(Amman) - Jordan should stop withdrawing nationality arbitrarily from Jordanians of Palestinian origin, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Authorities stripped more than 2,700 of these Jordanians of their nationality between 2004 and 2008, and the practice continued in 2009, Human Rights Watch said.
The 60-page report, "Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality", details the arbitrary manner, with no clear basis in law, in which Jordan deprives its citizens who were originally from the West Bank of their nationality, thereby denying them basic citizenship rights such as access to education and health care.
"Jordan is playing politics with the basic rights of thousands of its citizens," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Officials are denying entire families the ability to lead normal lives with the sense of security that most citizens of a country take for granted."
Jordanian officials have defended the practice, as a means to counter any future Israeli plans to transfer the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Jordan.
Jordan captured the West Bank in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, and in 1950 extended sovereignty there, granting all residents Jordanian nationality. In 1988, however, King Hussein severed Jordan's legal and administrative ties to the West Bank, relinquishing claims to sovereignty there and withdrawing Jordanian nationality from all Palestinians who resided in the West Bank at the time.
Other Jordanians of West Bank origin, but who were not living in the West Bank at the time, were not affected and kept their Jordanian nationality. Over the last decade and more, though, Jordan has arbitrarily withdrawn its nationality from thousands of these citizens of West Bank origin. Those at particular risk include the quarter of a million Jordanians of Palestinian origin who Kuwait expelled in 1991 and returned to Jordan.
Jordanian officials have withdrawn their nationality ostensibly for failing to possess a valid Israeli-issued residency permit for the West Bank. But this condition for citizenship has no clear basis in Jordanian law. Such permits are notoriously difficult - if not impossible - to obtain given Israel's restrictive policies on granting West Bank residency rights to Palestinians.
Jordanians affected by this policy have learned they had been stripped of their nationality not from any official notice, but during routine procedures such as renewing a passport or driver's license, or registering a marriage or the birth of a child at the Civil Status Department. Withdrawal of nationality appears to be as random as it is arbitrary. In four of the cases Human Rights Watch reviewed, one person's nationality was withdrawn involuntarily, while that of a sibling in identical circumstances was not.
Human Rights Watch found that the Interior Ministry provided no clear procedure to appeal these decisions, and that most of those interviewed feared that recourse to the courts would finalize their loss of nationality.
"High-handed officials are withdrawing nationality in a wholly arbitrary manner," Whitson said. "One day you're Jordanian, and the next you've been stripped of your rights as a citizen in your own country."
Without nationality, individuals and families find it difficult to exercise their citizenship rights, including obtaining health care; finding work; owning property; traveling; and sending their children to public schools and universities. With no other country to turn to, these Jordanians have become stateless Palestinians, in many cases for a second time after 1948.
"I was born in 1951 in Nablus, and came to the East Bank of Jordan with my mother in 1968, after my father had died. Both my father and I had Jordanian passports. I obtained mine in 1969, when I finished school in Zarqa. That year, I went to Basra in Iraq to attend engineering college, graduating in 1974. In 1974 I went to Kuwait for work.
"In 1969, my mother went back to Nablus in the West Bank and applied to the Israelis for a family unification permit granting residency for me, and received it. Once a year, therefore, I went to the West Bank. In August 1984 I went to the West Bank for the last time. In August 1984 the Israelis changed the rules. Before, you had to renew the permit every year in person.
"Now, you could be absent for at most six years to retain a valid family unification permit [granting legal residency] before it would be canceled. You had to renew it once a year, but this could be done remotely. However, once every six years at least, you had to be physically present in the West Bank. By that calculation, August 1990 was the latest that I had to be present in the West bank to retain validity of my Israeli family unification permit.
"Between 1974 and 1984, the Jordanian embassy in Kuwait routinely renewed my passport. Therefore, I applied for leave from work on August 2, 1990, but Saddam [Hussein, Iraq's president] invaded Kuwait that same day and I couldn't leave. In January 1991 I left for Jordan.
"In late April 2007 I went with two of my children, born in 1990 and 1991, to get their identity documents, which are required in Jordan for those over 16 years of age. The older ones, born in 1983 and 1986 already had theirs. The official told me that I had a yellow [bridge crossing] card from my 1984 visit to the West Bank and that I should go to the Follow-up and Inspection Department. There, I was told that in order not to lose my Jordanian nationality, I had to renew my Israeli permit.
"In 1991 I had sent my permit [tasrih] to the Israelis in the West Bank to have it renewed, but the Israelis rejected this. I have tried through lawyers to get it renewed since 2007. Right now, we are all stateless."
"In 1980 I graduated high school and moved from the West Bank to Kuwait. I had an Israeli-issued residency permit [tasrih] that I renewed every year. The last time I renewed it, its validity expired in 1986.
"Two weeks before its expiration, I traveled from Kuwait to Amman and from there to the West Bank. At the crossing bridge, I gave the Israeli soldier my permit, and copies of the previous renewals. A while later, she came back and said, "You did not renew your permit." She had lost the last renewal form. She returned the other ones to me, and sent me back to the East Bank. At the Jordanian crossing, I received a yellow card, for the first time.
"I went back to Kuwait, and in 1990, with the Iraqi invasion, I came back to Jordan. In 2005 my wife renewed her passport, and was sent to the Follow-up and Inspection Department, which sent her to the Ministry of Interior's Legal Department. There, they told her that she had to add our six children to my Israeli permit and that we had to renew it. This is despite her being fully Jordanian. They made me sign an undertaking that I would renew my Israeli permit within six months or pay a fine of 500 dinars. Whether I pay or don't pay, that changes nothing. It is simply fraud. I did not pay.
"In 2007 I received a call from an official at the stock market. He told me I had to go to the Civil Status and Passports Department in the Ministry of Interior and renew my Israeli permit. A parliamentarian went on my behalf, and confirmed that our nationality had been withdrawn from all of us, with the exception of my wife.
"At that point I engaged an Israeli lawyer and paid him US$3,000 to retrieve the identity card and permit stored in Beit Il [the settlement in the West Bank that is the seat of the occupation administration]. He did not manage [to] and asked [for] more money. In the end, I have paid $12,000 with no result.
"I have a Jordanian ID, which expires in 2017. I have a passport that expires at the end of June 2009. After that I will be de facto stateless."
Abbas said he quit his job at a bank just before his passport with his national number expired, explaining that he "can access a better severance package and other benefits," by resigning, while he is still a Jordanian. "I do not want them to find out I lost my national number when my passport expires," he told us.
Abbas provided more details about the differences between Jordanians, foreigners, and stateless persons regarding retirement benefits: If you are Jordanian, and have worked 18 years and are over 45 years of age, you can claim social security benefits. If you are a foreigner, you can take the amount you paid in with you when you leave Jordan. But as a stateless person without a foreign passport and without a Jordanian national number, I can do neither.
"My father's been here [in Jordan] forever and we were born here. We never even had a yellow card. Then, last year, suddenly, he was informed when we returned on a flight from the United States that his national number had been withdrawn. We, his children, are adults, but our numbers were also withdrawn nonetheless."
"I am a lawyer, and without [Jordanian nationality] I couldn't practice. To practice, you need to be a member of the lawyers' professional association, and for that you need to be Jordanian."
She said that, although she is a lawyer, her family only considered using connections to restore their nationality: "It was shocking to lose the nationality, but my father is well-connected in the palace," she said. "It took two weeks to return the national number to me through connections."