Contrary to the commonly-held belief, the issue of Palestinian national identity, statelessness and the fundamental right of return did not originate in response to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 at the height of the Nakba. These sentiments have deeper historical roots, dating back to the interwar period that followed the demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1924.
This largely overlooked aspect of the decades-long Palestinian struggle for liberation and recognition is examined in Nadim Bawalsa’s Transnational Palestine: Migration and the Right of Return Before 1948. The author hails from a Jordanian-Palestinian background and is part of the broader Palestinian diaspora community, or jaaliya. He sheds light on the 20th century migration of Palestinians to Latin America and the profound impact it had on the collective consciousness of a people striving to preserve their national identity.
Through a treasure trove of documents, including applications, appeals, protests and personal correspondence, Bawalsa reveals the relentless struggle of overseas Palestinians, who were torn between their new-found prosperity and peace in the Americas, and their roots in a homeland on the cusp of slipping away.
At the heart of the book lies the 1925 Palestinian Citizenship Order-in-Council, a legal instrument passed by the British government and implemented in the then-newly established League of Nations mandate over Palestine.
This piece of legislation aimed to regulate the issuing of Palestinian citizenship during the mandate era. However, against the backdrop of the Balfour Declaration – Britain’s promise to the Zionist movement of a Jewish homeland in Palestine — this led to the severing of the ties that transnational Palestinians had with their homeland, especially those who had migrated beyond the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to the Americas.
Yet this also served to reinforce the sense of “Palestinianness” within the diaspora, with post-war protests against Balfour and “hundreds of petitions” authored by self-identifying Palestinian committees across Latin America. This became known as “pro-Palestina” activism.
Transnational Palestine: Migration and the Right of Return before 1948 has been shortlisted for this year’s Palestine Book Awards, please click here to read the full review on the PBA site.