Palestinian Taxi Drivers

After “Where do you want to go?” the second question asked to anyone travelling by taxi in Amman, Jordan will be “Where are you from?” No matter what you may amswer in response, the reaction will often be a proud “I’m from Palestine!” This can lead to a wide variety of conclusions – perhaps Jordan has a preference for Palestinian taxi drivers? – yet for a traveller with a European sense of the Middle East, meeting so many Palestinian taxi drivers can cause confusion. Often the view is that Palestinian refugees can be found either in the Westbank, Gaza or refugee camps in neighbouring countries, but not driving your Jordanian taxi, enjoying an additional Middle Eastern citizenship simultaneously with an emotional national connection to Palestine.

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View from the window on my way to Petra, Jordan.

In December 1949 the Jordanian Council of Ministries amended the Citizenship Law so that all Palestinian refugees under Jordanian control became full Jordanian citizens. Not only Palestinians seeking refuge in Jordan were under Jordanian control. Also those present in the areas of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria received Jordanian citizenship, for these areas had been annexed by the Jordanian King Abdullah at the conclusion of hostilities in 1948.

More than 60 years later and there are multiple categories of Palestinian in Jordan. The first split was made in the 1980s when Jordan feared Israel was increasingly chasing Palestinians from the West Bank towards Jordan and replacing them with Jewish settlers. As a consequence the Jordanian government began to differentiate between those who mostly lived in Jordan but had material/ family connections in the West Bank, issuing them yellow identity cards, and those who mostly lived in the West Bank, giving them green identity cards. Refugees from 1967 from Gaza were given blue cards but never citizenship rights entailing that they have severely marginalized positions in Jordanian society and are mainly living in refugee camps in the Yerash area.

Jordan disengaged from Palestine on the 31st of July 1988, sending a message to the US and Israel that Jordan supports Palestine’s claim for self-determination (although this was also during the first intifada and there was a fear that violence could spill over into Jordan). During disengagement the identity cards became the device with which to determine citizenship status post-disengagement. Green meant the holder remained a Palestinian citizen and yellow the holder officially became Jordanian. As clear-cut as it sounds green card holders went from having a form of citizenship in the evening and were completely stateless the next morning. Currently, since 2009 Jordan has commenced a process of revoking Jordanian citizenship from Palestinians.

Liminality is not the exception, yet sadly the historical trend. With the suspended peace process – the recent Israeli elections in January 2013 were focused so much on socio-economic issues that the usual left-right divide caused by stances towards Arab coexistence transformed into social versus liberal socio-economic policy – and Obama has been very, very quiet since his visit to both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority last winter. The boiling soup (caused mainly by governments facing their citizens in Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon) currently surrounding the Palestinian issue cannot be helping the matter much. When the conflict in Syria began an estimated 500.000 Palestinians were settled in Syria. Since the beginning of 2012 Jordan has been accepting an increasing stream of Syrian refugees into its nation however keeping Syrian Palestinians at bay on the border.

Once again, this ‘side’ issue stumbled on whilst talking to taxi drivers in Amman, illustrates how the longer the Middle East conflict is unresolved, the more complicated it will be to find a solution between the residues of battles and solutions past.

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