A Brief Look at the Status of the Palestinian Population in Jordan

By Miri

When trying to undermine the Palestinians' right to self determination, right wingers usually come up with two arguments, first “the Palestinian people as such don't exist”, and/or second, “the Palestinians already have a country, it's called Jordan”. The second argument is usually based on the notion that Jordan's eastern part constitutes part of the historic land of Palestine, as well as on the fact that more than half of the population of Jordan is of Palestinian origin.

Map of Palestinian refugee camps
Especially the latter argument can easily be dismantled by looking at history and at the fact that Jordan's demographic condition mainly resulted from the expulsion of the Palestinian population from their lands, as well as from Jordan absorbing the most substantial part of those Palestinian refugees that Israeli expansionism had created.
 Today there are approximately 1,9 million refugees in Jordan, with more than 337,000 of them living in the 10 official refugee camps. 

The forced migration of Palestinians to Jordan is usually divided into two main waves, with the first one following Israel's War of Independence in 1948, and the second one with the war of 1967, when Israel took control over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights. Following the war of 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank, and granted all Palestinians residing in that area Jordanian citizenship. Since 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) registered a total number of 1,698,271 refugees who eventually sought Jordanian citizenship. 

During the 1967 war, a second wave of refugees was created, the majority of which sought shelter in the neighbouring countries of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. As opposed to those Palestinians who fled from the West Bank to the East Bank and who were already considered Jordanian citizens, the refugees coming from Gaza and who had been living under Egyptian authority, were only granted temporary passports by the Jordanian government, a condition that, with a few exceptions, continues until today. 

View at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, 1948
Following 1967, Jordan and especially its refugee camps, came to be more and more associated with a growing Palestinian resistance movement and therefore turned into a frequent target for attacks by Israeli brigades. The resistance movement in turn attracted a great number of followers from within the Jordanian population who opposed the Hashemite regime and therefore was increasingly perceived as a threat to King Hussein's authority. 
In order to give a halt to this threat, as well as to the harsh reprisals by the Israeli army following the guerrilla attacks, the king in 1970 declared martial law and formed a military government to enforce it. The subsequent armed conflict between militant Palestinian organisations and the monarchy, also referred to as the Black September, resulted in thousands of casualties and only ended in 1971 with the expulsion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and thousands of Palestinian fighters to Lebanon. 

Following the Arab League's decision in 1974 to recognise the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, King Hussein was forced to relinquish his claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinians during peace negotiations and to acknowledge a Palestinian state independent of Jordan. Finally in 1988, the king severed Jordan's legal and administrative ties to the West Bank and gave up his claims to sovereignty. 
In a speech to the nation, King Hussein, based this decision on his determination to help the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state. This stated goal however also led to the withdrawal of Jordanian nationality from all Palestinians who resided in the West Bank at the time. 
Following Human Rights Watch, a policy of arbitrary withdrawal of Jordanian nationality from citizens of Palestinian origin, couched by the authority “as a means to counter any future Israeli plans to transfer the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Jordan“, continues up until today. More than 2,700 Jordanians of Palestinian origin were stripped of their nationality between 2004 and 2008 and are thereby denied basic citizenship rights such as access to education and health care. 

Palestinian kids in a camp in Amman
Throughout its history, the Jordanian government has been oscillating between an emphasis on Jordanian-Palestinian unity and a privileging of local Transjordanian identity, depending on the respective political context. Generally, the Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin suffer from what is considered to be a deeply embedded discrimination: “Their career options are limited to the private sector, they run the economy, but have no access to the decision making circles and state institutions”, states one UNRWA employee. The 13 percent dwelling in the refugee camps suffer furthermore under poor living conditions, more physical and mental health problems, higher unemployment levels, and lower income. 

It is debatable whether it is due to their social and economic marginalisation, or because of a political and national sentiment that a majority of the Palestinian population living in Jordan until today do not cease to have a sense of belonging to Palestine.

Green Olive Tours can organize trips to explore the status of Palestinians in Jordan. Contact the Tours Coordinator for Details. The Amman Day Tour visits a refugee camp. 


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