Apartheid Laws in Israel

There are nearly two million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who account for roughly 20% of the country’s population. Palestinian citizens of Israel are subjected to differential and unequal treatment under Israeli law when it comes to citizenship rights. The most important immigration and nationality laws — including the Law of Return (1950) and the Citizenship Law (1952) – privilege Jews and Jewish immigration. These laws allow Jews from anywhere in the world to immigrate freely to Israel and to gain citizenship, but they exclude Palestinians who were forced to flee their homes in 1947-1952 and 1967.

Palestinian refugees fleeing their homes in 1948, during what Palestinians refer to as The Nakba (“catastrophe”). (Photo:CC BY-SA 4.0)

Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law

In July 2003, the Knesset enacted The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. The law denies the right to acquire Israeli residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the occupied territories, even if they are married to citizens of Israel. The ban is based solely on their nationality, not on security-related concerns. Since the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens who marry residents of the Palestinian territories are Palestinian citizens, and since the ban does not apply to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, the law effectively discriminates against Palestinian citizens,  violating their rights to equality, family life, dignity and liberty.

People hold a protest against the “family reunification law” outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, July 5, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel

Absentees’ Property Law

The Absentees’ Property Law (APL) was enacted in 1950, ostensibly to address the management of property left by the roughly 750,000 Palestinian refugees driven out of Israel during the 1948 war. In reality, the law provided not for management of these properties, but for their permanent expropriation. Its dual purposes were to expand Jewish control over land and prevent the refugees from returning to their homes, which was considered necessary to ensure the continued existence of a substantial Jewish demographic majority in Israel.

The broad wording of the APL meant that almost every Palestinian who left their home during the war became an “abstentee” under Israeli law. This included those who had remained within what became Israeli territory, creating the paradoxical legal category of “present absentee”. All property belonging to absentees became “absentee property” and could be expropriated by the state without compensation. Legal geographer Sandy Kedar estimates that Israel’s Palestinian citizens had 40-60% of their land expropriated, giving lie to the claim that the APL’s purpose was to manage abandoned property.

Admissions Committees

Admissions committees operate in approximately  700 agricultural and community towns inside Israel.  Their purpose is to filter out Palestinian citizens of Israel who apply for residency in these towns on the basis of their “social unsuitability”. The operation of admissions committees contributes to the institutionalization of racial segregation in towns and villages throughout Israel and perpetuates unequal access to land.

Land Acquisition for Public Purposes Ordinance

A vacated Palestinian home in Haifa. Photo: Aaron Lakoff

The Land Acquisition for Public Purposes Ordinance – Amendment No. 10 (2010) allows Israel’s Finance Minister to confiscate land for “public purposes”. The state has used this law extensively, in conjunction with other laws like the Land Acquisition Law (1953) and the Absentees’ Property Law (1950), to confiscate Palestinian-owned land in Israel. 
Amendment No. 10 confirms state ownership of land confiscated under this law, even where it has not been used to serve the originally stipulated purpose for the confiscation. The law allows the state to avoid using the confiscated land for the original purpose for which it was confiscated for 17 years.  It also prevents landowners from demanding the return of confiscated land not used for the stipulated  purpose if it has been transferred to a third party, or if more than 25 years have elapsed since the original confiscation. The amendment expands the Finance Minister’s authority to confiscate land for “public purposes,” which under the law includes the establishment and development of towns, allowing the Minister to declare new purposes for the confiscated land. All this was designed to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from mounting lawsuits to reclaim their confiscated land.

Jewish National Fund Law

The Jewish National Fund (JNF or Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael KKL, as it is known in Israel) — is a Zionist organization established in 1901 to collect funds for the purpose of purchasing land for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish people. The Jewish National Fund Law of 1953 bestows powers on governmental authorities designed to empower the JNF and endows it with financial advantages including tax relief, and in the purchasing of land. Over time, the JNF has come to own 13% of all land in Israel.

For more about the Jewish National Fund, see Independent Jewish Voices’ Stop JNF Canada campaign website.

Jewish Nation State Law

Israel’s Jewish Nation State Law was passed in 2018 as a basic law. Since Israel has no formal written constitution, basic laws essentially function as chapters of the country’s constitution.

There are three main parts to the Nation State Law:

  1. It declares the exercise of national self-determination to be a right enjoyed by Jewish citizens only.
  2. It makes Hebrew the only official state language (prior to the Nation State Law, both Hebrew and Arabic were official state languages). Under the law, Arabic is given “special status” which means some state services will still be available in Arabic.
  3. It commits to expanding Jewish settlement as “a national value”. The clear implication is that the law prioritizes settlements for Jews at the expense of others within Israel and the occupied territories.

Further reading

For further information on Israel’s discriminatory laws and how they impact Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens, check out the Discriminatory Laws Database from Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel.