Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Political Identity and Entity Slips of the Palestinians

Political Identity of Palestinians
An Israeli female soldier checks the ID of a Palestinian man at the Kalandia checkpoint at the entrance to the West Bank city of Ramallah 17 February 2005. Dozens of police reinforcements have been deployed around Jerusalem’s disputed mosque compound for fear of an attack by Jewish extremists trying to sabotage the Gaza pullout plan, Israeli public radio said today. GALI TIBBON / AFP

Majed Kayali

The national identity of the Palestinians rose in challenging and coercive circumstances, surrounded by restrictions and distortions. This identity neither emerged naturally, nor matured or developed amid healthy subjective conditions.

It is known that the Palestinians, until recently, considered themselves part of the Levant community under society/family ties, interests and daily mutual relations, and also under neighbourly ties. But generally, they considered themselves part of a broader Islamic league. And with the rise of nationalistic orientations, they considered themselves part of the broader Pan-Arabism. However, in all these cases, at the time, political identity or entity did not concern most Palestinians, nor their political and cultural elites.

The 1948 Nakba and its repercussions were the founding events of the Palestinians national identity, in contrast to its intentions aimed at absenting them. Those events that shook the Palestinians’ circumstances, individually and collectively, created a kind of collective memory, a particular narrative and imaginary perceptions, despite all the demographic, geographical and political fragmentation that befell them.

We have witnessed that Palestinian nationalism, in its symbolic/identity, or political/entity sense, was not at the proper degree of maturity in that difficult historical stage that would enable it to appropriately withstand the Zionist project manifestations before 1948 or impose itself in the Arab political equations after 1948, as evidenced by the disappearance of the “All-Palestine Government”, a few months after its declaration, and the Palestinians’ inability to administer the lands that remained in their possession, as Jordan annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was subjected to the Egyptian administration.

After the Nakba, identity and entity no longer had any expressions in the social and political life of the Palestinians. The 1948 Palestinians, for example, were subjected to “Israelization” attempts, forcing them to circumvent the emerging reality by carrying the Israeli identity as a condition for staying in their land, repressing the emerging Palestinian identity tendencies. The Palestinians of the West Bank and East Jordan (the majority) have become citizens of the Kingdom of Jordan, with all the entitlements that follow.

Accordingly, the Palestinian refugees, in the countries of asylum and diaspora, have summed up the issue of refugees and have become the expression of the whole, that is, the Palestinian people, even though they were not allowed to express their identity, legally and juristically, or in a representative/institutional manner in those countries, as they were not allowed to express their cause politically.

But the reaction to the Nakba was the opposite, as we mentioned, since Israel failed in erasing the identity of the Palestinians who subsequently became Israeli citizens. Firstly, it discriminated against them, and that in return ushered the path towards “Palestinization” in response to this policy. Secondly, because adherence to identity was one of the elements of their resistance against the Zionist project, especially since the Palestinians, who have become a minority in Israel, are a majority in its surroundings due to their affiliation with the Arab and Islamic Leagues.

We witnessed the escalation of this path after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and following the founding of the Palestinian national movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. We also witnessed how powerful it became during the first and second Intifada, but without separating from the Israeli identity and entity. That is considered one of the most important problems of identity and politics for the Palestinians, one of the most significant shortcomings of their national movement.

In asylum and diaspora areas, where Arab societies have not yet achieved their societal and national integration, and where political regimes based on the state of citizens have yet not been established, Palestinians have suffered, albeit in varying degrees, from discrimination and attempts to restrict or control their identity, national and political developments. The irony is that discrimination against the Palestinians was carried out in the name of preserving their cause, as if maintaining this cause requires perpetuating their suffering and isolation rather than alleviating it. Thus, the refugees’ identity was fabricated, which is a grey identity, as they say!

Hence, the Palestinians waited for nearly two decades after the Nakba to catch their breath and recover from the shock and state of suffering, loss and fragmentation that has befallen them, to search for their path amid Arab political fluctuations, imbalances and discrepancies.

Therefore, it can be said that the Palestinians’ nationalism and political entity was established in a very challenging, complicated and ambiguous manner in the mid-’60s. It was not born due to social, political and cultural development in the fragmented Palestinian societies, which are subject to various limitations, restrictions and guardianships.

Instead, it was born as a result of external factors. And also, due to the birth of the national political movements, especially the Fatah Movement, which can be considered the banner carrier of Palestinian nationalism and entity. However, Fatah found itself on the opposite path after signing the Oslo Accords and establishing the authority in the occupied territories in 1967 by redirecting the Palestinian action from the 1948 file (the Nakba) to the 1967 file (the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza), which marginalised the PLO and led to the disintegration of The Palestinian national identity, by founding an entity for a fragment of a people in a part of the land with a slice of the rights, and with the different narrative foundation for the Palestinian national identity on which Fatah was based.


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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