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'Speaking through the Mask': Israeli Arabs and the Changing Faces of Israeli Citizenship

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image of Middle East Law and Governance

On May 14, 2006 The Israeli Supereme Court issued its decision in a case known as the 'family unification case' that dealt with the constitutionality of an amendement to the Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law. The temporary amendment prevents Palestinian residents of the occupied territories (of certain age) from entering the territory of Israel and gaining citizenship or residence status through family unification. A divided court upheld the amendment, against a very strong dissent written by former chief Justice Aharon Barak. This article takes to explore the origins of this crisis, by positing the Israeli model of citizenship (Jewish and democratic) against an alternative ideal of 'citizenship as mask', one that was articulated by Hannah Arendt. This ideal positions the citizen between two figures the 'imposter' and the 'refugee'. The article begins with three seemingly marginal criminal prosecutions of imposters, and connects them back to a rich body of literary writings by Arab citizens of Israel who took to challenge the limits of Israeli citizenship through the figure of the Arab who 'passes' as a Jew. With this juxtaposition of literary works with current court decisions the article takes to expose blind spots in Israeli public discourse of citizenship, and to argue that the current citizenship crisis should not be understood as temporary but rather as bringing to the fore contradictions that accompanied Israeli citizenship law from its inception.


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