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Top: Jewish Genocides Today and Yesterday: Israel's Palestinian Apartheid Laws

Apartheid Laws in Israel - The Art of The Obfuscatory Formulation

Excerpts from an article by Uzi Ornan, published the Israeli daily Ha'aretz 17 May 1991 ( Hebrew ) top of page

It is impossible to turn one's back on reality and deny that the State of Israel is not, likewise, an Apartheid state, and that as a result of this, Israeli democracy - which all its leaders and political pundits swear by - is being perverted, if not destroyed. This Apartheid has been entrenched in a system of laws, regulations and practices which govern the operation of state institutions. What characterizes most of those discriminatory laws that have been legislated in various Knesset is that on the surface, they do not appear to be discriminatory. However, a more in-depth analysis of some of the basic ones quickly reveals the extent to which they discriminate between "Jews" and "non-Jews". By studying them one cannot fail to reach a conclusion, which cannot but be embarrassing to many of us: namely, that Israel is an Apartheid state, and the Apartheid not only manifests itself socially, but that it is also embedded in the legal system. The following is devoted to a few of these laws.

The 1952 Law of Entry into Israel was apparently legislated simply to regulate entry into the country. However, all its clauses, save the one making it obligatory to enter by way of an official border control point, are intended to make a clear distinction between foreign citizens who are Jewish and those who are not. Yet the words "Jew" and "non-Jew" do not appear. So it is, for instance, that the law stipulates that whoever "does not hold an immigration visa or immigration certificate" can be immediately deported by the minister of the Interior, or, can be denied a visa at any time. As for the explanation and definition of who qualifies for an immigration visa, one must seek the answer in another law, the Law of Return. The answer is: Jews.

However, the authority vested in the minister of the Interior to deny entry to foreign citizens if there is reason to suspect they may harm the public is only applicable to non-Jews. The minister of the Interior does not have the authority to deny any Jew - even if he's a scoundrel of the first order who can be counted on to do harm - the right to settle in Israel. The reason: Jews do not need permits to settle in Israel....Jews arriving in Israel from abroad are almost immediately given all the rights and privileges that Israeli Jews enjoy....Furthermore, they immediately acquire the right to vote in elections and to be elected to the Knesset - even if they do not speak a word of Hebrew.

While the minister of the Interior has the authority - albeit, authority which cannot be exercised without great difficulties - to deny "immigration visas" to Jews, once a Jew enters the country, the minister of Interior cannot do anything about it, and does not even have the authority to withdraw residence permits from undesirables. In regard to non-Jews, the situation is quite different: the minister of the Interior can withdraw their permits even if they have been living here for years. We have witnessed how swindlers and common criminals have succeeded in receiving Israeli citizenship, not to mention those who even managed to get themselves elected to the Knesset. It wasn't the Law of Return that allowed them to do so, it was the law governing entry to Israel, which in turn is based on the Citizenship laws of 1952.

The Citizenship Laws of 1952 are a pinnacle in the annals of the art of obfuscation. Even though the word "Jew" is not mentioned at all in these laws, it is, in its entirety, based on the distinction between "Jews" and "non-Jews". This is one of the pillars of the Israel Apartheid regime, alongside a plethora of other laws, regulations and practices, for "Jews" and "non-Jews". They include: the educational system; the regulations of the Israel Lands Authority (which sees to maintaining segregation on the ground); and the religious marriage laws, which do not exist in conjunction with civil marriage laws.


Like in every state, a foreign citizen who wishes to become a citizen of Israel can do so, and the regulations governing his acquisition of citizenship are similar to those which exist in many other countries. The basic condition is that candidates must have resided in Israel for a number of years. Likewise, before citizenship is granted, the candidate must pledge his allegiance to the State of Israel. In contrast, Jews are not required to swear a pledge of allegiance to the State of Israel. So it is that a Satmar Hassid, who has the utmost contempt for the existence of the state, and perhaps even translates this into action, can immediately become a citizen, with the right to vote in Knesset elections.... Moreover, only ["Jews"]have the right to retain their former citizenship even after becoming Israeli citizens, while "non-Jews" are obliged to renounce it before becoming Israeli citizens.

The obfuscation does not end here. Take for instance the regulations governing the "joint authority of the Israel government and the Jewish Agency". These regulations are discussed as though they were applicable to all Israeli citizens. But when one reads them through, it quickly becomes apparent that rights granted to "returning residents" are meant solely for Jews: those who are not Jews have to pay full duty on all the articles they transport from the place of residence abroad, and are not granted any housing or education benefits upon returning to the country, after, perhaps, a few years of study abroad....

Blatant discrimination against non-Jews can also be found in other laws dealing with the acquisition of property, government support for young couples, educational curricula, and government expenditure for schools, to cite just a few examples. The routine means for enforcing discrimination is the ID card, which everyone is obliged to carry at all times. ID cards list "nationality", which can be Jewish, Arab, Druze, Circassian, Samaritan, Kara'ite, or foreign. When a person presents his ID card to a policeman, a security official, or to a clerk at a government office whose services he requires, they can know which "sector" he belongs to and treat him accordingly, or, refer him to those who are responsible for dealing with his "sector". Up to now all the attempts to force the minister of the Interior to also accept the entry of "Israeli" nationality have failed. Those who have attempted to do so have received a letter from the ministry of the Interior. While the letterhead is one of the "State of Israel", the letter states that "it was decided not to recognize an Israeli nationality". By the way, every person has the right to demand that the nationality entry in their ID remain blank, and the ministry of the Interior must honor this demand.

Another law, the 1986 Military Service Law, which superficially does not appear to be discriminatory in any way, is, by dint of the wily formula used in conjunction with the "nationality" entry in the census, a destructive tool of discrimination and oppression. The term "draftee" which appears therein applies to every Israeli citizen or permanent resident, as does the term "candidate for military conscription". In other words, a "draftee" - i.e. , someone who has not yet reported to the draft board - is a universal term and equally applicable to all citizens. How is it then, that this law has become a major tool for implementing discriminatory policies ? The answer is: by the way of a simple and at first glance innocent ploy. It appears in section three, which deals with how citizens are to be called to report for military service: a special person is appointed to be "the enumerator"; his job is to call draftees to register with the draft board and he "is authorized to order draftees and candidates for conscription to report [to the draft board]". The law uses the term "authorized", and in so doing leaves open the possibility for the enumerator to abstain from calling on "draftees" to report. And it is clear that those who the enumerator does not call do not have to report, and are therefore exempt from army service. In practice it is much simpler: those whose IDs list them as belonging to the "Arab sector" are not called by the enumerator.

Why are Arab teenagers not called to serve in the army ? The two reasons usually given are nothing more than a pretext. The "moral" reasons runs as follows: How can an Arab be asked to fight against his brother ? This ignores something we have witnessed more than once, namely, that Arabs kill other Arabs - whether in terrorist attacks or on the battlefield...The same could apply to Israeli citizens, be they Arab of other non-Jews, if they were to feel that their induction into the Israeli Army was justified. But this will only come about when they feel themselves equal citizens, and that the state of Israel is protecting them, and respecting their rights, treating them no differently than other citizens....It would be pointless to waste much time on the second reason - "for reasons or security". Both Jews and non-Jews have been exposed as spies and traitors. Indeed, there is ample reason to believe that the ones who were the most dangerous were Jews. In the same way that being a "Jew" does not vouchsafe automatic loyalty to Israel, the label "Arab" is, likewise, not a means of identifying those ready to commit treason or engage in espionage.

Once a citizen has not been called on to report by the enumerator, discrimination and persecution follow. Such is the lot of those [of non-Jews] who do not serve in the army. Many places of employment and residence become off limits, as the demands of employment and regulations governing the leasing of homes or lands in the hands of various public and governmental bodies stipulate that candidates must be "draftees". So it is, for instance, that Mohammed Borkan did not succeed in remaining in his flat in the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the basic conditions for being allowed to lease the flats (which were expropriated for the "public good") is that the leasee must be a "draftee". Take note: the term "draftee" also applies to yeshiva students [students of Jewish theology] who have not served in the army. The enumerator does call on them to report, and that is enough for them to be included in the category of those who have privileges, even if their contact with the army ends at this point.

One can list many more Apartheid laws, but we will stop at this point....The Apartheid mindset has always been part and parcel of Judaism. Take for example the age of Ezra and Nehemia (ca. 450-430 BC). All the restrictions and rules incorporated into the Jewish religion were intended to preserve the purity of the strain against contamination from the Gentiles....Apartheid is so powerful a mindset in this society, that its existence and preservation is championed by all the members of the "Zionist parties", including those who believe themselves to be in the vanguard of the struggle for socialism, peace and equal rights. We have yet to hear them speak out against the existence of two categories of citizens, or in favor of a comprehensive Israeli school system, or in favor of the abolition of restrictions on where Jews and Arabs are allowed to live. One gets the impression that their energetic struggle for the establishment of a Palestinian state and their vocal opposition to Jewish "settlements" on the other side of the green line is based on their desire to preserve a "Jewish state", something which allows and, in the eyes of many of them, even justifies the retention of discriminatory laws, and the privileges granted to the Jews.

Everyone who supports democracy and is concerned about the future of Israel, should place the abolition of the Apartheid regime that exists here at the top of his list of priorities. And not only leftists, but also those with liberal views on the right. Those who say we must be ready to "give up a lot for the sake of peace" should to so in good faith: abolish Israel's Apartheid laws and grant non-Jewish resident (sic) the ability to identify fully with the state. top of page

Memorandum on institutionalized racial discrimination by and in the State of Israel

By Elias Davidsson - April 1991 (Revision July 1993) top of page

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1965, has now been ratified by most member states. Article 1 of this Convention defines the term racial discrimination as 'any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.'

This Convention lays down specific obligations on member states to outlaw racial discrimination and penalize activities of racial incitement. It must be borne in mind that the term 'racial discrimination' is not basically a technical term but a term used to encompass all kinds of discrimination based on a person's being or origin (for which a person is not responsible). The Nazi persecution of Jews has been pursued on the basis of 'racialism' and condemned by the whole world as 'racial persecution', in spite of the fact that Jews don't constitute a specific race.

When evaluating whether certain conditions or practices constitute 'racial discrimination', it is not imperative that intent is proved. It suffices that conditions or practices have the 'effect of nullifying or impairing' equality of rights (see above), regardless of the declared intent of those conditions or practices.

The State of Israel defines itself as a Jewish and Zionist state. All major Israeli parties identify themselves as Zionist. Racial discrimination against non-Jews is grounded in Israeli laws, regulations, practices and permeates all fields of public life. The very definition of Israel as a Jewish State cannot but alienate the indigenous non-Jewish population of the country, which constitutes - depending on definition - between 18% and 60% of the population.

Most non-Jews who are living in or originate from areas under Israeli control, identify themselves as Palestinians. Although most of these are Muslim, there are also many Christian Palestinians and a few hundred Jews, both religious and secular, who prefer to identify themselves as Palestinians.

Zionism took off in Europe at the end of last century. It's aim was to create in Palestine a state with Jewish majority in spite of the adamant opposition of Palestinian Arabs (95% of the population). But the Zionists were more powerful, militarily, economically and technologically, and succeeded in 1948 in conquering 70% of the area of Mandatory Palestine. After driving into exile most indigenous Arabs from the conquered areas, approximately 750,000 people, and razing most of their villages to the ground - over 370 villages - the Zionists could finally establish a predominantly Jewish State. Only 150,000 non-Jews remained on territory controlled by the Zionists.

Once the Jewish State was established, it began enacting laws to help the confiscation of land from native non-Jews, their political repression and their destitution. This process was described in detail by Azriel Karlibach, first editor and founding member of the Hebrew newspaper Ma'ariv in a shattering article published in that paper on 25 Feb.. 1953 and by many other authors. The Israeli parliament passed laws to make it impossible for non-Jews who temporarily left the area of conflict to return to their homes or obtain access to their possessions that were left behind. A law was enacted that enabled any Jew in the world to immigrate to Israel and automatically become an Israeli citizen. A law was enacted that enabled the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency to act as a semi-official body, for the exclusive benefit of Jews.

In 1967 the State of Israel invaded Egypt and Syria, under the fallacious pretext of being threatened, and occupied the rest of Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza strip). Thus another 1.5 million Palestinians fell under its jurisdiction. Its occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories is considered illegal by the international community, as reflected in Security Council resolutions. Israel has rejected all U.N. resolutions that deal with its treatment of Palestinians and began without delay to entrench its occupation and rule over these territories with the aim of annexing them at the appropriate time. There has been no significant difference between the Israeli governments concerning this aim, as construction for Jews in the occupied territories continues unabated until this day. Part of these territories, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, have already been annexed by Israel, in defiance of international law, UN resolutions and the wishes of the population concerned.

The Palestinian people are now divided into three main segments: Those who remained in Israel in 1948 and their descendants (about 800,000 people), who live in Israel proper and have nominal Israeli citizenship; those who live in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 - Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip (about 1.8 million people); and those who live in exile, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf States and elsewhere (an estimated 2.5 million people).

It must be emphasized that, although these people live under different regimes, they are united in their self-perception as Palestinians, that is as people identifying with Palestine.

All three segments of the Palestinian people suffer discrimination at the hands of the Zionist State, but in different degrees.

Perhaps those who suffer the heaviest discrimination are those Palestinians who were ejected from their homeland in 1948 and again in 1967, dispossessed of their homes and land, and rendered stateless. The one and only criterion used by Israel to prevent these people from returning to their homeland and receive equal treatment under Israeli law, is that they are not Jews. Many of them still live in a destitute condition in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, supported by UN relief agencies.

The non-Jewish population living in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel in 1967 suffers not only blatant discrimination but is subject to brutal military occupation. Israel allows settlement of its own Jewish nationals in these areas and thus violates the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Jews settling in the occupied areas enjoy full civil and political rights as Israeli citizens. Their non- Jewish neighbors who are the overwhelming majority of the population of these areas, are denied many civil and all political rights. Their rights of movement, travel, assembly, expression, the right to obtain a car licence, to start a business and to buy industrial equipment, the right to educate children, all of these basic rights are subject to arbitrary rulings by military authorities and cannot be challenged in court. Only Jewish inhabitants of the occupied territories are permitted to carry firearms, which they use to terrorize defenceless non- Jews.

Some 800,000 people in Israel proper are not Jews: Most of them are Muslim but there are also thriving Christian Arab communities in Israel. For many years after the establishment of Israel they were subjected to harsh military control. Much of their land was confiscated by the State and handed to Jewish organisations for exclusive Jewish settlement. They have been subject to massacres, destitution and humiliation. While they enjoy, with Jewish Israelis, the right to vote, they are discriminated against both through law and in practice.

Approximately 92% of the surface of the State of Israel within the Green Line is for all purposes closed to Palestinians who are second-class citizens in Israel. They may neither legally live on such land, nor rent or cultivate it. A direct effect of these policies is that native non-Jewish citizens of Israel are in practice denied residence and membership rights in the collective settlements, kibbutzim. Non-Jews are discriminated against in many other ways: The Government starves local authorities of Palestinian villages and townships of funds; in some communities Palestinians are unwelcome or forced to live in ghettos; Jewish families receive higher child allocations than their non-Jewish neighbors, Palestinian schools suffer underfunding and understaffing (as compared to Jewish schools); Palestinian children are forced to learn their own history and literature as interpreted by Zionists; Israelis who struggle for equal rights and for the end of racial discrimination, are regularly and in many ways harassed by the authorities.

The State of Israel refuses to acknowledge itself as the State of all its inhabitants. Although Israeli governments have never openly endorsed the `transfer' idea (the forced removal from the country of its native Palestinian population, that is, its ultimate Judaization), Israeli government policies, such as inducing emigration of non-Jews and forced underdevelopment of the Palestinian sector, have since the establishment of Israel borne the mark of this ultimate aim. No serious attempt is made by the Zionist authorities to integrate Palestinian Arabs into Israeli public life. Thus, although comprising approximately 17% of the population of Israeli citizens, no Palestinian citizen of Israel has ever served as Cabinet member, as director of a Ministry or of a national institution, as judge of the Supreme Court, as ambassador of Israel, or in any position of power in Israeli economic or financial life. Even Arab Members of Parliament (Knesset) are systematically excluded from serving in 'sensitive' Parliamentarian committees, solely because of their ethny. In this 'enlightened democracy of the Middle East', as Israel is often called, a Jew cannot legally marry a non-Jew. Since its establishment in 1948, Israeli governments have consistently rejected demands by the secular public for the institution of civil marriage. Although intimate relations between Jews and Arabs are legal, they are frowned upon by Zionist society as 'befriending the enemy', something near treason.

Zionism rejects the idea of a modern secular state, based on equality of all citizens. Zionism predicates a state where Jews have privileged rights. Thus, according to Israeli law, a person born in London, who has never visited Israel, does not speak Hebrew and professes atheism, is granted automatic Israeli citizenship, if he can produce proof from a rabbi that his mother was considered a Jew, while indigenous Palestinian inhabitants who were born to Christian or Muslim parents are at best tolerated but never considered as full fledged partners in Israeli society. Racial discrimination, as defined in international law, is thus not only reflected in Israeli laws and policies, but is grounded in the very nature of Israel as a Jewish state, in public perception and in the Zionist credo.

Any proposal for Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian peace that does not address the issue of racial discrimination by Israel - that is the Zionist nature of the State of Israel - is thus doomed to fail.

Selected bibliography


1. Uri Davis: Israel, an Apartheid State, Zed Books Ltd., London 1987

2. Sabri Jiryis: The Arabs in Israel, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1976

3. Ed. A.W. Kayyali: Zionism, Imperialism and Racism, Croom Helm, London, 1979 (Writings by Arab, English and American scholars)

4. Abdeen Jabara: The Responsibility of the State of Israel According to its International Commitments; Arab Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 1985, p.27-41

5. Ilan Halevi: Zionism Today; Arab Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 1985, p.3-10

6. Roselle Tekiner: Jewish Nationality Status as the Basis for Institutionalized Racism in Israel. The International Organisation for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), Washington, 1985

7. Dr. W. Mallison and Sally V. Mallison: The Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency in International and US Law, in Judaism or Zionism - What Difference for the Middle East; Zed Books Ltd., London 1986

8. John Quigley: Palestine and Israel - A Challenge to Justice; Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., 1991

9. Dr. Uri Davis: Israel's Zionist Society - Consequences for Internal Opposition and the Necessity for External Intervention; in Judaism or Zionism - What Difference for the Middle East; Zed Books Ltd., London 1986 

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