Palestinian citizens of Israel

Page last updated 7 Oct 2016


Supporters of Israel make much of the supposed equality its Palestinian citizens are said to enjoy. And it is true they have the vote, unlike “non-whites” in South Africa. But to focus simply on the vote ignores the many arenas in which Palestinians do not even have formal equality (access to land and housing, or to marry spouses of their choice and live with them in Israel), let alone the substantive discrimination in area after area which blights Palestinian lives, “full citizens” though they are supposed to be. Budget allocations are vastly skewed in favour of Jewish citizens, military service confers wide social and economic privileges on Jewish citizens, the law is implemented unevenly. In 1948, the Palestinian Arab community owned and used most of the land within the area that became the state of Israel. Today it owns less than 3 percent of these lands.

The The Bedouin of the Naqab/Negev are particularly harshly discriminated against as Israel moves to Judaise the area.

For a simple introduction to how Israel’s distinction between citizenship and nationality works to discriminate against Palestinians see Jonathan Cook’s short video, Israel and Problems of Citizenship, made in October 2016.

One of JfJfP’s earliest publications was a 2004 fact sheet The Arab Citizens of Israel. It is inevitably very dated, but the areas of inequality identified in it are still highly relevant:

Israel prides itself on being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’

Israel’s declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 said that the state of Israelwill promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex’.

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, on which the legitimacy of the state of Israel is founded, declared “All persons within the jurisdiction of the State shall be entitled to equal protection of the laws.”

Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966, and ratified by Israel states:

“All Persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

After the 1948 war about 130,000 Arabs remained within Israel’s borders (as against 850,000 before). In accordance with UN Resolution 181 they became Israeli citizens. They and their descendants today number around 1,050,000 citizens. How are they treated?

The evidence shows that Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are systematically discriminated against —in every aspect of life, from housing to education, from health to the right to work. Some people go so far as to say that Israel—within the Green Line—operates apartheid-like policies.

There is an unresolved—perhaps unresolvable?—tension between Israel as a Jewish state and Israel as a democratic state in which all citizens are equal. Can Israel live up to the terms of its own Declaration of Independence?

Decide for yourself on the basis of the facts.

Read the extended fact sheet.

In 2000, at the start of the second intifada, 13 Israeli-Palestinians were killed in clashes with the police. The official committee of enquiry – the Or Commission – reported in 2003. No-one has yet been held responsible for the killings.


1. Inequality Report: The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel
Adalah, March 2011.

Adalah (“Justice” in Arabic) describes itself as the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel. This report details some of the main legal, political and policy structures that institutionalise discrimination against the Palestinian minority in Israel, and entrench inequalities between Palestinian and Jewish citizens. It provides indicators of inequalities, including official state data, and explains how specific laws and policies work to exclude the Palestinian minority from state resources and services, as well as the structures of power. It further demonstrates how the State of Israel, as an ethnocracy or “ethnic nation-state”, is systematically failing to adopt effective measures to redress the gaps that exist between the Palestinian minority and the Jewish majority and, moreover, how, by privileging Jewish citizens in many fields, the state actively preserves and even widens these gaps. Finally, the report reflects on the impact of inequality on the Palestinian minority in Israel and its ramifications for the state as a whole.


2The Democratic Constitution
Adalah, 1 Mar 2007

On the tenth anniversary of its founding, Adalah is issuing “The Democratic Constitution” as a constitutional proposal for the state of Israel, based on the concept of a democratic, bilingual, multicultural state. This proposed constitution draws on universal principles and international conventions on human rights, the experiences of nations and the constitutions of various democratic states.

“In recent years, Israeli groups have put forward several constitutions for the state of Israel. However, these proposals are distinguished by their lack of conformity to democratic principles, in particular the right to complete equality of all residents and citizens, and by their treatment of Arab citizens as if they were strangers in this land, where history, memory and collective rights exist only for Jewish people. It is no coincidence therefore that these proposals have been preoccupied with the question of, ‘Who is a Jew?’ and have neglected the primary constitutional question of, ‘Who is a citizen?'”


3. The New Wave of Israel’s Discriminatory Laws
The Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel, 2014

This report documents Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies over the last decade that operate to deepen discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens and further entrench their status as unequal, second class citizens.


4. JfJfP briefing note on the Expulsion of the Bedouin Palestinians of the Naqab
JfJfP, Jun 2012

In September 2011, the Israeli government approved the provisions recommended within the Prawer Report for the relocation of some 30,000 Bedouin in the Naqab (largely from the unrecognised villages) to “communities with official status”. A massive campaign of resistance has been waged ever since.

This note provides a background to the expulsion plans, looking at the Bedouin from before 1948 to the present day, and the shameful role of the JNF in their current displacement.


5. Citizenship in Crisis – The Palestinian Citizens of Israel: A Counterintuitive Account
Michal Biletzki, The Institute for Human Sciences (IWM), JfJfP n.d.

There have been three occasions in which forces of the Israeli state have shot dead numbers of its (Palestinian) citizens: Kafar Qasem in Oct 1956, on Land Day Mar 1976, and in Oct 2000 at the start of the 2nd intifada. Biletzki analyses the state’s responses to these deaths and finds that when Palestinians lived under military rule they were treated as citizens (and fully compensated); while 20 and then 50 years later “despite having gained more rights… the Palestinian citizens were not treated as citizens at all, and their plea for justice fell on deaf ears”.


6. Controversial citizenship law that bans Palestinians married to Israelis from living in Israel extended by the Knesset
Doug Bolton, Independent, 17 Jun 2015

The law which was first passed in 2003 and extended in 2008, forbids Palestinians married to Israelis from living in Israel, or becoming Israeli citizens. It is a nakedly racist law that turns every Palestinaian into a potential enemy of the state…

Now it has been extended, yet again.


7. Palestinians in Israel: Readings in History, Politics, and Society (e-book, 137pp)
eds Nadim N. Rouhana and Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Mada al-Carmel (Arab Center for Applied Social Research), Haifa, Jul 2011

Research on the Palestinians in Israel: Between the Academic and the Political; The Nakba; The Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel; The Military Government; The Conscription of the Druze into the Israeli Army; Emergency Regulations; The Massacre of Kufr Qassem; Yawm al-Ard (Land Day); The Higher Follow-Up Committee for the Arab Citizens in Israel; Palestinian Political Prisoners; National Priority Areas; The Indigenous Palestinian Bedouin of the Naqab: Forced Urbanization and Denied Recognition; Palestinian Citizenship in Israel.


The Or Commission

1. In-depth: The Or Commission of Inquiry
Ha’aretz, 31 Aug 2003

13 Israeli Arab citizens were killed in clashes with the police in October 2000. Prime Minister Barak fully backed the police and his former government colleagues for the decisions they took. And the Or Commission exonerated them.


3. For Arab citizens, Israeli government suffers from split personality
Ron Gerlitz, +972, 16 Dec 2013

Ten years after the Or Commission was formed to investigate the deaths of 13 Arab protesters at the hands of Israeli police, the government is taking contradictory steps toward implementing its findings.


Contents of this section


a) What kind of society?

Jewish and democratic?

b) Divisions among Israeli citizens

Ashkenazi and Mizrachi
The Russians
The Falashas

Palestinian citizens of Israel

c) The Israeli Supreme Court – champion of rights?

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