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Waiting for Palestine: refracted citizenship and latent sovereignty in Gaza

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This article explores the dynamics of citizenship under conditions of statelessness and in territories with uncertain sovereignty. The Gaza Strip under Egyptian Administration (1948-1967) - a nearly indefinable entity that was under Egyptian authority but no one's sovereignty - offers an especially good site for this exploration. In this period, both the government and the population were invested in some notion of Palestinian citizenship, but there was no Palestinian state to codify that concept. The Palestinian loss of formal citizenship with the end of the British Mandate in 1948, and the continued absence of this legal category, has shaped Palestinian life and political identification in profound ways. Even under these conditions, though, both conceptions about, and the social practice of, citizenship have also been crucially important for Palestinian community. Conditions in Gaza under Egyptian Administration illuminate a 'refracted citizenship' that articulated a relationship to both a future state and an existing government. Considering both the earlier dynamics of citizenship and sovereignty under the contested circumstances of the Mandate and the details of Egyptian governing practices in Gaza, the article argues that refracted citizenship provided a mechanism for people to make claims of the existing government and offered a means for that government to better manage the place and people of Gaza. Refracted citizenship also enabled people to build new community relations within Gaza - to develop a sense of specifically Gazan community - without feeling that they were jeopardizing their claims to Palestinian citizenship.
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Keywords: Gaza; Palestinian citizenship; latent sovereignty; refracted citizenship

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Anthropology Department, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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