What does Citizenship really mean?

At a point in my family’s history and subsequently my own, an event marking an ongoing process of settler colonialism has changed the course of our present and future narratives. I am Canadian in varying denotations of the term, legal or otherwise.  To some people, including myself, being Canadian has its own unique meaning within our respective personal frameworks and set of circumstances. “Citizenship itself is a concept with multiple meanings, including legal status, rights, political participation, and belonging” (Bloemraad, 2004, p. 1145).[1] Because being Canadian itself has come to represent largely a history of immigration, migration and cultural diversification, all of which can be traced back to their origins in colonialism and settler colonialism alike. As addressed in the article titled, “Forgotten Experiment:  Canada’s Resettlement of Palestine” by Jan Raska; “in the summer of 1955, the Canadian government took the “bold step” of admitting displaced Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Canadian officials believed that alleviating the refugee problem in the Middle East would help in furthering regional stability” (Raska, 2015)[2].

 I am, indeed a Canadian in many ways but I am also a lot more than merely a Canadian citizen. Neither my family nor I have rescinded our ethnic identity and incontrovertible ties to Palestine.

It is also within the recent understanding of citizenship that it is agreed that being a citizen of a single country is no longer the norm, nor is it among Canadas’ immigration policies pertaining to naturalization. “The transnational model of citizenship expands beyond attachment to one nation to highlight the multiplicity of connections between people and nation-states in the globalized world. Thus, migrants may identify with and participate in their sending and receiving countries, facilitated by multiple formal citizenships” (Aptekar 1146).[3]

I am a Palestinian, although I do not have a “formal” document of citizenship to indicate as such, much like any other Palestinian who has lived past the year 1948. Which brings me to the event that demarcates the ongoing settler colonialism which has affected millions of Palestinians over multiple generations, and which has subsequently led me to where I currently reside, work and learn. The settler colonial process that began in 1948, which was called and remembered as “Al-Nakba”, by the Palestinians, and which in Arabic translates to “the disaster”, is concurrently given a different name from the Israeli perspective; “the 1948 Arab-Israeli war”.  One can easily extrapolate a shift of blame and responsibility towards Arabs as a generalized group, from the choice of calling it a war between Arabs as a collective against Israeli’s as opposed to an issue essentially involving the Palestinian people and the Jewish settlers. Furthermore, this title enforces the implication of all Arab countries, surrounding the former Palestinian state, which had provided aid to the many Palestinian refugees, and who resisted the “removal of the natives and the takeover of their property by the settlers” (Sa’di, 2008 p. 384).[4]

 “Israel waged a lightning war against its Arab neighbors in 1967, resulting in a swift victory that inaugurated a new chapter in its settler-colonial expansionism.” (Dana, T., & Jarbawi, A. 2018, p. 204).[5]

Before the events that took place in 1948, in 1947, it is believed that the indigenous Palestinians were the majority in the country and owned approximately 94% of the land, which meant that only about a third of the population consisted of the Jewish community who were mainly European settlers (masalha, 2002). [6] In 1948, “Over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland and became refugees in surrounding countries and in the diaspora; hundreds of cities and villages were destroyed and depopulated… when British forces departed from Palestine.” (Dana, T., & Jarbawi, A. 2018, p. 204)

This is not ancient history in terms of my families’ ancestry, in fact, living family members on my father’s side were directly affected by the forced mass exodus of Palestinian citizens. My father was born in Damascus, Syria a neighboring Arab country that had accepted the influx of Palestinian refugees often fleeing violence; to flee the relentless exploding bombs and stomping boots of the Israeli army… a fleeing of colonial violence and displacement.” (Ritskes , 2016, p. 78). [7] after his grandfather had fled Palestine, he briefly resided at refugee camps in Lebanon only to be rejected due to the sheer number of refugees. “My father’s parents moved to Qatar, a burgeoning Arab country in the gulf seeking opportunity, and a safe environment to raise their four children, all the while still living under no identifiable citizenship or rather country since the Israeli declaration of Independence. My father and his family (my brother, two sisters and I), were raised and born in different countries because like his father, he too was in search of opportunity and acclimatization in other countries, that were prepared to accept us. The first stop was the United States, among many, where my sister Zaina was born, proved a brief one, then came the UAE where I was born, finally in response to the immigration policies of the Canadian government my father made the decision to gain Canadian citizenship through naturalization. That is how I currently study in Vancouver.  

This is how I became a Canadian Citizen. 




[1] Baiocchi, G. (2009). Becoming a citizen: Incorporating immigrants and refugees in the united states and Canada. by Irene  bloemraad. berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California press, 2006. American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 1235-1237


[2] Raska, Jan. "Forgotten Experiment: Canada’s Resettlement of Palestinian Refugees, 1955-1956." Histoire Sociale/Social History 48, no. 97 (2015): 445-73.


[3] Aptekar, S. (2016). Making sense of naturalization: What citizenship means to naturalizing immigrants in Canada and the USA. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 17(4), 1143-1161. 


[4] Sadi, Ahmad H. "Remembering Al-Nakba In A Time Of Amnesia." Interventions 10, no. 3 (2008): 381-99.


[5] Dana, T., & Jarbawi, A. (2018, Fall). A century of settler colonialism in Palestine: Zionism's entangled project. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 24, 197-219. 


[6] Masalha, N. (2002). The Palestinian nakba: Zionism, 'transfer' and the 1948 exodus.Global Dialogue, 4(3), 77-91



[7] Ritskes, Eric. "Beyond and Against White Settler Colonialism in Palestine." Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 17, no. 1 (2016): 78-86.