Ahmed Moor was born and raised in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Recently laid off from a finance job in New York City, he plans to work for a micro-finance initiative inside Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon starting this fall. Though he is now an American citizen, Ahmed remembers what his life was like when his travel document was stamped “stateless.”
Worldfocus.org’s Stateless to Statehood explores a wide range of legal and political situations regarding the relationship between individuals and the states they live in. Kuwaiti Bidoon are considered de jure stateless because they lack government recognition and citizenship status. Palestinians in Gaza are stateless to the extent that they do not yet belong to a true state.
I was born in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, Palestine. My status as a refugee was compounded by the fact that I lacked a state identity. This was my status for the first ten years of my life.
I did not become an American citizen until 1995. My naturalization document has a picture of ten-year-old me and the word “Stateless” printed right above it. I remember my mother crying when she saw that word on her own document.
What did I know about statelessness? I am from somewhere. I have a culture and a people. I am from Palestine, and I am a Palestinian.
Palestine was supposed to be recognized as a sovereign state alongside Israel in 1948, but it never was. Palestinians from the Occupied Territories mostly do not have full citizenship rights and are now governed by a constantly shifting mix of overbearing Israel, impotent Fatah, and ascendant Hamas.
Sometimes I forget what it means to be stateless. Nowadays, I rarely think about how many times my family was refused entry a country. It has been so long since I slept inside airports because we did not have the privilege of leaving.
Yet, statelessness is more than lacking the privileges that sovereign states extend to their citizens. Being stateless means something more basic. Statelessness is sheer humiliation and the degradation of human dignity.
The stateless human being is inferior. He has failed to do what other men have done for themselves. It means that, for whatever reason, he is unable to govern himself. He is not complete enough to take control of his life and the lives of others in his community. He has failed to take his place in the United Nations – that great hall of mankind.
Men celebrate their independence days everywhere, but the stateless man is not independent. He is dependent and unwelcome. The stateless man lacks maturity and requires stewardship. He must always be grateful to others for allowing him to work and to live. He is a burden, always compelled to prostrate himself and apologize for intruding.
That’s what statelessness meant to a ten-year-old boy.
Today, I know better. Although I am no longer stateless, the real change in my status has nothing to do with my American passport. I know the history of Palestine and the injustice that bred the injustice that violates my dignity and does not permit me to govern myself in my country. My view of myself has changed but my struggle is the same. It is a struggle for control of my life and the lives of others in my community.
The failure is no longer mine. The failure rests with the people who do not recognize my citizenship and equality. My oppressor erodes his own humanity through his treatment of me. I am not insecure in the fundamental worth of my being; I know my intrinsic value.
So what does it mean to be stateless?
– Ahmed Moor