I had recently the chance to meet someone from Arab 48 (Arab Israel) and had an interesting conversation about both mine and his national identity. For him, he clearly identifies himself to be a Palestinian although he had been born under the Israeli state, lived, studied, grew over there and has always been carrying the Israeli passport. For me, I identify my self to be a Jordanian even though that I am aware of my Palestinian heritage and the whole story of my grandparents seeking refuge in Jordan in 1948.
My self Jordanian identification didn’t please my Palestinian friend. In reality, we both belong to the descendents of the Palestinian people who had to deal with the disaster of 1948 and the creation of the Israeli state. My grandparents seek refuge in Jordan, while his didn’t leave their homes and endured the continuous discrimination against them living in a Jewish racist state that treats its Arab citizens as a second class.
The Palestinians issue is so complicated, the same people who were living under the same area that we define today as Palestine in the Arabic notion have been divided into several sects, and after 3 generations of the disaster, the scattered nation descendents are building different national identities that are based on their current special individual situation. The main biggest 3 groups are the ones living in Jordan, the ones living in Israel and the ones living in the West Bank and Gaza.
The issue of national identity is a real dilemma in the Middle East for most of today countries are recent construct of the British and French colonization at the beginning of last century. It has been less than 100 year when the colonial powers divided the Othmanian empire and drew the lines of the recent states that forms the Middle Eastern countries. For the area of Jordan and Israel/Palestine the dilemma is even more severe because there is not only an entire nation that has been divided into 3 areas, but also an entire race of Israelis who came from all over the world and settled down in Palestine taking control over its own people.
In Jordan, this has been a real issue for ages, the identity of origins have been standing on the way of building a national identity for the country which essential in merging people together and helping in advancing this country in all ways. That is why King Abdulla II had this brilliant idea a couple of years ago and a came up with the motto of ‘Jordan First’, because you can’t have this division of loyalty and mutual discrimination while trying to build for the future of this country. For me, I have always hated the family name question and the expression of relief/dis-relief on people’s faces when they conclude my origin through my family name. Palestine has always been in my heart because it was the place where my grandparents were born and lived, but it has never been my country and never would be. I have a total loyalty for Jordan and a 100% national identity for this country, and as a Jordanian citizen, I do back up every movement that helps to demolish any kind of discrimination between the citizens of this country.
While my stand would be applauded from a Jordanian point of view, I do understand my Palestinian friend disappointment, for him, and other Palestinians fighting to maintain their Palestinian identity my stand sounds like a betrayal for their cause. In the other hand, and while it does please me knowing that Palestinians in Israel are still holding to their Palestinian identity, I find it very unfair from my part or any other Arab to blame those Palestinians who decided to pick up on the Israeli identity for them being born and lived under the Israeli state and who do face discrimination against them – discrimination is everywhere – they do enjoy the benefits of a democratic state that allows them to speak up loud their identity and even engage in the Israeli political quarrel.
The question that I have in my mind is how much it is legitimate for the citizens of a certain state to work against the basic structure of that state? Like for instance Israeli Arab citizens working to turn the Israel from a Jewish state into an Arabic one and even changing the name of the state from Israel to Palestine. How legitimate it would be if any Jordanian raises a flag that he is working on changing the name of Jordan to something else? Is having an agenda of changing the identity of a certain country tolerated and accepted under the umbrella of democracy or is it something the regime of each country has to decide for itself?
The issue of national identities is very complicated. I wonder what has more credibility: The country identity defined by the identity of its people, or defining the identity of the people based on their country identity.