Israel has instituted laws and rules that treat Palestinians as second-rate subjects while Jewish citizens enjoy the full gamut of human rights.
For years Israel has tried to avoid the label of an apartheid state. It has done so by continuously insisting that it is the Middle East’s ‘only democracy’ where the judiciary and other government institutions are independent.
The reality on the ground is quite different. Israel’s democratic institutions including its parliament - the Knesset - have over the years used various laws to strip Palestinians from even their basic rights -such as the right to own a home.
What makes the scrutiny on Israel difficult is the way in which the Israeli-Palestinian question has been moulded by Israeli leaders and even some well-meaning Jewish liberals who support the Palestinian cause.
They want the world to look at Israel in two frames: one is the democractic Jewish state that existed before the 1967 war with its Arab neighbours and the other is the one that’s sitting on occupied Palestinian territory.
This sort of reasoning is troublesome. As Nathan Thrall, a former director of the International Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli project, said in an article that it implies Israel can avoid the tag of an apartheid state as long as it resists the temptation of formally annexing the Palestinian terriroty in the West Bank.
“The premise that Israel is a democracy, maintained by Peace Now, Meretz, the editorial board of Haaretz and other critics of occupation, rests on the belief that one can separate the pre-1967 state from the rest of the territory under its control,” he wrote.
“A conceptual wall must be maintained between two regimes: (good) democratic Israel and its (bad) provisional occupation.”
The truth is that Israel controls almost every aspect of the lives of more than 5.7 million Palestinians who live under its control. And the way it treats them leaves little room for arguing against it being an apartheid state.
No right to return
Any Jewish person - it doesn’t matter if he’s from the United States or Iran - is entitled to move to Israel and enjoy full benefits of the citizenship that includes health care, insurance, concessional mortgage and voting rights. Palestinians on the other hand have no such right.
The ‘right to return’ for Jews is a fundamental premise of the state of Israel, but ironically, that same right isn’t afforded to Palestinians despite it being guaranteed as an ‘inalienable right’ by a UN resolution in 1974.
“Palestinians living in other countries cannot immigrate to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, even if they, their parents or their grandparents were born and lived there,” said B’Tselem, the vocal Israeli right group, in a scathing report released in January.
The only way for a Palestinian to migrate to Israel or the areas under its control is to marry another Palestinian. That still does not mean they would have equal rights similar to what an Israeli Jew enjoys.
Legislations such as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law make family reunifications impossible for Palestinians.
A Palestinian citizen of Israel - one who lives within the internationally recognised borders of Israel - can marry anyone from any country. But she cannot marry someone from the West Bank because Israel wouldn’t give citizenship or permanent residency to her husband.
A Palestinian man from occupied Jerusalem can fall in love with a Palestinian woman from Gaza, which Israel considers an enemy territory, but they can not live in Jerusalem. It’s okay if they marry, but Israel says they have to live in Gaza, which has been under a 14-year blockade.
Any Jewish person can come directly - say from the US - and live in one of more than 200 Israeli settlements but a Palestinian needs a special permit to even go there. Even a tourist can go visit a settlement, which most of the world sees as illegal colonies built on land which Palestinians hope to include in the state of their own.
No right to stay
Israel controls most of the West Bank, which is home to around 2.6 million Palestinians. None of them have the right to ask for Israeli citizenship even as Tel Aviv controls almost every aspect of their daily life.
The 360,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, which Israel formally annexed in 1980, have Israeli residency but not citizenship, which means they can’t vote in state elections.
For all its democratic pretensions, it's none other than the elected representatives of the parliament - the Knesset - who have over the years passed laws that have clawed away many of the rights from Palestinains.
For instance, in 2010 the Knessest amended the Entry into Israel Law of 1952, giving unprecedented powers to the Interior Minister to revoke the residency of any Palestinian.
In the last five decades, the residential status of around 250,000 Palestinains from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza was revoked, meaning they cannot come back to the homes in which they were born.
In occupied East Jerusalem alone, Israel’s Ministry of Interior revoked the residencies of 14,643 Palestianisn between 1967 and 2021, many of them on the grounds that they had moved abroad.
No right to protest
Israel uses a different set of laws to treat Israelis and Palestinians. If a Palestinian resident steals, he’s tried in the military court while an Israeli has to answer before a civilian judge for the same crime.
The West Bank has been under Israeli military rule since 1967. Even the Israeli citizens who live in illegal settlements have to technically live by the military rules and codes. But in reality that doesn’t happen.
Israeli lawmakers have extended Israel’s laws such as those which deal with health, taxation and elections to the Jewish settlers on an individual basis while leaving out Palestinians.
The Israeli High Court of Justice - the highest court - has aided this discrimination. From time to time, the High Court has applied Israeli civilian law to Jews living in the occupied West Bank. By doing so, it has enshrined the discrimination and separation of the two legal systems, giving it legal cover.
“In every stage of the legal proceedings – from the initial detention to the trial to the verdict – Palestinians are discriminated against when compared to Israelis,” the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said in a report.
Even the laws that deal with traffic violations are different for Palestinians and Israelis.
The most blatant manifestation of this shows up when it comes to the right to assembly and protest. Palestinians cannot organise demonstrations or take out rallies as the military commander dubs them illegal. When Palestinians do go out in protest, they are arrested and tried in military courts, which almost always sends them to prison.
When Israeli police wants to search an Israeli’s home in the West Bank it needs a search warrant, whereas any soldier can search a Palestinian home without a warrant
Since the 1980s, all Israeli citizens brought to trial before the military courts were Arab citizens or Palestinian residents of Israel, says ACRI.
The military rule for Palestinians means that any Palestinian can be arrested or detained for six month without charge or trial.
No right to build a home
Israel has demolished thousands of Palestinian homes in occupied territories to make way for its Jewish citizens. Between 2004 and 2019, Israeli municipal authorities demolished more than 2,500 homes and hundreds of businesses of Palestinians mainly on the pretext that they were built illegally.
Just in the first three months of this year, “the Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish, or seized at least 292 Palestinian-owned structures across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, displacing 450 people, including 246 children.”
Successive Israeli governments have actively promoted the growth of Jewish populations in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The government machinery was used to arrange land, plan civil works, and process construction tenders.
Since 1967 the Israeli government has built more than 55,000 housing units for Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem. On the other hand, only 600 units were built for Palestinians by the state - and that happened in the 1970s.
This means when it comes to constructing a building or a structure, Palestinians have to do everything on their own privately. But living under a military occupation, this becomes almost impossible.
Israel rejects more than 90 percent of the building permits of Palestinians.
No right to even throw rocks
Over the years, Israel has enacted over 65 laws that discriminate specifically against Palestinians. A few of them are listed here:
There’s a law against kids who throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. It stipulates a mandatory 3-4 years imprisonment. The law deals only with Palestinian kids.
Another law governs the fines that parents of stone-throwing kids have to pay.
The Income Tax Ordinance Amendement of 2012 gives a 35 percent tax exemption on donations that go to institutions promoting “Zionist settlement” on occupied Palestinian lands.
The Nation-State Law passed in 2018 says that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It made Hebrew the national language of Israel and downgraded Arabic. It also says that Israel will promote settlements.
The Nakba Law reduces state funding to institutions that celebrate Israel’s founding day as a day of mourning. The Nakba is when Israel drove out hundreds of Palestinians from their homes during its creation in 1948.
For the Palestinians, the Nakba never ended.