Divorced from Citizenship: Palestinian-Christian Women between the Church and the Jewish State

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The vast multidisciplinary literature on marital dissolution tends to conceptualize divorce as a personal, individualist act that naturally resides in the domestic sphere. The article challenges this prevailing scholarly perspective by dissecting a substantially underexplored dimension of divorce as a citizenship-certifying act located squarely in the public sphere. Drawing on a pioneering qualitative study among Palestinian Christians in Israel as a case study, we argue that Israel's divorce law, which locks Catholics into indissoluble marriages, should be recognized as a key state instrument for delineating the contours of citizenship - a boundary-demarcating apparatus between insiders and outsiders who are excluded from full and equal membership. The article provides novel insights into the complex interrelations between divorce, gender, and citizenship, showing how Palestinian-Christian women pay the price of a purportedly sex-neutral, no-exit regime. The article also illuminates a seldom-studied phenomenon we call "divorce conversion": the act of changing one's denomination for the sake of marital freedom, which is a hallmark of Palestinian-Christians' third-rate status in the Jewish state. We conclude that divorce should be reconceptualized as a right to egalitarian female citizenship, serving as a basic precursor to women's full participation in all spheres of life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 454/20) and obtained IRB approval (No. 095/19). Parts of the research were presented at the following venues: the Workshop of the Religion, Gender, and Nationality Research Group; the annual conference of ICON-Israel (International Society of Public Law); and the conference Studying Women in the Middle East: Social, Cultural and Political Perspectives in the History of the Region. We are thankful to the participants at these events for their helpful comments. We are especially indebted to the anonymous LSI reviewers for their helpful comments. We would also like to thank our devoted research assistants: Adv. Manar Abboud, the research coordinator, Jane Abd al-Malek, Areen Maroun, Linor Etlis, Manal Fares, Ghenwa Aslayeh, Monia Ghanem, Doreen Hazzan, Yara Rouhana, Shadi Alkara, Paula Abou Ghazaleh, and our editors, Nimrod Chiat, Omer Bejerano, and Shani Tsur. Last but not least, we owe a debt of gratitude to our interviewees who generously shared their stories with us.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Law


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