Review by Ramona Wadi.
Denationalisation is the fundamental problem of Palestinians. The systematic annihilation of fundamental freedoms for Palestinians has resulted in an ongoing process of changes in demography, geography and social structure. “Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction” (Pluto Press, 2013) delves into the historical processes of population repression, demonstrating how the concept of denationalisation is proving instrumental for Israel to persist in a gradual extermination and expulsion of Palestinians from their land.
The book describes how, as early as 1914, Chaim Weizmann, later president of the World Zionist Congress, attempted to distort Palestinian history by stating, “There is a country which happens to be called Palestine, a country without a people, and, on the other hand, there exists the Jewish people, and it has no country. What else is necessary, then, than to fit the gem into the ring, to unite this people with this country?” Weizmann’s discourse negated the existence of Palestinians, although this did not deter Zionists from conducting a census in order to perfect methods of denationalisation.
– Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction
– Authors: Nadia Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay
– Publisher: Pluto Press
– Paperback: 232 pages
– Language: English
The provision of identity cards and documentation has been a source of controversy worldwide, within the global context of “security”. Security has become the source of serious breaches of fundamental human rights. Surveillance and the withdrawal of documentation representing identity has enhanced oppressive governments and elitist exploiters, as can be seen in the case of migrant workers who are rendered stateless without access to their passports. Israel, however, has developed a process which renders identification a source of terror instead of a reciprocal relationship between the state and civilians.
Whilst international law declared denationalisation illegal after the Nazi’s persecution of Jews, the international community has been weak in the wake of ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionists in Palestine. The book elaborates on how the census of 1948 was designed to expel Palestinians permanently from their land and instil preventive measures against the right and will to return. Many Palestinians who dared to defy the occupiers were shot when they tried to return, or were imprisoned. Zionists have blatantly ignored the “Right to Return” as stipulated by the UN in 1948. The resolution was declared non-binding by Zionists due to the use of “should” instead of “shall”, in the phrasing of Article 11 in Resolution 194. The census omitted 90,000 Palestinians, labelled by Zionists as “absent”, having forfeited “their status, land and possessions”.
In the context of Palestinians, identity cards have been likened to “a license to live”, distorting security and enhancing the state terror practices of the occupier. Over 101 types of permits have been issued to curb Palestinian movement. Such restrictions have widened the gap between Jews and Palestinians, putting to practice an apartheid system in which Jewish teenagers are recruited by Israeli soldiers to train as border guards. The exercise, which involves “hunting Palestinians” who lack work permits, is relished by these teenagers. The book quotes a Jewish high school recruit: “I consider it a form of pleasure. It simply provides me with values, and I love the action.”
On the basis of denationalisation, Israelis conducted a meticulous process to strip Palestinians of any form of security. Permits and IDs could be revoked at random, whilst colonisers were granted citizenship. Infants born to Palestinians were listed as having “indefinite citizenship” in the population registry for non-Jewish people, effectively rendering them stateless and justifying the concept of citizenship as serving the “nation” instead of individual citizens.
Zionist discourse was far removed from actual practice and in fact for a while continued to appease the international community with adequate rhetoric about adhering to international law whilst embarking on further plans to diminish the Palestinian population, creating blacklists which later expanded to include entire communities instead of targeting individuals. Males aged 10 – 50 years were sent to prison camps, thus enforcing family separation. Massacres were carried out in Palestinian villages; another form of eliminating resistance to the occupation.
The book also expounds upon the methods through which Palestinians were used in the process of coercion and collaboration. With basic rights denied and bestowed at will, temporary residence permits became a bargaining tool exuding a certain degree of power. Acquiring an ID card meant that Palestinians were surrendering all of their rights to the Israeli authorities. Abu Zahra and Kay supplement the humiliation of obtaining identification with stories from Palestinians, who were subjected to various forms of abuse by authorities and soldiers at checkpoints. The humiliation extended to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where control and exception were routine practices. Israelis also recruited Palestinians to police fellow Palestinians, upon promises of money, cards and residence permits. This scheme rendered Palestinians active participants in their own oppression, as Palestinian informers recruited by Israeli soldiers played upon feuds between villages and indulged in the torture of other Palestinians.
The authors portray clearly the unsustainable reality in the chapter dealing with movement restriction and induced transfer. Describing Palestinians as living in crowded “open air prisons”, the authors demonstrate how demography changes due to expulsion and forced removal. Palestinians were forced to relocate to other Palestinian villages after their villages were bombed, as in the case of Kafr Bir’im which was later occupied by Israelis. Israeli discourse regarding the annihilation of Palestinians was never mild. The initial declaration by Weizmann in 1914 was echoed in stronger terms by Ben Gurion in 1947, who said that transfer should be induced by “starving them to death”. In 1974, an Israeli official responsible for agriculture described Palestinians as “a cancer in our bodies” and spoke of “eradicating the plague”.
Apartheid was put into practice upon the simplistic equation with catastrophic consequences for Palestinians: freedom of movement for the colonists versus restriction of movement for Palestinians. Besides apartheid roads, the construction of the Wall endangered the lives of Palestinians as their access to health and education services were almost obliterated. Clinics were displaced and treatment became scarce as blockades or soldiers at checkpoints deliberately prohibited deliveries from reaching Palestinians incarcerated behind the Wall. Besides the interruption of medication for seriously ill people, soldiers have also opened fire on ambulances and prevented women in labour from getting medical attention in hospitals. Patients with severe kidney failure have also been turned away, on the grounds that “they don’t look sick”.
Education has been hampered by soldiers opening fire in schools, conducting military exercises in the grounds, refusing entry to teachers and eliminating any type of learning outside the school environment.
Providing a thorough analysis of the Israeli occupation’s extermination of freedom, the book concludes significantly with hope as a variant of resistance against assimilation. It is not a vague concept; rather a culture of survival and resistance against the occupation which seems to be gaining momentum within the international community. Denationalisation has failed to de-motivate Palestinians, who perceive their everyday reality as a basis for an ongoing struggle. Outlining how the process of denationalisation became a collective struggle, Unfree in Palestine dissects the politics of control to assert the need for a restoration of rights and autonomy.