Second Class Citizens

Kevin Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, July 6, 2016

A 2009 study of the legal status of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip concluded that Israel’s practices constitute colonialism and apartheid and are illegal under international law.6 The study took 18 months, and contributors included jurists, academics and international lawyers from Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, South Africa, England, Ireland and the United States.7

In fact, these conditions exist not only in occupied Palestine, but in Israel as well. A 2012 poll showed that the Jewish public supports ethnic segregation between Arabs and Jews, and 58% of Jewish Israelis called Israel an apartheid state. One commentator noted, “If the use of the term apartheid is anti-Semitic, as some of Israel’s PR agencies claim – then most Israelis are guilty of anti-Semitism.” 8

A 2005 letter to the Badger Herald argued that Israel was not South Africa:

    The divestment campaign in South Africa was appropriate and legitimate because it garnered international recognition of apartheid, an internal system of exploitation and segregation forced upon a black majority by a white minority. Divestment legitimately targeted corporations that profited from this egregious situation. While some have argued that Israel is conducting apartheid policies against the Palestinian people and Arab-Israeli citizens, this comparison is absurd. Arab-Israeli citizens retain the same civil and political rights that any Jew possesses in Israel, with the ability to vote in elections and serve their constituents as elected officials. (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, this is not true. Israeli laws, and the civil and political rights they define, are different for different Israeli citizens. Israel’s purpose in this is to maintain its status as a Jewish state, as Roland Nikles commented:

    In a 2010 interview, Peter Beinart — as liberal a Zionist as you’ll find — said: “I’m not even asking [Israel] to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.” 2

Then Nikles continued:

    The problem is, however, once you accept unequal treatment of citizens based on ethnicity and religion in some respects, it becomes a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? 2

Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, has published “The Discriminatory Laws Database” which has more than 50 laws “enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.” 3

Arab Israeli citizens do not enjoy equal rights in Israel. Here are some examples:

  1. There is a law discriminating between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens regarding rights to recover property in Israel owned before the 1948 War. The 1950 Absentees Property Law says that Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes by Jewish forces, but are currently known as citizens of Israel, are deemed “present absentees”. Present absentees are regarded as absent by the Israeli government because they left their homes, even if temporarily and involuntarily. Israeli law allows Jews to recover their land, but not Palestinian Israeli citizens.1 “The Israeli Absentees Property Law of 1950 declared expropriated Palestinian absentee property, even of Palestinian Israeli citizens, as state land, and continues to refuse the return of the refugees.” 11

  2. There is a law allowing Jews who lost property in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1948 war to reclaim it. Again, Palestinian Israeli citizens who lost property in West Jerusalem or the state of Israel in the 1948 war cannot recover their properties. Israeli legislation allows Jewish Israeli citizens to recover their land, but not Palestinian Israeli citizens.1
  3. There is a law that denies citizenship and Israeli residence to Palestinians who reside in the West Bank or Gaza Strip and who marry Israelis. While the stated justification was to prevent terrorists from entering Israel, it allows Israel “to maintain the state’s democratic nature, but also its Jewish nature” — its Jewish demographic majority. Critics say the law disproportionately affects Arab citizens of Israel, since Palestinians in Israel are more likely to have spouses from the West Bank and Gaza Strip than other Israeli citizens.1
  4. There are laws that establish separate educational systems that are funded unequally.2 According to a 2005 study by Hebrew University, three times more was spent on the education of Jewish children than on Palestinian Israeli children.1
  5. There is a law that empowers hundreds of local Jewish communities to exclude applicants based on ethnicity or religion. Israel’s Supreme Court upheld this law in September 2014.3 Palestinian Israeli citizens are barred from living in 68% of all towns in Israel by admissions committees.5
  6. The Israeli government is more restrictive in issuing building permits in Palestinian Israeli communities than in Jewish, and omits Palestinian Israeli towns from specific government social and economic plans.1 Buildings without permits are illegal, and this is a commonly cited reason for demolishing Arab buildings.
  7. There is a law prohibiting anyone from calling for a boycott of Israel, its institutions, or any person because of their affiliation with Israel, including the settlements in the occupied territories. The law was upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court on April 15, 2015.3
  8. There is a law that bans any political party that denies the existence of Israel as a “Jewish” state. A party advocating equal rights for all Israeli citizens regardless of ethnicity is illegal.3
  9. The Israeli government has promoted programs like the Prawer plan which will displace tens of thousands of Bedouin Israeli citizens from their homes in the Negev desert, forcing them to relocate and lose land. At the same time, the government is offering incentives for young Jews to build new Jewish communities in the Negev.4

Americans are too willing to assume that the only democracy in the Middle East has a written Constitution and Bill of Rights like theirs. The examples above are legal discrimination by the Israeli government. This unequal treatment under the law applies to over 1.7 million Israeli citizens in Israel, more than 21% of the population.1 By comparison, African Americans are only 13% of the U.S. population.12 Whether this discrimination is apartheid is still strongly debated, because that label has frightening implications for the Jewish state of Israel.


Related Articles

  • Israel announces new resettlement plan for Negev Bedouins, Ma’an News Agency, July 26, 2016.
  • Endnote:
    Israel operates under a combination of legal precedents, common law, and the Basic Laws of Israel. As of today, the Basic Laws do not cover all constitutional issues, and there is no deadline for a constitution.10 As the Israel State Archives notes

      Israel, famously, has no constitution. Fact. The reason, according to general opinion, is that back in 1948, the religious parties didn’t want one, because it might conflict with the Bible, so the secular politicians humored them at the time, and what started as a temporary act of politics became a permanent condition.” 9

    Footnotes:
    1 “Arab citizens of Israel”, Wikipedia, accessed June 23, 2016
    2 “The Adalah database of 50 discriminatory laws in Israel”, Roland Nikles, Mondoweiss, June 14, 2015
    3 “The Discriminatory Laws Database”, Adalah, May 30, 2012
    4 “Discrimination Against Israeli Arabs Still Rampant, 10 Years On”, Ron Gerlitz and Jabir Asaqla, Haaretz, October 2, 2013
    5 Identity Crisis: the Israeli ID System, Visualizing Palestine, June 7, 2014. Different population groups under Israeli sovereignty today are segregated based on a system of colored ID cards controlled by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.
    6 Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, May 2009
    7 Israel and the apartheid analogy, Wikipedia, accessed July 3, 2016
    8 Poll: Israelis support discrimination against Arabs, embrace the term apartheid, Noam Sheizaf, +972, October 23, 2012
    9 Who Needs a Constitution? Israel State Archives, April 25, 2013
    10 Basic Laws of Israel, Wikipedia, accessed July 3, 2016
    11 Nakba Fact Sheet, Jewish Voice for Peace, accessed July 4, 2016
    12 The Black Population: 2010, U.S. Census Bureau, September 2011