat of the Crusaders, and through the Ottoman treatment of the Arabs of the Levant as a distinct social, political and cultural unit. The fact that Palestine’s population was over ninety-percent Arab at the end of the war, with a flourishing economy in port towns, numerous charitable and civic associations in towns and cities, strong agricultural centers and a growing educated middle-class, also served to prove to the British that the Arab population of Palestine deserved a more accommodating citizenship and that immigrants should not receive the same citizenship by right and without approval of an Arab legislative body.
21During the interwar period, nationality increasingly became a political question rather than a socio-cultural question in contrast to the Arabs’ notions of nationality and citizenship as discussed above. Indeed the Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council weakened the notion of a common Arab nationality. Throughout the 1920s the political and social tensions between an Arab nationality and Palestinian citizenship became increasingly expressed in words and actions as the ever-growing minority of Jewish Palestinian citizens acquired greater or equal rights with the majority Arab population. Ultimately mandate legislation, whether intended or not, disassociated nationality (jinsiyya) from citizenship (muwāttana). In fact the man behind the citizenship order, Bentwich, stated that nationality and citizenship were two different identities, and argued that the former was a matter of race and religion, and the latter marked membership in the modern state (Bentwich, 1939: 230-232).
22Even in the early 1920s, some Arab nationalist leaders understood that the mandate administration would effectively and legally define Palestinian citizenship as different from Arab nationality. These nationalists, often local, populist leaders linked with the Arab Executive Committee or Muslim-Christian Association in Palestine, advocated for rights to political representation and independence with a heavy emphasis on the notion of a primordial Arab nationality. Wattaniyya and qawmiyya, which referred to belonging to a sovereign Palestinian nation and to a broader Arab nation, respectively, were used in newspapers and statements in association with muwāttana and jinsiyya (Davis, 1995). The Arabs’ reactions to different pieces of mandate legislation and debates are archived in Palestine’s numerous periodicals, most of which were read during the interwar era by a middle-class, educated audience. Into the 1920s, these two terms were used interchangeably. On the subject of nationality, newspapers presented a viewpoint more of anger than anything else against the British-controlled administration, for the main reason that the latter did not consult the Arabs before passing legislation.
- 9 “A Unity of Citizenship,” Mir’at al-Sharq, 27 Aug. 1921.
23In 1921, an Arabic newspaper editorial alluded to an understanding of the social and cultural aspects of citizenship, stating that the question of a “unity of citizenship between the countries of the Arabic world is one of paramount importance.” The editor asked if the mandates’ classification of the Arab world under different colonial administrations inherently clashed with such a “unity of citizenship.” In answering “[w]e think not,” he went on to stress that the mandates had “absolutely nothing to do with questions of nationality or citizenship” and should not attempt to deal “with [these] fundamental questions of race, nationality, or citizenship.” The ideology of a common citizenship in the Arab world was presented as a benefit for all Arabs and a necessity for the Palestinians.9 This ideology appeared in opposition to the nationality provisions proposed by the British.
- 10 “Current Government policy,” Mir’at al-Sharq, 8 July 1922.
24Meanwhile, the idea that the Jewish immigrants constituted their own nationality group in Palestine, stemming from the Balfour Declaration’s support for a Jewish national homeland, posed a clear problem to the Arab leadership who viewed nationality along ethnic lines. Three years before the British government ratified the citizenship order-in-council for Palestine, an editorial published in the Jerusalem newspaper Mir’at al-Sharq asked whether the British specifically wanted the Palestinians “to forget the honour of their Arab nationality?”10 This line of questioning appeared concerned with what would become of the former traditions and notions of identity if the administration allowed for large numbers of European Jewish immigrants to enter and take on citizenship in Palestine.
- 11 Colonial Office, London: Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council, 30 January 1925, 733/88/383-398.
25After a few years of inter-departmental wrangling over the provisions of nationality and citizenship and the differences between the two, in 1925 the British government approved the Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council. The administrations in London and Jerusalem agreed to call the mandate inhabitants Palestinian citizens, rather than nationals, and the order that provided for the regulation of citizenship came into force on 1 August. Its first article mirrored Article 30 of the Lausanne Treaty in declaring that all “Turkish subjects,” meaning Ottoman citizens as defined by the Ottoman Nationality Law of 1869 and who could prove their descent from Ottoman fathers, habitually resident in Palestine on 1 August 1924 (the date Lausanne came into force) to automatically become Palestinian citizens. Strangely, this article did not take into consideration those Ottoman subjects who lived abroad on 1 August 1924 but who possessed Ottoman passports and jus sanguinis or jus soli rights to Ottoman nationality. Instead, a difference in wording of Article 2 of the citizenship order from its sister Article 34 in the Treaty of Lausanne (which provided the state succession clause) denied citizenship to those individuals residing abroad.11 Article 34 of Lausanne used the phrase “native of” to reference former Ottomans whereas the order-in-council used “born in Palestine” in reference to these same individuals. This change meant certain descendants of native Palestinians were not to be ipso facto recognised as citizens. The non-Ottoman inhabitants, mainly Jewish immigrants, who wished to be naturalised or had received provisional certificates of nationality dated prior to October 1922 were required to have been resident in Palestine since that date in order to become citizens. Any applicant for naturalization had to give a formal declaration that he would permanently reside in Palestine (ibid).
- 12 “Open Letter to His Excellency Lord Plumer,” Ṣawt al-Sha‘b, 26 Aug. 1925.
26A number of Arab journalists, nationalist local leaders and emigrants closely scrutinized the 1925 order and its amendments in the years that followed. Leaders and writers alluded to the non-fluidity of nationality and citizenship between the two communities, and stressed that immigrants should not acquire citizenship by simply living in Palestine for two years when other Arabs outside of Palestine were not able to naturalize or claim Palestinian citizenship. The Arab nationalists made clear, as noted above, their opposition to the mandate’s citizenship order on the basis that it was not passed by a parliament elected by the inhabitants and that it privileged Jewish immigration by making the acquisition of citizenship relatively easy for immigrants. This point took on added significance in late 1925 and early 1926. Due to small changes made to the citizenship order at the end of 1925, Palestinian Arab emigrants were given only a few months to return to Palestine and live permanently if they wanted to claim the citizenship of their birth territory or parents. One open letter published in August 1925 in Bethlehem’s Ṣawt al-Sha‘b lamented that a number of Jewish immigrants “should never be allowed to become [Palestinian] nationals and citizens.”12 This particular newspaper and others published in and around Bethlehem and Jerusalem set the tone for arguments against the citizenship order since a high percentage of emigrants from Palestine came from the towns and villages in this part of the territory. The editors and contributors to Ṣawt al-Sha‘b for example often had connections with the diaspora, particularly Arabs in the Americas, and newspapers encouraged emigrants and their families to write open letters of their experiences with immigration authorities and attempts to prove their Palestinian citizenship.
27Although emigrants who wished to return to Palestine faced the biggest challenges to their claim to being Palestinian, the wider population heard of the experiences of the emigrants were made public through the press and local leaders in cities and towns that had links with Arabs overseas. Because of this, the historical record on the issue of nationality and citizenship under the mandate narrates that the struggle against the restrictive order-in-council quickly became a national one irrespective of religion and its supporters called on all Arabic-speaking former Ottomans (Jews and Arabs alike) to oppose the order itself as well as the national home bedrock of the mandate charter.
28As Dawn Chatty explains in the Ottoman Levant, government systems supported the large movements of peoples, both voluntary and involuntary, and homelands became not only physical places but spaces that included social communities and social and cultural links among groups (2011: 132). For Arab emigrants, known as muhājirūn, especially those who settled for long or short periods of times in the Americas as many from the Syrian provinces did, homeland was replicated in the émigré communities and in the political imaginings of the newly-transplanted Arab-speakers themselves. In this way, the idea of Arab nationality, alongside Ottoman travel documents, was reinforced in everyday practices in the diaspora (al-mahjar). Using the case study of the Palestinian Arab emigrants the following section briefly shows that in social and political terms, nationality in the time of the mandate hindered rights more so than offered full social and political rights.
- 13 Colonial Office, London: Palestine Royal Commission Report: Nationality Law and Acquisition of Pale (...)
29Most emigrants maintained a substantial connection with the Levant in their travels abroad whether to Egypt or further afield to the Americas. The Arab émigré communities in the United States and Latin America relied on their own and imported newspapers just before and after the war to keep abreast of social, political and economic developments in the Levant. The commentary in these periodicals, according to Akram Khater, was “important in shaping the way the community looked at itself” (2001: 88-89). Emigration numbers increased in the years before 1914 from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire: the Americas then offered lenient immigration regulations and financial opportunities for urban and rural migrants. However, during the mandate era emigration from historic Greater Syria continued to increase. In Palestine alone after the citizenship law came into effect, between 1927 and 1937, the number of Palestinians (or those who claimed to be so by birth) registered as resident abroad rose by ten thousand persons, up to 40,000.13
30The Palestinian emigrants were no different in terms of maintaining connections to the homeland before and certainly after the First World War: the Arab nationalist and anti-Zionist discourse that circulated in the territory was reproduced in the diaspora in periodicals, civil society groups and letters sent to the mandate administration and family members. In 1920, Palestinian emigrants became part of the larger British imperial context by their very connection to mandate territory. However, this inclusion—and the new associations and regulations vis-à-vis British consuls and the Foreign Office—was at odds with their experience in the Ottoman context, and with the experiences of the Arabs who remained in Palestine in terms of their national and international statuses. Within Palestine, after the mandate charter and its promise to facilitate a Jewish national home became known to the Arabs, groups and individuals advocated the abrogation of the mandate and referred to themselves as natives of Palestine (abnā’ Filastīn).
- 14 Although the their activities and writings of the emigrant associations is not the focus here, spar (...)
- 15 “Nationalist societies in the diaspora,” Ṣawt al-Sha‘b, 12 Feb. 1927.
31The discourse within Palestine traveled abroad to the diaspora through Arabic newspapers published by émigré Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians in cities of North, Central and South America, as well as through activities of benevolent associations and clubs or ‘colonies’ of Arabs from clustered in certain locations. These émigré associations, for example the Palestine National Renaissance Society in New York, the San Salvador Palestine Colony and the Palestine Committee in Chile, took their cue from earlier religious or mutual aid societies but developed a marked nationalist outlook.14 Once the alarming news of the terms of the war settlement and the perceived threat of the Jewish national home policy reached these communities, their social and welfare organisations became increasingly political in nature. For instance, Palestinians in El Salto, Mexico publicised elections for their local society by stating that the society was committed to continue the defence of Palestinian rights from abroad.15
- 16 Documentary examples include for instance, Colonial Office, Foreign Office and Palestine Administra (...)
32By the mid-1920s the emigrants’ demand for political rights took on a new angle: that of gaining the Palestinian citizenship they had been denied by the 1925 law. At this time the emigrants’ difficulties with regard to travel and identification became clear to their families in Palestine. Individuals who wished to return to Palestine or to travel outside their host country needed a passport or laissez-passer as verification of their identity. After 1918, their Ottoman passports were invalidated internationally. In order to receive temporary travel documents, they needed to prove that they were born in Palestine and had been Ottoman nationals but many individuals were unable to produce such documentation, or had lived abroad too many years to be considered Ottomans, let alone mandate nationals, in the eyes of the British.16 Although Palestinian emigrants and travellers voiced their grievances to the mandate authorities and to newspapers they received little assistance.
33The problems the emigrants faced in terms of both consular protection and re-entry to Palestine remained unsolved by the end of the 1920s. At the end of 1925, the administration shortened the time period initially given in the citizenship order for Palestinian Arab emigrants to opt to take Palestinian citizenship from two to one year. Furthermore, because these nationals were required to return to Palestine and reside there for six months before they could apply, and had to remain in Palestine as permanent residents, they had less than a year to put their affairs in order and return from abroad (Banko, 2012). Nationality, then, meant very little in terms of rights for those Palestinians who self-identified as Palestinian nationals after 1918: their political and social rights in the mandate was made contingent upon their promise to resident permanently there regardless of whether any wished to move temporarily abroad for work or study.
- 17 Israel State Archives: Foreign Office circular, The acquisition of Palestinian citizenship, 21 Dec. (...)
- 18 Colonial Office, London: Memo, Colonial Office to HM Consul, San Salvador, 28 Oct. 1927, 733/142/12 (...)
34The on-the-ground effects of the Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council of 1925 deserve further explanation as to how the new legal statuses and new notions of ‘the national’ and ‘the citizen’ under the mandate developed across mandate and imperial borders after 1925. Ottoman nationals born in Palestine but absent from that territory between 1924 and 1925 had until a 1926 deadline to return and take their option to receive citizenship: after that, the administration stated that any such applicant for citizenship who presented himself to the mandate immigration authorities “should not be treated as a Palestinian citizen.”17 The British Foreign Office continued to uphold their earlier, empire-wide argument against granting citizenship automatically to emigrants in case such individuals would use the British protection that came with their status and its accompanying imperial protection to press claims against other governments.18 In terms of social and political rights then, nationality became a status that, for those who obtained it, translated into British consular protection, possession of passports issued by both the Palestine Administration and British government, the rights to own a business, welfare access, to hold political office and to the franchise within Palestine. For merchants and students who resided outside of Palestine, unable to obtain citizenship, these rights were not only taken away but the individuals in question became stateless and without any consular, imperial or national protection of life, businesses or properties.
- 19 Colonial Office, London: Travel facilities for Palestinians in Hayti, 16 Apr. 1925, 733/103/353-356
- 20 As already noted, most evidence on the emigrants comes from colonial archives and Arabic newspapers (...)
35The case of Palestinian Arab workers in Haiti serves to briefly illustrate these impacts. Palestinian textile merchants resident in Port-au-Prince attempted to regulate their position as Palestinian citizens in the months before the passage of the citizenship order, but the Foreign Office failed to apply a uniform policy for their travel facilities, including visas and passports. The merchants requested certificates to enable them to travel as Palestinians to Great Britain and the United States for business purposes, but the Foreign Office initially warned them that except for their certificates for travel, no further protection could be given by the British until the merchants could prove their Palestinian citizenship. A letter from a Palestine in Port-au-Prince brought attention to the feeling of victimisation of Palestinians who worked abroad and had no passport or citizenship. Its writer felt the Jewish national home policy was “an attempt . . . to force [Palestinians] to surrender their Palestinian citizenship” and noted that provisional certificates of nationality posed problems to secure consular offices. He suggested Great Britain and the Palestine government modify the provisions for habitual residents abroad to allow them to carry provisional certificates of travel in order to obtain supplies for their businesses in places like Haiti.19 Individuals could not claim British consular protection for their properties or their lives in such times of revolt if they could not show proof that they were Palestinian citizens.20
- 21 Colonial Office, London: Citizenship (Amendment) Order 1931, Home Office, 23 July 1931, 733/203/13/ (...)
36In July 1931 the British government ratified an amended citizenship order. The amendment had a very limited effect: it was aimed at Palestinians resident abroad between 1924 and 1925 only, and provided them with ‘treaty nationality’ automatically. The British government also debated whether most emigrants kept a ‘substantial’ connection with their homeland in order to be justified in becoming citizens.21 The social practices of Palestinians in the diaspora, including Palestinian nationalists, had no bearing on mandate legislation nor were such national, social and political links considered substantial enough connections.
- 22 “The Emigrants and nationality,” Ṣawt al-Sha‘b, 15 May 1926.
- 23 “Is this the mandate or slavery?,” Al-Jam‘iyya al-‘Arabiyya, 18 Mar. 1927.
- 24 “Continued injustice for the Arab emigrants,” Ṣawt al-Sha`b, 12 Mar. 1927.
37On the question of nationality, citizenship and belonging in the historical record in Mandate Palestine, certain slogans and arguments aimed at the British administration in Jerusalem crossed borders that separated mandate territory from the rest of the Levant and from the Americas, where the majority of emigrants resided. Firstly, arguments against the restrictive citizenship order continued to depict nationality as a social and political right connected to birth in Palestine and Arab ethnicity—and this obviously conflicted with Great Britain’s imposition of Palestinian citizenship. Articles questioned whether orders had been uniformly distributed to all British consuls and whether the orders were intended to deprive emigrants from “the right to return (ḥaqq al-‘awda) to their country and enjoy [British] political and consular protection.”22 Emigrants and their supporters depicted mandate citizenship legislation unjust, as one Arab nationalist observed in a Jerusalem newspaper. The nationalist author ended his article with the appeal to allow the emigrants to return to their homeland with good faith.23 The case of the emigrants, stated a letter written by an emigrant, proved British policy would never grant justice to the Arabs in Palestine or in the wider colonial world.24
- 25 “Nationalist societies in the diaspora,” Ṣawt al-Sha`b, 12 Feb. 1927.
38Meanwhile, in light of increased nationalist activity through the end of the 1920s Bethlehem’s newspapers printed stories that detailed the success of communities in the diaspora to form their own nationalist associations. This demonstrated “their readiness to raise [up] their nation, serve its interests and work toward its independence.” For example, Palestinian clubs in San Salvador and Monterrey sent money to help the poor and needy of Bethlehem. In another example, Palestinians in El Salto, Mexico, held elections for its Palestinian society which was well known for its defence of Palestinian rights and the petitions and telegrams it sent to European governments and the League of Nations against the Jewish national home policy.25
39The borders created in the Levant to represent new nationalities and citizenships in the interwar period led to questions of self-identification long after the citizenship laws came into being under each mandate administration. In one important way the Palestinian Arab population identified as Arab nationals based on their Ottoman heritage—they thus linked themselves as a national community to what they perceived as the same national community in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan. The mandate borders did very little to dissuade this conflation of Arab nationality and citizenship. It was the interwar period when nationality and citizenship definitions and manifestations changed not only in the Middle East but also internationally as the nation-state and self-determination shaped the political and social contexts of identity in former imperial and colonial territories. The article demonstrated that mandate Palestine became a site of competing nationalist, imperial and international claims, all of which contributed to the ways by which British colonial and legal administrators developed nationality and citizenship.
40In Palestine the parameters of nationality and citizenship had to be constructed differently from the parameters of the same statuses in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan. The Palestine Administration and the British government acted in nearly all cases related to citizenship, nationality and passports between 1918 and the year that saw the final amendments to citizenship legislation, 1941, in favour of the Jewish immigrants and the wider mandate policy meant to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in that territory. British officials did so despite the Palestinian Arab leaders’ stress on the connections between the diaspora and the citizens in the homeland. The nationalists, both emigrants abroad and resident citizens and local politicians and middle-class intellectuals in Palestine, gained a voice by the late 1920s to demand their right of citizenship. With the strongest convictions, they believed that their Palestinian Arab nationality, perceived to be granted by birth and descent, entitled them to mandate citizenship. In this way, the emigrants’ practices shaped a meaning for Palestinian citizenship as a status that was arguably meant to be granted unconditionally on the basis of jus sanguinis or jus soli descent.
- 26 Palestine Royal Commission Report, 1937, Cmd. 5479 (London: HM Stationary Office, 1937).
41After the 1937 Peel Commission Report recommended the division of Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state the administration again amended the citizenship order. The Peel Commission heard testimony on the situation of the emigrants, and the lack of citizenship for those emigrants who claimed Ottoman nationality and birth in Palestine. It urged changes to citizenship codes under the mandate. The Colonial and Foreign Offices, alongside Palestine’s High Commissioner and its government, made some of those changes.26 By that time however, increased Jewish immigration from Germany and Eastern Europe, owing to Hitler’s policies in the former country, meant that the mandate government continued to favour immigrants in terms of allowing for citizenship to be rapidly conferred.
- 27 Colonial Office, London: Palestine Citizenship Order-in-Council, 1939, 733/397/13.
42For the Arabs, the changes to the citizenship order, coming officially in 1939, were not entirely unfavourable: Great Britain continued to favoured those emigrants (in this case, with Ottoman nationality documents) who maintained an unbroken personal connection with Palestine despite their residence abroad. Those who could prove this were granted citizenship and the right to return to their homeland.27
43Less than a decade after this, the United Nations vote for partition of the mandate into a Jewish and an Arab state, meant that the citizenship put in place under the mandate lost much of its raison d’être. Still, Palestine passports and visas functioned as valid documents of identity and legitimate belonging to a territorial entity until the creation of Israel in May 1948. However, since then Palestinian citizenship has ceased to exist and the idea of a wider Arab nationality has since been submissive to nation-state citizenship.
44On the whole, during the nearly three decades of mandate administration, the Arabs chose to negotiate citizenship vis-à-vis their former Ottoman nationality despite Palestine’s interwar positioning within the British imperial system. The view of nationality through such a prism—that of the nineteenth-century Ottoman and Arab nationalist past—justified the initial reactions to mandate nationality and citizenship. Indeed, these statuses could only have been seen as marvels or innovations which clashed with Tanzimat-era thinking and the lack of borders within the Levant prior to 1918.