Foreign Spouses of Palestinians: temporary subjects and permanent non-subjects

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Arab and Islamic Studies


This research studies the exclusion mechanisms employed by the state of Israel against foreign nationals married to Palestinians residing in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinians living in Jerusalem hold a Jerusalem (Blue) ID, which grants them residency rights but no citizenship. Palestinians living in the rest of the West Bank hold a Palestinian (Green) ID, making them citizens of the Palestinian Authority.

The implications for foreign spouses therefore vary according to the place of residence of the Palestinian spouse. If the Palestinian spouse resides in Jerusalem, they can apply for a family reunification granting the foreign spouse a Blue ID. It is however a lengthy and uncertain process, revealing that the criteria for a successful application are clear, but the decision-making process is random. Until the result of the application, foreign spouses are therefore temporary subjects, waiting to become permanent ones. If the Palestinian spouse resides in the rest of the West Bank, family reunification is not an option, as the Israeli ministry of interior, which governs the matter, has 'frozen' all applications in the West Bank since 2009. The foreign spouse can only apply for a spouse visa, and obtaining it is becoming increasingly difficult, with absurd requests made by the state in exchange of granting it. If granted this visa, the foreign spouse becomes only a temporary subject of the state.

This research studies Palestinians living in occupied territories as being on the periphery of Israeli citizenship, which is hierarchal and exclusive. These Palestinians will be analysed as permanent subjects of the state as opposed to citizens, and their foreign spouses as non-subjects, attempting to become permanent ones. The research explores how the state uses the family reunification and visa application processes to reproduce a functional border between permanent subjects and non-subjects, where foreign spouses become temporary subjects. This border functions through three main methods: uncertainty, arbitrariness, and waiting.

The research, through studying the case of Palestinians and their foreign spouses, will be guided by the following question: Why and how does the state reproduce the functional border between permanent subjects and non-subjects?

The research will study citizenship in Israel as an ethnocracy. This will be important to acknowledge different key factors; first, that democratic practices do not necessarily lead to democracy. Second, that Israel should not be taken in isolation from the territories it occupies. Third, that the Israeli demos is not confined to the 1967 borders of the state. Others have defined Israel as an ethnic democracy or an ethnic state. These three views will be examined against each other to create a holistic understanding of the state as centred around ethnicity.

The concept of ethnocracy will be discussed in relation to the nature of Israel as a colonial society-state. This will help in analysing the complexity of the situation of foreign spouses and the different complementary logics of the state behind their exclusion.

Theorizing the situation of foreign spouses of Palestinians as temporary and non-subjects will require close readings in the fields of citizenship studies and border studies. Framing the discussion within Israel as an ethnocracy and a settler-colonial state will require reading of relevant theories on nationalism, ethno-nationalism, Zionism, and the functioning of Israeli occupation. Empirical data will be collected through interviews with the foreign spouses around the challenges they face and the application processes for family reunifications and spouse visas. The ability to conduct research in Arabic, English, and French, will help diversify sources of information and literature on the subject.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2414093 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Jamal Abu Eisheh