Skip to main content
Published on 22 October 2020

Despite representing twenty percent of the population, Palestinian citizens of Israel can face restrictions on where they can live, experience discrimination when applying for jobs and are even banned from bringing their spouse to Israel if they come from an ‘enemy’ Arab state or from West Bank and Gaza.

The situation facing the Palestinian minority in Israel further deteriorated in July 2018 when the Israeli parliament passed the Nation State Law. Although previous laws have emphasised that Israel is first and foremost a Jewish State, the Nation State Law declares that only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in Israel, setting in stone the second-class status of 1.5 million Palestinian citizens.

The Nation State Law in effect enshrines discrimination into basic law by granting Israel’s Jewish citizens legal superiority over non-Jewish citizens and Palestinian citizens in particular. It downgrades Arabic from official language status and grants automatic citizenship exclusively to Jewish immigrants to Israel.

Furthermore, the Nation State Law allows the retrospective legalisation of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory and gives constitutional backing to existing annexations and the laws promoting them. This pre-empts the recent US decision to defy international law and UN resolutions by declaring Israeli settlements on Palestinian Land as not being necessarily illegal.

“Israel is generally a state ruled internally by law in the formal sense of it and in many cases discrimination and racism is enshrined in the law,” explains Suhad Bishara, a senior lawyer with Christian Aid’s partner organisation in Israel, Adalah, during a recent visit to Dublin.

“When racism becomes a legal norm, racist practices become legitimate. For example, if an Israeli citizen doesn’t want to sell his house to someone based on racist views, then they legitimately can,” said Suhad.

Through the Nation State Law it will be possible to further discriminate, segregate and gather Palestinians in the occupied territory into smaller areas of land, making more space available to move Israeli citizens into land that is, according to the international law and community, supposed to serve as a future Palestinian state.

There is often a stark contrast between the living standards found in Israeli settlements and that found in the Palestinian villages that exist alongside. Take for example Umm el Kheir in the south Hebron Hills. Half their village was taken and used to build Carmel settlement, home now to 500 Israeli settlers. While the illegal settlement contains all the amenities you would expect in a modern town, the village lacks electricity and the poverty is pronounced. Many of the Palestinian homes, a mix of makeshift containers and traditional tents, have demolition orders on them as Israel claims they are built without permits.

“The Nation State Law could ‘legitimize’ annexation under Israeli national law, making it much harder to challenge it in Israeli courts,” said Suhad. “Israel’s attempt under the Nation State Law to give itself the sovereignty and authority to enact laws in the West Bank that serve its political expansionist interest is in violation of international law.”

The Nation State Law could also be seen as the death knell for the internationally supported two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the run up to the recent Israeli elections, both leaders of the two largest political parties in the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Ganz’s Blue and White party committed themselves to building more settlements and annexing more Palestinian land.

“When you visit Israel and the West Bank, you come closer to the conclusion that the two-state solution is not realistic anymore in terms of what’s happening on the ground. Through the Nation State Law, Israel has clearly said that the Green Line does not really exist,” said Suhad.

The international community, including the EU, have a responsibility to take a stand against violations of international law and apply the necessary pressure to prevent any further deteriorations in Israel and Palestine.

Adalah, which means ‘Justice’ in Arabic, is the first non-sectarian Palestinian run legal centre in Israel. Christian Aid works with both Israeli and Palestinian organisations to promote universal accountability and the rule of law as the cornerstone of a just and viable peace.

Author: Katie Cox