Unfree in Palestine – Book Review

By Ludwig Watzal

(Unfree in Palestine. Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction by Nadia Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay, Pluto Press, London 2013, pp. 232, L 17.99.)

The latest visit by U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama to Israel has demonstrated to the world on which side the Empire stands. Obama promised an occupying power absolute support and eternal loyalty. Behind this background, the reader of “Unfree in Palestine” is befallen from a kind of bitterness when hearing Obama’s unrestricted support for a heinous form of total control of a whole population under occupation. A slap in the face for the Palestinians and for some critical Israeli intellectuals was Obama’s sentence that he admires Israel’s “core values”! Perhaps he did not know what he was talking about. Israel betrays all the “core values” the U. S. American civil rights movement was fighting for, not to speak of many laws that discriminate against non-Jews in Israel.

The authors, Nadia Abu-Zahra, Assistant Professor of Globalization and Development at the University of Ottawa, and Adah Kay, Honorary Visiting Professor at Cass Business School, City University of London, describe the role played by identity documents in Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, from the red passes of the 1950s to the orange, green and blue passes of today. They show how millions of Palestinians have been denationalized through the bureaucratic tools of census, population registration and a highly discriminatory pseudo-legal framework. They show how identity documents are used by Israel as a means of coercion, extortion, humiliation and informant recruitment.

In the book the authors provide a review of identity documentation and movement restrictions in Palestine from the 1800s till today. They focus on population and how it is divided and affected using bureaucratic instruments. In the introduction chapter terms such as “population registration”, “identity documentation”, and “movement restriction” are defined and explained by examples from other countries in order to demonstrate the power that such tools can have on denationalization, discrimination, displacement, dispossession, coercion, collaboration, and death.

The main part of the book deals with the history of the census, the population registry, denationalization, blacklists, coercion, and collaboration and how movement restrictions of millions of Palestinians became possible. The authors exemplify on the health and education sectors how the above mention policies affect the social life of the people. Both sectors are undermined through restricted access for patients, students and teachers. Despite all odds, the Palestinians resist inducements to leave their homeland.

Although international law declared denationalization illegal, the international community did not care about the forced displacement of Palestinians. Their “right of return” has been ignored by Israel, despite the United Nations have called for it in 1948, and it was a requirement for Israel’s entry into the UN.  On the basis of denationalization, the Israeli occupier has striped the Palestinians of any personal security. Israel has been issuing over one hundred permits so far that curb the movement of the people in the occupied territories and abroad. Permits and identity cards can be revoked arbitrarily.  Acquiring an ID card or granting permits became a bargaining chip for the Israeli authorities to recruit informants and collaborators among the Palestinians.

The book gives an excellent overview of a military and bureaucratic Kafkaesque system of control used by Israel to deprive the Palestinians of their rights and freedoms. Perhaps Obama meant, inter alia, these “core values” the U. S. shares with the Israeli occupying regime. The Palestinian people want their rights and not charity from the international community. Despite having made the lives of the Palestinians unbearable, the people resisted and stayed to the chagrin of the Israeli colonizers. The great value of this book is that the authors have brought light into the fate of 1.4 million denationalized Palestinians.

– Dr. Ludwig Watzal works as a journalist and editor in Bonn, Germany. He runs the bilingual bog “Between the lines”: http://between-the-lines-ludwig-watzal.blogspot.de. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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