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Negotiating the right to exit the country in 1950s Israel: Voice, loyalty, and citizenship

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Between 1948 and 1961, Israeli citizens aspiring to travel abroad needed to obtain an exit permit in addition to a passport, which allowed them to leave Israel to particular destinations for a limited time. During the early days of statehood, it was relatively difficult to obtain an exit permit. This general requirement was finally abolished in 1961. This article examines the various arguments used by citizens in their applications for an exit permit and the different ways in which they portrayed themselves and the state. Citizens' letters to officials, pleading their case, asking influential people for recommendations, or even threatening the government with lawsuits provide insights into the relationship between citizen and state. I posit that although each citizen fought his/her individual battle alone, the struggles enjoyed a cumulative effect. And although such severe restrictions on movement during peacetime seem at first glance to resonate with the draconian policies of non-democratic states, the fact that Israel was fundamentally democratic, that citizens were disgruntled over the exit policy, and that policy makers were well aware of their resentment propelled change.

Keywords: Israeli democracy; Jewish identity; citizenship; exit permit; freedom of movement; justification regimes; nation-building

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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