How often have you heard an apologist for Zionism declare
that Israel is a democracy, indeed the only one in the Middle East because
‘even’ the Arabs have a vote. This is of
course true but merely possessing a vote in a society which is an ethnocracy
does not a democracy make. In recent
years strenuous attempts have been made to exclude Balad, an Arab nationalist
party with 3 MKs. Indeed Avigdor
Lieberman, the far-Right Defence Minister who spoke of his desire to drown thousands of Palestinian
prisoners in the Dead Sea, came up with the plan in the last Knesset to raise
the threshold for a successful party gaining admission to the Knesset to
3.5%. It was only because the Arab
parties were forced to unite that they defeat this attempt to force them out
However if you look beneath the surface then you
realise that even on the parliamentary level Israel is not a democracy. Despite forming 20% of the country no Arab
party has ever been part of the Israeli government. In the past year legislation has been passed
allowing the Jewish members of the Knesset to expel the Arab MKs. It needs 90 votes to expel a member but since
there are 107 out of 120 Jewish MKs that should not be difficult. Haneen Zoabi, a Balad member, has just been
suspended for calling Israeli soldiers what they are, murderers.
The JNF obliges its tenants only to employ Jewish Labour on penalty of forfeiture if this provision is violated 3 times
It is obvious why the Occupied West Bank is an Apartheid society. There are two legal regimes there – one for
Jews and one for Palestinians. The Israeli army is there to protect the
settlers which it does in a myriad of ways.
All major highways are Jewish only, although there are no signs that say
that Palestinians are forbidden to use them.
Israel’s rulers are not stupid like their Afrikaaner counterparts. Most of the discrimination in Israel is
hidden behind formal equality. Para state organisations like the Jewish National Fund
are responsible for implementing apartheid
on a day to day basis. Apartheid resides
in long established bureaucratic practice or in laws which are formally
non-racist like the Absentee
Property Law but which strips the refugees, including internal exiles, of
any right to their property.
These two essays are both by Jonathan Cook, a former
Guardian journalist now residing with his wife in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in
The first article homes in on residential
segregation and discrimination. Hundreds
of Jewish communities in Israel are able to keep Arabs out through the use of
Admissions or Reception Committees. The
Reception Committee Law allows Jewish communities of up to 500 people to refuse
the admission of new people on the basis that they ‘don’t fit in’. Whilst there is nothing saying that they can
bar someone on the grounds of being an Arab, this is what happens in practice.
This article describes the situation in Vradim, a ‘leftist’
town where bids for plots of land were frozen because more than half of them
came from Arabs and the people in the town wanted to keep it purely Jewish.
The second article explains why Israel, not the
Occupied Territories are just as much an apartheid society as the Occupied
Territories. When people think of Israel
they think of a democratic society like those in the West. Although superficially this appears true
Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, a state not just of its own Jewish
citizens but of all Jews worldwide.
Hence any Jewish person can just go to Israel and automatically claim
citizenship. However a Palestinian,
whose family came from the country, is unable to immigrate solely because
Israel is forever trying to maintain a Jewish ethnic domination. Hence it always welcomes Jewish immigrants
but refuses to accept the Palestinian refugees.
Paragraph 13 of the Declaration provided that the State of Israel would be based on freedom, justice and peace… it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex;. However, has no legal status. The Supreme Court ruled that the guarantees were merely guiding principles, and that the declaration is not a constitutional law .
town freezes new housing project to stop entry of Palestinian citizens. But the
mayor insists he’s not racist
East Eye – 29 March 2018
How would you describe a white town in a southern state in the United States that froze the tender
for plots of land in a new neighbourhood because it risked allowing blacks to
move in? As racist?
would you think of the town’s mayor for claiming the decision was taken in the
interests of preserving the “white character” of his community? That he was a
would you characterise the policy of the state in which this town was located
if it enforced almost complete segregation between whites and blacks,
ghettoising the black population? As apartheid, or maybe Jim Crow?
replace the word “white” with “Jewish” and this describes what has just
happened in Kfar Vradim, a small town of 6,000 residents in the Galilee, in
Israel’s north. More disturbing still, Vradim’s policy cannot be judged in
isolation. It is a reflection of how Israeli society has been intentionally
structured for decades.
Segregation as the norm
segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens is the norm in Israel. In
fact, it is such an established fact of life that it is barely ever commented
on. There are many hundreds of rural communities controlling almost all of
Israel’s land that are exclusively Jewish and have been so since Israel was
created 70 years ago.
could almost commiserate with Vradim’s mayor, Sivan Yechiel, after he provoked
condemnation last week for his decision to freeze construction of a new
neighbourhood of more than 2,000 homes, intended to double the size of his
town. It emerged that in the first round of tenders, more than half the highest
bids for plots of land were placed by Palestinian citizens, not Jews.
Palestinian minority, a fifth of its population, are the remnants of the
Palestinian people who were mostly expelled in 1948 from their homeland during
what Palestinians call the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe”.
to Israel and its supporters, Palestinian citizens enjoy full and equal rights
with Jewish citizens, unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories, who live
under military rule. But the reality – one carefully
concealed from outsiders – is very different.
decision briefly illuminates the ugly reality of what a Jewish state means. It
provides the context for understanding Land Day, whose anniversary falls this
week, marking the day in 1976 when Israeli security forces killed
six unarmed Palestinian citizens as the minority held a general strike to protest
against the continuing confiscation of their lands.
and dozens of other Jewish communities were created in response to Land Day –
explicitly to “Judaise the Galilee”. The tradition of racism that inspired
Vradim’s establishment is simply being honoured and preserved today by Yechiel.
why Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s Palestinian minority, accused the mayor of being “motivated by
racism”. And why Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, lamented Vradim’s “apartheid” policy.
Liberal and ‘racist’
said, Vradim is far from the illiberal, intolerant community one might imagine
from these criticisms. Three-quarters of its residents voted for left and
centre-left parties in Israel’s last election. It has decisively bucked the
ultra-nationalist trend that has kept Benjamin Netanyahu and the far-right in
power for nearly a decade.
in a Facebook debate among Vradim residents about the tender, many expressed
concern. A local real estate broker, Nati Sheinfeld, warned that it was time to “wake up” to
the threat of Palestinians taking over the community.
the decision to
freeze the new neighbourhood on the grounds that he was entrusted to keep
Vradim “Zionist and Jewish”. In a further clarification, he said he would lobby
the government to provide his community with housing solutions that did not
disturb its current “demographic balances” – in other words, solutions that
would keep out Palestinian citizens.
No Arabs as neighbours
Vradim mayor’s response was entirely typical. There have a spate of similar
stories in recent years. Towns close by in the Galilee like Nazareth Ilit,
Karmiel, Afula, Nofit, Tzfat and Nahariya have all been battling to bar entry
to Palestinian citizens with varying degrees of success.
surveys, half of Israeli Jews confess that they do not want “Arabs” as
neighbours. The reality, as Vradim illustrates, is that far more feel this way
in practice. As Haaretz commentator David Rosenberg observed, almost certainly many
respondents “were too embarrassed to tell the pollster what they really think”.
to having Palestinians as neighbours is not founded on security or economic
concerns. Palestinian citizens have proved to be a largely peaceable, if highly
marginalised, minority. And those able to afford to move into Jewish
communities – especially Vradim, one of the wealthiest in the country – are the
most successful among the Palestinian minority. They are business people and
professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects.
Rooted in Zionism
So why is
Vradim dead-set against allowing them in? The answer requires an historical
analysis of how Israel has structured and organised itself as a Jewish state.
In fact, Vradim’s policy is deeply rooted in an ideology, Zionism, whose values
are unquestioned by almost all Israeli Jews.
founders of Israel, men like David Ben Gurion, were East Europeans who viewed
themselves as communists or socialists. Before Israel’s creation, under British
patronage, they established pioneer farming collectives like the kibbutz and
the spirit of Zionism, they made sure these communities were all exclusively
Jewish. They were there to “Judaise” the land through “Hebrew
Zionism’s leaders firmly believed that, through physical toil, Jews could
transform both the land, “making the desert bloom”, and themselves, becoming a
strong, self-reliant “Volk” or people.
was an important corollary. Judaisation would strip the native Palestinian
people of the land they depended on as farmers, while Hebrew labour would deny
them alternative employment in what would become an exclusively Jewish economy.
It was a form of aggressive settler-colonialism.
Land nationalised for Jews
Nakba and the expulsion of most of the Palestinian population, the new state of
Israel did not abandon these policies and adopt an inclusive, civic notion of
citizenship, the basis of liberal democracy. Instead, it expanded and
intensified the Judaisation project.
observers were often charmed by the idea of the socialist kibbutz and the
progressive and transformative type of politics it supposedly embodied. They overlooked the fact that all of this was
being built on the racist exclusion of native Palestinians.
of the Palestinian refugees were expropriated, as was most of the land
belonging to the minority of Palestinians who managed to remain in Israel and
eventually received citizenship – the trigger for the Land Day events being commemorated this week.
then “nationalised” almost all of its territory – 93 per cent – holding it
collectively in trust for the Jewish people around the world, not Israeli
result, Palestinian citizens were hemmed into some 120 Palestinian communities,
on little more than 2 per cent of Israeli territory. These Palestinian
communities languish at the very bottom of Israel’s socio-economic tables.
Trapped in ghettoes
decades, Palestinian communities have become massively overcrowded because
Israel has refused to free up land for their expansion and has not
created a single
new Palestinian community since 1948.
thousands of Palestinian families have been forced to build homes illegally as
a result, and now live with the permanent threat of
over their heads.
not just about neglect. Israeli officials had a methodology and a goal in mind,
little different from the those being applied close by in the occupied
was to make the Palestinian minority poor and internally divided: like children
playing a game of musical chairs, they would have to fight over
desperation, some would opt to collaborate or turn informer, in return for
partial relief from their distress. A weak, dependent society like this would
be incapable of organisation to demand its rights. And ultimately, Israeli
officials hoped, Palestinian citizens would grow hopeless
was a danger too that wealthier, more successful Palestinians might flee their
ghettoes not by leaving Israel but by seeking homes in Jewish communities and
trying to integrate. That violated the deepest impulses of a Zionist-Jewish
not hard to slam shut the door of most communities. The hundreds of rural
villages controlling most of Israel’s “national lands” established admissions
committees. Their job was to vet applicants and keep out Palestinian citizens.
That was integral to their “Judaisation” mission.
day, hundreds of collective communities bar access, arguing that Palestinian citizens are
“socially unsuitable”. The flimsy logic – echoed now by the mayor of Vradim –
has been that it is vital for these communities to preserve a Jewish, Zionist
was trickier to use such legal chicanery to exclude Palestinian citizens from
towns and cities.
cities in Israel are misleadingly termed “mixed”, where small numbers of
Palestinian families survived the ethnic cleansing of 1948. They usually live
marginalised from the main Jewish city. Segregation in these areas has taken a
ordinary as well as mixed cities, Israel could not easily argue that admissions
committees were needed to stop integration and protect the special Jewish
character of the city’s life. Doing so risked looking a little too obviously
like apartheid South Africa.
Liberation from land shortages
of Israel’s history, segregation and exclusion were maintained in the towns and
cities, nonetheless. Free-market economics and careful planning was enough to
keep Palestinians at bay.
majority of Israeli Jews are raised as ardent Zionists, and hold “Judaisation”
– making territory Jewish – as a supreme value. There were no signs saying “No
Arabs”, but few were willing to sell their homes to Palestinian citizens,
especially when they could find a Jewish buyer.
Palestinian citizens could afford homes in Jewish towns anyway. In addition,
there were no schools teaching in Arabic for their children, jobs were scarce,
and prejudice rife. It was a prospect few Palestinian citizens contemplated.
shortages in Israel’s Palestinian communities have only intensified since the
events of Land Day, as have the overcrowding, the lack of services and
infrastructure, the absence of green spaces, and the poor quality of government
schools for the Palestinian minority.
in an increasingly globalised world, Palestinian citizens are much less willing
to continue living in their segregated communities. They have aspirations for a
better quality of life for their children, and are increasingly “westernised” –
they value personal independence over the protection offered by living close to
the extended family.
these factors have combined to drive those with good jobs and high salaries to
liberate themselves from their Palestinian ghettoes and seek housing solutions
in Jewish communities.
On the front line
line of this battle for housing rights is the Galilee, where Palestinian
citizens comprise half the population. For this reason, in the state’s early
years Ben Gurion prioritised an official campaign to “Judaise
the Galilee”, building Jewish communities on lands confiscated from
Palestinians to contain them and deprive them of room for future expansion.
itself was established in 1984 on part of the lands of
the neighbouring Palestinian town of Tarshiha. As in other Jewish communities,
many of its residents believe – in line with Ben Gurion’s philosophy – that
they are the main bulwark against an “Arab takeover” of the Galilee.
Vradim has found itself defenceless against a first wave of Palestinian
professionals expecting to live the dream they see their Jewish neighbours
enjoying at their expense. Already a handful of Palestinian families have
managed to move in. Yechiel and other residents are worried that this could
soon turn into a flood as it seeks to expand.
lacks an admissions committee that would have solved its problem. And recent
rulings from the Israeli courts have further tied its hands: in most cases,
towns and cities are required to include all citizens in the tendering process
for new housing projects.
The JNF-KKL owns or control 93% of Israeli land – when Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Arabs could not be barred from such land the JNF posted the above pointing out that 70% of Israeli Jews opposes allowing non-Jews to access their land and over 80% prefer Israel as a Jewish rather than a democratic state
Stopping an Arab influx
moment the numbers of Palestinian families that can afford and want to move
into Jewish towns is small. But it is growing, and even these small numbers are
too many for most Jewish communities.
may balk at the solutions adopted by some neighbouring Jewish towns.
example, Nazareth Ilit, which was built on the lands of Nazareth, the largest
Palestinian city in Israel, has tried to halt the
influx of Palestinians by planning a large Jewish ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood.
courts have made an exception that allows for restrictive tenders in the case
of religious Jews so that they can live in self-contained communities. Nazareth
Ilit’s leaders appear to be hoping that, with high birth rates and intolerant
attitudes, a strong ultra-Orthodox presence may dissuade more Palestinians from
approach is likely to be considered a step too far for Vradim’s very secular
and wealthy residents.
may hope instead that he can rely on a legal remedy. In 2016 a district court
ruled in favour of the municipality of Afula after it blocked 48 Palestinian families who had
won housing tenders. Palestinian legislators called the court decision
“shameful” and “racist”.
Hunt for permanent solutions
Vradim’s mayor is also appealing to the government to help devise a more
permanent solution. He may not be disappointed.
Zionist Organisation, an international organisation that enjoys
quasi-governmental status in Israel, announced last summer it was reviving Ben Gurion’s Judaisation
campaign. It is preparing to establish several new, exclusively Jewish
month an Israeli parliamentary committee approved the final draft of new
legislation – the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish people.
It will give constitutional
backing to the
creation of communities “composed of people of the same faith or nationality to
maintain an exclusive community”. In practice, this measure is designed only to
help the Jewish faith and nationality.
moves come as Israel prepares to demolish next month Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin
village in the Negev, so it can be replaced with an exclusively Jewish
community, Hiran. The bylaws of Hiran entitle it to admit as residents only those “who observe the
Torah and commandments according to Orthodox Jewish values”.
wealthy, liberal residents are no aberration in wanting to keep out their
Palestinian fellow citizens. They are the authentic inheritors of a Zionist
tradition that has entrenched an apartheid system of rule in Israel over 70
Gurion and Israel’s founders would be proud indeed of Kfar Vradim.
a decade ago, US President Jimmy Carter warned that Israel was practising
apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories. But in truth, it would be
more accurate to say Israel itself is an apartheid state
this essay on the Americans for Middle East Understanding website, click here
Ayelet Shaked – Israel’s ‘Justice Minister’ and member of the far-Right Habayit HaYehudi/Jewish Home Party is an open advocate of the right of Jewish towns to exclude Arabs
from Nazareth’s city limits, a mile or so as the crow flies, is to be found an
agricultural community by the name of Tzipori – Hebrew for “bird.” It is a
place I visit regularly, often alongside groups of activists wanting to learn
more about the political situation of the Palestinian minority living in
helps to shed light on the core historic, legal and administrative principles
underpinning a Jewish state, ones that reveal it to be firmly in a tradition of
non-democratic political systems that can best be described as apartheid in
a decade ago, former US president Jimmy Carter incurred the wrath of Israel’s
partisans in America by suggesting that Israeli rule over Palestinians in the
occupied territories was comparable to apartheid. While his bestseller book
“Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” broke a taboo, in many ways it added to the
confusion surrounding discussions of Israel. Since then, others, including John
Kerry, when US secretary of state, and former Israeli prime ministers Ehud
Olmert and Ehud Barak, have warned that Israeli rule in the occupied
territories is in danger of metamorphosing into “apartheid” – though the moment
of transformation, in their eyes, never quite seems to arrive.
been left to knowledgeable observers, such as South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, to point out that the situation for Palestinians under occupation is, in
fact, worse than that suffered by blacks in the former South Africa. In Tutu’s
view, Palestinians under occupation suffer from something more extreme than
apartheid – what we might term “apartheid-plus”.
a notable difference between the two cases that hints at the nature of that
“plus”. Even at the height of apartheid, South Africa’s white population
understood that it needed, and depended on, the labor of the black majority
population. Israel, on the other hand, has a far more antagonistic relationship
to Palestinians in the occupied territories. They are viewed as an unwelcome,
surplus population that serves as a demographic obstacle to the political
realization of a Greater Israel. The severe economic and military pressures
Israel imposes on these Palestinians are designed to engineer their incremental
displacement, a slow-motion ethnic cleansing.
surprisingly, Israel’s supporters have been keen to restrict the use of the
term “apartheid” to South Africa, as though a political system allocating key
resources on a racial or ethnic basis has only ever occurred in one place and
at one time. It is often forgotten that the crime of apartheid is defined in
international law, as part of the 2002 Rome Statute that created the
International Criminal Court at The Hague. An apartheid system, the statute
says, is “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination
by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with
the intention of maintaining that regime”. In short, apartheid is a political
system, or structure, that assigns rights and privileges based on racial
definition, it will be argued in this essay, describes the political regime not
only in the occupied territories – where things are actually even worse – but
in Israel itself, where Jewish citizens enjoy institutional privileges over the
1.8 million Palestinians who have formal Israeli citizenship. These
Palestinians are the remnants of the Palestinian people who were mostly
dispersed by the 1948 war that established a Jewish state on the ruins of their
homeland. These Palestinian citizens comprise about a fifth of Israel’s
it is generally understood that they suffer discrimination, the assumption even
of many scholars is that their treatment in no way undermines Israel’s status
as a western-style liberal democracy. Most minorities in the west – for
example, blacks and Hispanics in the U.S., Asians in the U.K., Turks in
Germany, and Africans in France – face widespread prejudice and discrimination.
Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian minority, it is claimed, is no different.
to profoundly misunderstand the kind of state Israel is, and how it relates to
all Palestinians, whether they are under occupation or Israeli citizens. The
discrimination faced by Palestinians in Israel is not illegal, informal,
unofficial, or improvised. It is systematic, institutional, structural and
extensively codified, satisfying very precisely the definition of apartheid in
international law and echoing the key features of South African apartheid.
for this reason that the United Nations’ Economic Social Commission for Western
Asia (ESCWA) published a report in 2017 concluding that Israel had “established
an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole”,
including its Palestinian citizens. Under severe pressure from Israel and the
US, that report was quickly retracted but the reality of apartheid in Israeli
law and practice persists.
argument is far more controversial than the one made by President Carter. His
position suggests that Israel developed a discrete system of apartheid after
the occupation began in 1967 – a kind of “add-on” apartheid to democratic
Israel. On this view, were Israel to end the occupation, the apartheid regime
in the territories could be amputated like a gangrenous limb. But if Israel’s
treatment of its own Palestinian citizens fits the definition of apartheid,
then it implies something far more problematic. It suggests that Jewish
privilege is inherent in the Israeli polity established by the Zionist movement
in 1948, that a Jewish state is apartheid-like by its nature, and that
dismantling the occupation would do nothing to end Israel’s status as an
Separate and unequal
was founded by Romanian and Bulgarian Jews in 1949 as a moshav, a socialist
agricultural collective similar to the kibbutz. It specialized in dairy
production, though most of its inhabitants long ago abandoned farming, as well
as socialism: today its 1,000 residents work in offices in nearby cities such
as Haifa, Tiberias and Afula.
Hebrew name alludes to a much older Roman city called Sephoris, the remains of
which are included in a national park that abuts the moshav. Separating the
moshav from ancient Sephoris is a large pine forest, concealing yet more
rubble, in some places barely distinguishable from the archeological debris of
the national park. But these ruins are much more recent. They are the remnants
of a Palestinian community of some 5,000 souls known as Saffuriya. The village
was wiped out in 1948 during the Nakba, the Arabic word for “catastrophe” – how
Palestinians describe the loss of their homeland and its replacement with a
Palestinians of Saffuriya – an Arabized version of “Sephoris” – were expelled
by Israel and their homes razed. The destruction of Saffuriya was far from an
isolated incident. More than 500 Palestinian villages were ethnically cleansed
in a similar fashion during the Nakba, and the ruins of the homes invariably
covered with trees. Today, all Saffuriya’s former residents live in exile –
most outside Israel’s borders, in camps in Lebanon. But a proportion live close
by in Nazareth, the only Palestinian city in what became Israel to survive the
Nakba. In fact, according to some estimates, as much as 40 percent of
Nazareth’s current population is descended from Saffuriya’s refugees, living in
their own neighborhood called Safafri.
when observers refer to Palestinians, they usually think of those living in the
territories Israel occupied in 1967: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Increasingly, observers (and the various peace processes) overlook two other
significant groups. The first are the Palestinian refugees who ended up beyond
the borders of partitioned Palestine; the second are the 20 percent of
Palestinians who managed to remain on their land. In 1948, some 150,000
survived the Nakba – a figure far higher than intended by Israel’s founders.
included 30,000 in Nazareth – both the original inhabitants and refugees like
those from Saffuriya who sought sanctuary in the city during the fighting. They
avoided expulsion only because of a mistake. The commander who led the attack
on Nazareth, a Canadian Jew called Ben Dunkelman, disobeyed an order to empty
the city of its inhabitants. One can guess why: given the high profile of
Nazareth as a center of Christianity, and coming in the immediate wake of the
war crimes trials of Nazis at Nuremberg, Dunkelman presumably feared that one day
he might end up in the dock too.
were other, unforeseen reasons why Palestinians either remained inside Israel
or were brought into the new state. Under pressure from the Vatican, a
significant number of Palestinian Christians – maybe 10,000 – were allowed to
return after the fighting finished. A further 35,000 Palestinians were
administratively moved into Israel in 1949, after the Nakba had ended, when
Israel struck a deal with Jordan to redraw the ceasefire lines – to Israel’s
territorial, but not demographic, advantage. And finally, in a far less
technologically sophisticated age, many refugees who had been expelled outside
Israel’s borders managed to slip back hoping to return to villages like
Saffuriya. When they found their homes destroyed, they “blended” into surviving
Palestinian communities like Nazareth, effectively disappearing from the
Israeli authorities’ view.
it was this last trend that initiated a process that belatedly led to
citizenship for the Palestinians still in Israel. The priority for Israeli
officials was to prevent any return for the 750,000 Palestinians they had
ethnically cleansed so successfully. That was the only way to ensure the
preservation of a permanent and incontrovertible Jewish majority. And to that
end, Palestinians in surviving communities like Nazareth needed to be marked
out – “branded,” to use a cattle-ranching metaphor. That way, any
“infiltrators,” as Israel termed refugees who tried to return home, could be
immediately identified and expelled again. This “branding” exercise began with
the issuing of residency permits to Palestinians in communities like Nazareth.
But as Israel sought greater international legitimacy, it belatedly agreed to
convert this residency into citizenship.
It did so
through the Citizenship Law of 1952, four years after Israel’s creation.
Citizenship for Palestinians in Israel was a concession made extremely
reluctantly and only because it served Israel’s larger demographic purposes.
Certainly, it was not proof, as is often assumed, of Israel’s democratic
credentials. The Citizenship Law is better understood as an anti-citizenship
law: its primary goal was to strip any Palestinians outside the new borders –
the vast majority after the ethnic cleansing of 1948 – of a right ever to return
to their homeland.
before the Citizenship Law, Israel passed the more famous Law of Return. This
law effectively opened the door to all Jews around the world to immigrate to
Israel, automatically entitling them to citizenship.
familiar with modern US history will be aware of the Supreme Court decision of
1954 in the famous civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. The judges
ruled that the creation of separate public schools for white and black pupils
was unconstitutional, on the grounds that “separate is inherently unequal”. It
was an important legal principle that would strike a decisive blow against Jim
Crow, the Deep South’s version of apartheid.
separate is inherently unequal, Israel’s segregated structure of citizenship is
the most profound form of inequality imaginable. Citizenship is sometimes
referred to as the “foundational right” offered by states because so many other
basic rights typically depend on it: from suffrage to residency and welfare. By
separating citizenship rights on an ethnic basis, creating an entitlement to
citizenship for Jews with one law and denying most Palestinians
citizenship with another, Israel institutionalized legal apartheid at the
bedrock level. Adalah, a legal rights group for Palestinians in Israel, has
compiled an online database listing Israeli laws that explicitly discriminate
based on ethnicity. The Law of Return and the Citizenship Law are the most
significant, but there are nearly 70 more of them.
Citizenship and marriage
Gurion was prepared to award the remnants of the Palestinians in Israel this
degraded version of citizenship because he assumed this population would pose
no threat to his new Jewish state. He expected these Palestinian citizens – or
what Israel prefers to term generically “Israeli Arabs” – to be swamped by the
arrival of waves of Jewish immigrants like those that settled Tzipori. Ben
Gurion badly miscalculated. The far higher birth rate of Palestinian citizens
meant they continue to comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.
citizens have maintained this numerical proportion, despite Israel’s strenuous
efforts to gerrymander its population. The Law of Return encourages – with free
flights, financial gifts, interest-free loans and grants – any Jew in the world
to come to Israel and instantly receive citizenship. More than three million
Jews have taken up the offer.
Citizenship Law, on the other hand, effectively closed the door after 1952 on
the ability of Palestinians to gain citizenship. In fact, since then there has
been only one way for a non-Jew to naturalize and that is by marrying an
Israeli citizen, either a Jew or Palestinian. This exception is allowed only
because a few dozen non-Jews qualify each year, posing no threat to Israel’s
practice, Palestinians outside Israel have always been disqualified from using
this route to citizenship, even if they marry a Palestinian citizen of Israel,
as became increasingly common after Israel occupied the rest of historic
Palestine in 1967. During the Oslo years, when Palestinians in Israel launched
a legal challenge to force Israel to uphold the naturalization of their spouses
from the occupied territories, the government hurriedly responded by passing in
2003 the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. It denied Palestinians the
right to qualify for Israeli residency or citizenship under the marriage
provision. In effect, it banned marriage across the Green Line formally
separating Palestinians in Israel from Palestinians under occupation. The
measure revealed that Israel was prepared to violate yet another fundamental
right – to fall in love and marry the person of one’s choice – to preserve its
‘Nationalisation’ of land
citizens of the United States correctly assume that their citizenship and
nationality are synonymous: “American” or “US”.
same is not true for Israelis. Israel classifies its citizens as holding
different “nationalities”. This requires rejecting a common Israeli nationality
and instead separating citizens into supposed ethnic or religious categories.
Israel has recognized more than 130 nationalities to deal with anomalous cases,
myself included. After I married my wife from Nazareth, I entered a lengthy,
complex and hostile naturalization process. I am now an Israeli citizen, but my
nationality is identified as “British”. The vast majority of Israeli citizens,
on the other hand, hold one of two official nationalities: Jewish or Arab. The
Israeli Supreme Court has twice upheld the idea that these nationalities are
separate from – and superior to – citizenship.
complex system of separate nationalities is not some arcane, eccentric
practice: it is central to Israel’s version of apartheid. It is the means by
which Israel can both institutionalize a separation in rights and obscure this
state-sanctioned segregation from the view of outsiders. It allows Israel to
offer different rights to different citizens depending on whether they are Jews
or Palestinians, but in a way that avoids too obvious a comparison with
apartheid South Africa. Here is how.
citizens, whatever their ethnicity, enjoy “citizenship rights”. In this regard,
Israel looks – at least superficially – much like a western liberal democracy.
Examples of citizenship rights include health care, welfare payments, the
domestic allocation of water, and education – although, as we shall see, the
picture is usually far more complex than it first appears. In reality, Israel
has managed covertly to subvert even these citizenship rights.
medical care. Although all citizens are entitled to equal health provision,
hospitals and major medical services are almost always located in Jewish
communities, and difficult for Palestinian citizens to access given the lack of
transport connections between Palestinian and Jewish communities. Palestinian
citizens in remote communities, such as in the Negev (Naqab), are often
denied access to basic medical services. And recently it emerged that Israeli
hospitals were secretly segregating Jewish and Palestinian women in maternity
clinics. Dr Hatim Kanaaneh, a Palestinian physician in Israel, documents these
and many other problems with health care in his book “A Doctor in Galilee”.
significantly, Israel also recognizes “national rights”, and reserves them
almost exclusively for the Jewish population. National rights are treated as
superior to citizenship rights. So if there is a conflict between a Jew’s
national right and a Palestinian’s individual citizenship right, the national
right must be given priority by officials and the courts. In this context,
Israel’s rightwing justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, observed in February 2018
that Israel should ensure “equal rights to all citizens but not equal national
rights.” She added: “Israel is a Jewish state. It isn’t a state of all its
simplest illustration of how this hierarchy of rights works can be found in
Israel’s citizenship laws. The Law of Return establishes a national right for
all Jews to gain instant citizenship – as well as the many other rights that
derive from citizenship. The Citizenship Law, on the other hand, creates only
an individual citizenship right for non-Jews, not a national one. Palestinian
citizens can pass their citizenship “downwards” to their offspring but cannot
extend it “outwards,” as a Jew can, to members of their extended family – in
their case, Palestinians who were made refugees in 1948. My wife has relatives
who were exiled by the Nakba in Jordan. But with only an individual right to
citizenship, she cannot bring any of them back to their homes now in Israel.
distinction is equally vital in understanding how Israel allocates key material
resources, such as water and land. Let us consider land. Israel has
“nationalized” almost all of its territory – 93 percent. Palestinian
communities in Israel have been able to hold on to less than 3 percent of their
land – mostly the built-up areas of their towns and villages – after waves of
confiscation by the state stripped them of at least 70 percent of their
It is not
unprecedented in western democracies for the state to be a major land owner,
even if Israel’s total holdings are far more extensive than other states. But
Israel has successfully masked what this “nationalization” of land actually
means. Given that there is no recognized Israeli nationality, Israel does not
hold the land on behalf of its citizens – as would be the case elsewhere. It
does not even manage the land on behalf of Jewish citizens of Israel. Instead
the land is held in trust for the Jewish people around the globe, whether they
are citizens or not, and whether they want to be part of Israel or not.
practice, Jews who buy homes in Israel effectively get long-term leases on
their property from a government body known as the Israel Lands Authority. The
state regards them as protecting or guarding the land on behalf of Jews
collectively around the world. Who are they guarding it from? From the original
owners. Most of these lands, like those in Tzipori, have been either seized
from Palestinian refugees or confiscated from Palestinian citizens.
A democratic facade
political geographer Oren Yiftachel is among the growing number of Israeli
scholars who reject the classification of Israel as a liberal democracy, or in
fact any kind of democracy. He describes Israel as an “ethnocracy”, a hybrid
state that creates a democratic façade, especially for the dominant ethnic
group, to conceal its essential, non-democratic structure. In describing
Israel’s ethnocracy, Yiftachel provides a complex hierarchy of citizenship in
which non-Jews are at the very bottom.
notable that Israel lacks a constitution, instead creating 11 Basic Laws that
approximate a constitution. The most liberal component of this legislation,
passed in 1992 and titled Freedom and Human Dignity, is sometimes referred to
as Israel’s Bill of Rights. However, it explicitly fails to enshrine in law a
principle of equality. Instead, the law emphasizes Israel’s existence as a
“Jewish and democratic state” – an oxymoron that is rarely examined by
Supreme Court judge, Meir Shamgar, famously claimed that Israel – as the
nation-state of the Jewish people – was no less democratic than France as the
nation-state of the French people. And yet, while it is clear how one might
naturalize to become French, the only route to becoming Jewish is religious
conversion. “Jewish” and “French” are clearly not equivalent conceptions of
government has been trying to draft a 12th Basic Law. Its title is revealing:
it declares Israel as “the Nation-State of the Jewish People”. Not the state of
Israeli citizens, or even of Israeli Jews, but of all Jews around the world,
including those Jews who are not Israeli citizens and have no interest in
becoming citizens. This is a reminder of the very peculiar nature of a Jewish
state, one that breaks with the conception of a civic citizenship on which
liberal democracies are premised. Israel’s ethnic idea of nationality is
closely derived from – and mirrors – the ugly ethnic or racial ideas of
citizenship that dominated Europe a century ago (and are in places being
revived). Those exclusive, aggressive conceptions of peoplehood led to two devastating
world wars, as well as providing the ideological justification for a wave of
anti-semitism that swept Europe and culminated in the Holocaust.
if all Jewish “nationals” in the world are treated as citizens of Israel – real
or potential ones – what does that make Israel’s large minority of Palestinian
citizens, including my wife and two children? It seems that Israel regards them
effectively as guest workers or resident aliens, tolerated so long as their
presence does not threaten the state’s Jewishness. Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s
justice minister, implicitly acknowledged this problem during a debate on the
proposed Nation-State Basic Law in February. She said Israel could not afford
to respect universal human rights: “There is a place to maintain a Jewish
majority even at the price of violation of rights.”
hierarchy of citizenship Yiftachel notes is helpful because it allows us to
understand that Israeli citizenship is the exact opposite of the level playing
field of formal rights one would expect to find in a liberal democracy. Another
key piece of legislation, the Absentee Property Law of 1950, stripped all
Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war of their right to any property they had
owned before the Nakba. Everything was seized – land, crops, buildings,
vehicles, farm implements, bank accounts – and became the property of Israel,
passed on to Jewish institutions or Jewish citizens in violation of
Absentee Property Law applied equally to Palestinian citizens, such as those
from Saffuriya who ended up in Nazareth, as it did to Palestinian refugees
outside Israel’s recognized borders. In fact, as many as one in four
Palestinian citizens are reckoned to have been internally displaced by the 1948
war. In the Orwellian terminology of the Absentee Property Law, these refugees
are classified as “present absentees” – present in Israel, but absent from
their former homes. Despite their citizenship, such Palestinians have no more
rights to return home, or reclaim other property, than refugees in camps in
Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Tzipori was built on land confiscated from Palestinians – some of them Israeli
citizens living close by in Nazareth – not one of its 300 or so homes, or its
dozen farms, is owned by a Palestinian citizen. In fact, no Palestinian citizen
of Israel has ever been allowed to live or even rent a home in Tzipori, seven
decades after Israel’s creation.
is far from unique. There are some 700 similar rural communities, known in
Israel as cooperative communities. Each is, and is intended to be, exclusively
Jewish, denying Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to live in them. These
rural communities control much of the 93 percent of land that has been
“nationalized”, effectively ensuring it remains off-limits to the fifth of
Israel’s population that is non-Jewish.
this system of ethnic residential segregation enforced? Most cooperative
communities like Tzipori administer a vetting procedure through an “admissions
committee”, comprising officials from quasi-governmental entities such as the
Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund and the World Zionist Organization,
which are there to represent the interests of world Jewry, not Israeli
citizens. These organizations – effectively interest groups that enjoy a
special, protected status as agents of the Israeli state – are themselves a
gross violation of the principles of a liberal democracy. The state, for
example, has awarded the Jewish National Fund, whose charter obligates it to
discriminate in favor of Jews, ownership of 13 percent of Israeli territory. A
Jew from Brooklyn has more rights to land in Israel than a Palestinian citizen.
of Israel’s history, there was little need to conceal what the admissions committees
were doing. No one noticed. If a Palestinian from Nazareth had applied to live
in Tzipori, the admissions committee would simply have rejected the applicant
on the grounds that they were an “Arab”. But this very effective mechanism for
keeping Palestinian citizens off most of their historic homeland hit a crisis
two decades ago when the case of the Kaadan family began working its way
through Israel’s court system.
Kaadan lived in a very poor Palestinian community called Baqa al-Ghabiyya,
south of Nazareth and quite literally a stone’s throw from the West Bank.
Kaadan had a good job as a senior nurse in nearby Hadera hospital, where he
regularly treated Jewish patients and had on occasion, he told me when I
interviewed him in the early 2000s, helped to save Israeli soldiers’ lives. He
assumed that should entitle him to live in a Jewish community. Kaadan struck me
as stubborn as he was naïve – a combination of personality traits that had got
him this far and ended up causing Israel a great deal of legal and reputational
to give his three young daughters the best opportunities he could manage,
Kaadan had built the family an impressive villa in Baqa al-Ghabiyya. While I
sat having coffee with him, one of his daughters played the piano with a
proficiency that suggested she had a private tutor. But Kaadan was deeply
dissatisfied with his lot. His home was grand and beautiful, but Baqa was not.
As soon as the family stepped outside their home, they had to wade into the
reality of Palestinian life in Israel. Kaadan was proof that it was possible
for some Palestinian citizens, if they were determined and lucky enough to
surmount the many obstacles placed in their way, to enjoy personal success, but
they could not so easily escape the collective poverty of their surroundings.
other Palestinian citizens, Kaadan was trapped by yet another piece of
legislation: the Planning and Building Law of 1965. It advanced a core aim of
Zionism: “Judaizing” as much land as possible. It achieved this in two main
ways. First, communities in Israel were only recognized by the state if they
were listed in the Planning Law. Although nearly 200 Palestinian communities
had survived the Nakba, the law recognized just 120 or them.
problematic communities, from Israel’s point of view, were the dispersed
Bedouin villages located among the remote, dusty hills of the semi-desert
Negev, or Naqab, in Israel’s south. The Negev was Israel’s biggest land
reserve, comprising 60 percent of the country’s territory. Its vast,
inaccessible spaces had made it the preferred location for secretive military
bases and Israel’s nuclear program. Israel wanted the Bedouin off their
historic lands, and the Planning Law was the ideal way to evict them – by
de-recognizing their villages.
inhabitants of dozens of “unrecognized villages” – home to nearly a tenth of
the Palestinian population in Israel – are invisible to the state, except when
it comes to the enforcement of planning regulations. The villagers live without
state-provided electricity, water, roads and communications. Any homes they
build instantly receive demolition orders, forcing many to live in tents or tin
shacks. Israel’s aim is to force the Bedouin to abandon their pastoral way of
life and traditions, and relocate to overcrowded, state-built townships, which
are the poorest communities in Israel by some margin.
Starved of resources
addition to creating the unrecognized villages, the Planning and Building Law
of 1965 ensures ghetto-like conditions for recognized Palestinian communities
too. It creates residential segregation by confining the vast majority of
Palestinian citizens to the 120 Palestinian communities in Israel that are
officially listed for them, and then tightly limits their room for growth and
development. Even in the case of Palestinian citizens living in a handful of
so-called “mixed cities” – Palestinian cities that were largely “Judaized”
after the Nakba – they have been forced into their own discrete neighborhoods,
on the margins of urban life.
Planning Law also drew a series of blue lines around all the communities in
Israel, determining their expansion area. Jewish communities were awarded
significant land reserves, while the blue lines around Palestinian communities
were invariably drawn close to the built-up area half a century ago. Although
Israel’s Palestinian population has grown seven or eight-fold since, its
expansion space has barely changed, leading to massive overcrowding. This
problem is exacerbated by Israel’s failure to build a single new Palestinian
community since 1948.
other 120 surviving Palestinian communities in Israel, Baqa had been starved of
resources: land, infrastructure and services. There were no parks or green
areas where the Kaadan children could play. Outside their villa, there were no
sidewalks, and during heavy rains untreated sewage rose out of the inadequate
drains to wash over their shoes. Israel had confiscated all Baqa’s land for
future development, so houses were crowded around them on all sides, often
built without planning permits, which were in any case almost impossible to
obtain. Illegal hook-ups for electricity blotted the view even further. With
poor refuse collection services, the families often burnt their rubbish in
Kaadan had set his eyes on living somewhere better – and that meant moving to a
Jewish community. When Israel began selling building plots in Katzir, a small
Jewish cooperative community located on part on Baqa’s confiscated land, Kaadan
submitted his application. When it was rejected because he was an “Arab”, he
turned to the courts.
the Kaadans’ case arrived at the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.
Aharon Barak, the court’s president who heard the petition, was the most
liberal and respected judge in Israel’s history. But the Kaadans’ case was
undoubtedly the most unwelcome he ever adjudicated. It placed an ardent Zionist
like himself in an impossible situation.
hand, there was no practice in Israel more clearly apartheid-like than the
ethnic-based residential exclusion enforced by the admissions committees. It
was simply not something Barak could afford to be seen upholding. After all, he
was a regular lecturer at Yale and Harvard law schools, where he was feted, and
had often been cited by liberal counterparts on the US Supreme Court as a major
influence on their judicial activism.
he could not be seen ruling in favor of Katzir, at the same time he dared not
rule in the Kaadans’ favor either. Such a decision would undermine the core
rationale of a Zionist Jewish state: the Judaization of as much territory as
possible. It would create a legal precedent that would throw open the doors to
other Palestinian citizens, allowing them also to move into these hundreds of
understood that much else hung on the principle of residential separation.
Primary and secondary education are also segregated – and largely justified on
the basis of residential separation. Jewish children go to Hebrew-language
schools in Jewish areas; Palestinian children in Israel go to Arabic-language
schools in Palestinian communities. (There are only a handful of private
bilingual schools in Israel.)
separation ensures that educational resources are prioritized for Jewish
citizens. Arab schools are massively underfunded and their curriculum tightly
controlled by the authorities, as exemplified by the 2011 Nakba Law. It
threatens public funding for any school or institution that teaches about the
key moment in modern Palestinian history. Additionally, teaching posts in Arab
schools have historically been dictated by the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret
police, to create spies and an atmosphere of suspicion in classrooms and
for Israel of separation in residency and education is that Palestinian and
Jewish citizens have almost no chances to meet until they reach adulthood, when
their characters have been formed. It is easy to fear the Other when you have
no experience of him. The success of this segregation may be measured in
intermarriages between Jewish and Palestinian citizens. In the year 2011, when
the Israeli authorities last issued statistics, there were only 19 such
marriages, or 0.03 percent. Israeli Jews openly oppose such marriages as
Israel is so opposed to intermarriages, that it prohibits such marriages from
being conducted inside Israel. Mixed couples are forced to travel abroad and
marry there – typically in Cyprus – and apply for the marriage to be recognized
on their return. Notably, the 1973 United Nations Convention on Apartheid lists
measures prohibiting mixed marriages as a crime of apartheid.
separation has also allowed Israel to ensure Jewish communities are far
wealthier and better provided with services than Palestinian ones. Although all
citizens are taxed on their income, public-subsidized building programs are
overwhelmingly directed at providing homes for Jewish families in Jewish areas.
Over seven decades, hundreds of Jewish communities have been built by the
state, with ready-made roads, sidewalks and public parks, with homes
automatically connected to water, electricity and sewage grids. All these
communities are built on “state land” – in most cases, lands taken from
Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens.
contrast, not one new Arab community has been established in that time. And the
120 recognized Palestinian communities have been largely left to sink or swim
on their own. After waves of confiscation by the state, they are on the
remnants of private Palestinian land. Having helped to subsidize housing and
building programs for millions of Jewish immigrants, Palestinian communities
have mostly had to raise their own money to install basic infrastructure,
including water and sewage systems.
segregated zoning areas and separate planning committees allow Israel to
enforce much tougher regulations on Palestinian communities, to deny building
permits and to carry out demolition orders. Some 30,000 homes are reported to
be illegally built in the Galilee, almost all of them in Palestinian
most of the state’s budget for local authorities, as well as business
investment, is channeled towards Jewish communities rather than Palestinian
ones. This is where industrial areas and factories are built, to ensure greater
employment opportunities for Jewish citizens and to top up Jewish communities’
municipal coffers with business rates.
a central government “balancing grant” – intended to help the poorest local
authorities by redistributing income tax in their favor – is skewed too. Even
though Palestinian communities are uniformly the poorest in Israel, they
typically receive a third of the balancing grant received by Jewish
segregation has also allowed Israel to create hundreds of “national priority
areas” (NPAs), which receive preferential government budgets, including extra
funding to allow for long school days. Israeli officials have refused to
divulge even to the courts what criteria are used to establish these priority
areas, but it is clearly not based on socio-economic considerations. Of 557
NPAs receiving extra school funding, only four tiny Palestinian communities
were among their number. The assumption is that they were included only to
avoid accusations that the NPAs were designed solely to help Jews.
has similarly used residential segregation to ensure that priority zoning for
tourism chiefly benefits Jewish communities. That has required careful
engineering, given that much of the tourism to Israel is Christian pilgrimage.
In the north, the main pilgrimage destination is Nazareth and its Basilica of
the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel reputedly told Mary she was carrying
the son of God. But Israel avoided making the city a center for tourism,
fearing it would be doubly harmful: income from the influx of pilgrims would
make Nazareth financially independent; and a prolonged stay by tourists in the
city would risk exposing them to the Palestinian narrative.
the north’s tourism priority zone was established in nearby Tiberias, on the
Sea of Galilee, a once-Palestinian city that was ethnically cleansed during the
Nakba and is now a Jewish city. For decades investors have been encouraged to
build hotels and tourist facilities in Tiberias, ensuring that most coachloads
of pilgrims only pass through Nazareth, making a brief hour-long stop to visit
Nazareth was very belatedly awarded tourism priority status in the late 1990s –
in time for the Pope’s visit for the millennium – little has changed in
practice. The city is so starved of land that there is almost no room for
hotels. Those that have been built are mostly located in the city’s outer limits,
where pilgrims are unlikely to be exposed to Palestinian residents.
transport links have also privileged Jewish communities over Palestinian ones.
The national bus company Egged – the main provider of public transport in
Israel – has established an elaborate network of bus connections between Jewish
areas, ensuring that Jewish citizens are integrated into the economy. They can
easily and cheaply reach the main cities, factories and industrial zones. Egged
buses, however, rarely enter Palestinian communities, depriving their residents
of employment opportunities. This, combined with the lack of daycare services
for young children, explains why Palestinian women in Israel have long had one
of the lowest employment rates in the Arab world, at below 20 percent.
communities have felt discrimination in the provision of security and
protection too. Last November the government admitted there was woefully
inadequate provision of public shelters in Palestinian communities, even in
schools, against missile attacks and earthquakes. Officials have apparently
balked at the large expense of providing shelters, and the problem of freeing
up land in Palestinian communities to establish them. Similarly, Israel has
been loath to establish police stations in Palestinian communities, leading to
an explosion of crime there. In December Palestinian legislator Yousef Jabareen
pointed out that there had been 381 shootings in his hometown of Umm al-Fahm in
2017, but only one indictment. He said the town’s inhabitants had become
“hostages in the hands of a small group of criminals.”
these different ways, Israel has ensured Palestinian communities remain
substantially poorer than Jewish communities. A study in December 2017 found
that the richest communities in Israel – all Jewish – received nearly four
times more welfare spending from the government than the poorest communities –
all Palestinian. A month earlier, the Bank of Israel reported that Palestinian
citizens had only 2 percent of all mortgages, in a sign of how difficult it is
for them to secure loans, and they had to pay higher interest charges on the
35 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD), Israel has the highest poverty rate. This is largely because of high
rates among Palestinian citizens, augmented by the self-inflicted poverty of
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, most of whose men refuse to work, preferring
religious studies. In evidence of how Israel has skewed welfare spending to benefit
poor Jews like the ultra-Orthodox, rather than Palestinian citizens, only a
fifth of Jewish children live below the poverty line compared to two-thirds of
Palestinian children in Israel.
the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak was still grappling with the conflicting burden
of Zionist history and the expectations of American law schools. The judge
understood he needed to fudge a ruling. He had to appear to be siding with the
Kaadan family without actually ruling in their favor and thereby creating a
legal precedent that would let other Palestinian families follow in their path.
So he ordered Katzir to rethink its decision, warning that it could not keep
them out on religious or national grounds.
Jewish community did rething its policy, but not in a way that helped Barak.
Katzir responded that they were no longer rejecting the Kaadans because they
were Arab, but because they were “socially unsuitable.” Barak knew that would
not wash at Yale or Harvard either – it too obviously sounded like code for
“Arab”. He ordered Katzir to come back with a different decision regarding the
and a few others like it dragged on over the next several years, with the court
reluctant to make a precedent-setting decision. Quietly, behind the scenes,
Adel Kaadan finally received a plot of land from Katzir. Unnerved, cooperative
communities across the Galilee started to pass local bylaws – insisting on a
“social suitability” criterion for applicants – to pre-empt any decision by the
Supreme Court in favor of the Palestinian families banging at their doors.
it looked as if the Supreme Court was running out of options and would have to
rule on the legality of the admissions committees. At that point, the
government of Benjamin Netanyahu stepped in to help out the court. There was no
statutory basis for the admissions committees; they were simply an
administrative practice observed by all these hundreds of Jewish-only
cooperative communities. The Netanyahu government, therefore, pushed through an
Admissions Committee Law that year. It finally put the committees on a
statutory footing, but also made them embarrassingly visible for the first
parliament backed the legislation, reports in the western media labeled it an
“apartheid law” – conveniently ignoring the fact that this had been standard
practice in Israel for more than six decades.
petition from the legal group Adalah against the new law reached the Supreme
Court in 2014. Barak had by this time retired. But in line with his aversion to
issuing a ruling that might challenge the racist underpinnings of Israel as a
Jewish state, the judges continued not to make a decision. They argued that the
law was too new for the court to determine what effect the admissions
committees would have in practice – or in the language of the judges, they
declined to act because the law was not yet “ripe” for adjudication. The
ripeness argument was hard to swallow given that the effect of the admissions
committees in enforcing residential apartheid after so many decades was only
the legal challenge launched by the Kaadans left many in the Israeli leadership
worried. In February 2018, referring to the case, the justice minister Ayelet
Shaked averred that in “the argument over whether it’s all right for a Jewish
community to, by definition, be only Jewish, I want the answer to be, ‘Yes,
it’s all right’.”
Two modes of apartheid
time to address more specifically the nature of the apartheid regime Israel has
created – and how it mirrors the essence of South Africa’s apartheid without
precisely replicating it.
the forest planted over the ruins of the Palestinian homes of Saffuriya is a
two-storey stone structure, an Israeli flag fluttering atop its roof. It is the
only Palestinian home not razed in 1948. Later, it was inhabited by Jewish
immigrants, and today serves as a small guest house known as Tzipori Village.
Its main customers are Israeli Jews from the crowded, urban center of the
country looking for a weekend break in the countryside.
have distinguished between two modes of South African apartheid. The first was
what they term “trivial” or “petty” apartheid, though “visible” apartheid
conveys more precisely the kind of segregation in question. This was the sort
of segregation that was noticed by any visitor: separate park benches, buses,
restaurants, toilets, and so on. Israel has been careful to avoid in so far as
it can this visible kind of segregation, aware that this is what most people
think of as “apartheid”. It has done so, even though, as we have seen, life in
Israel is highly segregated for Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Residence is
almost always segregated, as is primary and secondary education and much of the
economy. But shopping malls, restaurants and toilets are not separate for
Jewish and Palestinian citizens.
scholars refer to “grand” or “resource” apartheid, which they consider to have
been far more integral to apartheid South Africa’s political project. This is
segregation in relation to the state’s key material resources, such as land,
water and mineral wealth. Israel has been similarly careful to segregate the
main material resources to preserve them for the Jewish majority alone. It does
this through the establishment of hundreds of exclusively Jewish communities
like Tzipori. As noted previously, almost all of Israel’s territory has been
locked up in these cooperative communities. And in line with its Zionist
sloganeering about making the desert bloom, Israel has also restricted the
commercial exploitation of water to agricultural communities like the kibbutz
and moshav. It has provided subsidized water to these Jewish-only communities –
and denied it to Palestinian communities – by treating the commercial use of
water as a national right for Jews alone.
experiment using Tzipori Village guest house neatly illustrates how Israel
practices apartheid but in a way that only marginally differs from the South
African variety. Had this bed and breakfast been located in a white community
in South Africa, no black citizen would have been allowed to stay in it even
for a night, and even if the owner himself had not been racist. South African
law would have forbidden it. But in Israel any citizen can stay in Tzipori
Village, Jew and Palestinian alike. Although the owner may be racist and reject
Palestinian citizens, nothing in the law allows him to do so.
But – and
this is crucial – Tzipori’s admissions committee would never allow a
Palestinian citizen to buy the guest house or any home in the moshav, or even
rent a home there. The right a Palestinian citizen has to spend a night in
Tzipori Village is “trivial” or “petty” when compared to Israel’s sweeping
exclusion of all Palestinian citizens from almost all the country’s territory.
That is the point the scholars of South African apartheid highlight in
distinguishing between the two modes of apartheid. In this sense, Israel’s
apartheid may not be identical to South Africa’s, but it is a close relative or
difference is also apparent in Israel’s treatment of suffrage. The fact that
all Israeli citizens – Jews and Palestinians – have the vote and elect their
own representatives is often cited by Israel’s supporters as proof that Israel
is a normal democratic country and cannot therefore be an apartheid state.
There are, however, obvious problems with this claim.
We can make
sense of the difference by again examining South Africa. The reason South
African apartheid took the form it did was because a white minority, determined
to preserve its privileges, faced off against a large black majority. It could
not afford to give them the vote because any semblance of democracy would have
turned power over to the black population and ended apartheid.
on the other hand, managed to radically alter its demographic fortunes by
expelling the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948. This was the equivalent of
gerrymandering the electoral constituency of the new Jewish state on a vast,
national scale. The exclusion of most Palestinians from their homeland through
the Citizenship Law, and the open door for Jews to come to Israel provided by
the Law of Return, ensured Israel could tailor-make a “Jewish ethnocracy” in
Israeli-Palestinian political scientist Asad Ghanem has described the
Palestinian vote as “purely symbolic” – and one can understand why by
considering Israel’s first two decades, when Palestinian citizens were living
under a military government. Then, they faced greater restrictions on their
movement than Palestinians in the West Bank today. It would be impossible even
for Israel’s keenest supporters to describe Israel as a democracy for its
Palestinian citizens during this period, when they were under martial law. And
yet Palestinians in Israel were awarded the vote in time for Israel’s first
general election in 1949 and voted throughout the military government period.
In other words, the vote may be a necessary condition for a democratic system
but it is far from a sufficient one.
in Israel’s highly tribal political system, Jews are encouraged to believe they
must vote only for Jewish Zionist parties, ones that uphold the apartheid
system we have just analyzed. That has left Palestinian citizens with no choice
but to vote for contending Palestinian parties. The one major Jewish-Arab
party, the Communists, was in Israel’s earliest years a significant political
force among Israeli Jews. Today, they comprise a tiny fraction of its
supporters, with Palestinian citizens dominating the party.
politics so tribal, it has been easy to prevent Palestinians from gaining even
the most limited access to power. Israel’s highly proportional electoral system
has led to myriad small parties in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. All the
Jewish parties have at various times participated in government in what are
effectively rainbow coalitions. But the Palestinian parties have never been
invited into an Israeli government, or had any significant impact on the
legislative process. Israel’s political system may allow Palestinian citizens
to vote, but they have zero political influence. This is why Israel can afford
the generosity of allowing them to vote, knowing it will never disturb a
tyrannical Jewish-majority rule.
parliament member Ahmed Tibi has expressed it this way: “Israel is a democratic
state for Jewish citizens, and a Jewish state for Arab citizens.”
‘Subversive’ call for equality
increasingly any Palestinian presence in the Knesset is seen as too much by
Israel’s Jewish parties. When the Oslo process was initiated in the late 1990s,
the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships agreed that Israel’s Palestinian
citizens should remain part of Israel in any future two-state arrangement. In
response, Palestinian citizens began to take their Israeli citizenship far more
seriously. A new party, Balad, was established by a philosophy professor, Azmi
Bishara, who campaigned on a platform that Israel must stop being a Jewish
state and become a “state of all its citizens” – a liberal democracy where all
citizens would enjoy equal rights.
campaign was soon picked up by all the Palestinian political parties, and led
to a series of documents – including the most important, the Future Vision of
the Palestinian Arabs in Israel – demanding major reforms that would turn
Israel into either “a state of its citizens” or a “consensual democracy”.
Israeli leadership was so discomfited by this campaign that in 2006 the prime
minister, Ehud Olmert, held a meeting with the Shin Bet. Unlike usual meetings
of the secret police, this discussion was widely publicized. The Israeli media
reported that the Shin Bet regarded the so-called Future Vision documents as
“subversion” and warned that they would use any means, including non-democratic
ones, to defeat such a campaign for equal rights.
later, when Bishara – the figurehead of this movement – was out of the country
on a speaking tour, it was announced that he would be put on trial for treason
should he return. It was alleged that he had helped Hizbullah during Israel’s
2006 war with Lebanon – a claim even the Israeli newspaper Haaretz dismissed as
preposterous. Bishara stayed away. Effectively, the government and Shin Bet had
declared war on efforts to democratize Israel. As a result, most Palestinian
politicians turned the volume down on their demands for political reform.
The Joint List at the European Union
their continuing presence in the Knesset – especially as a succession of
governments under Netanyahu has grown ever-more rightwing – has enraged more
and more Jewish legislators. For years, the main Jewish parties have used their
control of the Central Elections Committee to try to prevent leading
Palestinian politicians from standing in parliamentary elections. However, the
Supreme Court has – by ever-narrower margins – repeatedly overturned the CEC’s
Lieberman, the Soviet-born Israeli defense minister who has been leading the
attack on Palestinian legislators, managed to push through a Threshold Law in
2014 that raised the electoral threshold to a level that would be impossible
for any of the three large Palestinian parties to surmount. But in a major
surprise, these very different parties – representing Communist, Islamic and
democratic-nationalist streams – put aside their differences to create a Joint
List. In a prime example of unintended consequences, the 2015 general election
resulted in the Joint List becoming the third largest party in the Knesset.
brief while, and to great consternation in Israel, it looked as if the List
might become the official opposition, providing Palestinian legislators with
access to security briefings and the right to head sensitive Knesset
pressure to get rid of the Palestinian parties has continued to intensify. In
2016 the Knesset passed another law – initially called the Zoabi Law, and later
renamed the Expulsion Law – that allows a three-quarters parliamentary majority
to expel any legislator, not because they committed a crime or misdeed but
because the other legislators do not like their political views. The law’s
original name indicated that the prime target for expulsion was Haneen Zoabi,
who is now the most prominent member of Bishara’s Balad party.
to commentators, it will be impossible to raise the three-quarters majority
needed to approve such an expulsion. But in a time of war, or during one of the
intermittent major attacks on Gaza, it seems probable that such a majority can
be marshaled against outspoken critics of Israel – and supporters of a state of
all its citizens – like Zoabi.
it only requires the expulsion of one member of the Joint List and the other
members will be placed in an untenable position with their voters. They will be
in the Knesset only because the Jewish Zionist legislators have chosen not to
expel them – yet. This is why the Haaretz newspaper referred to the Expulsion
Law as the first step in the “ethnic cleansing of the Knesset.”
Israeli officials seem increasingly determined to abolish even the last formal
elements of democracy in Israel, the country’s Palestinian leaders are finding
themselves with limited options. Their only hope is to bring wider attention to
the substantial democratic deficit in the Israeli polity.
February, responding to the government’s moves to legislate a Basic Law on
“Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”, Knesset member Yousef
Jabareen submitted an alternative Basic Law. It was titled “Israel, a
democratic, egalitarian, and multi-cultural state”. In any western state, such
a law would be axiomatic and redundant. In Israel, the measure stood no chance
of gaining support in the Knesset except from legislators from the the
admitted in an interview that the bill would be unlikely to secure backing even
from the five members of Meretz, by far the most leftwing Jewish party in the
parliament. Optimistically, he observed: “I want to hope that Meretz will be
among them [supporters]. I have shared with Meretz a draft of the bill, but I
have not asked them at this stage to join, in order to give them time to mull
could hardly be a more ringing indictment of Israeli society than the
almost-certain futility of seeking a Jewish legislator in the Knesset willing
to support legislation for tolerance and equality.