Background on Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the ongoing discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel

Related : Ethnic Cleansing 

Institute for Middle East Understanding | September 28, 2011 | Mondoweiss

In recent months, Israeli and American officials have been increasingly vocal in demanding that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as part of any peace agreement.

On Monday it was reported that Israel and America’s insistence that a clause defining Israel as a Jewish state be inclulded in the terms of reference scuttled efforts to restart negotiations and head off the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN last week.

Although presented by some as a longstanding requirement of the Palestinians, only recently have they been asked to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state. To put this issue into context, the IMEU offers the following two fact sheets: Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State and Racism & Discrimination Against Palestinian Citizens of Israel.


  • In 1988, the PLO recognized the state of Israel. This was considered a major and historic compromise on the part of the Palestinians, who effectively renounced claim to 78% of historic Palestine. (See map here.)
  • In 1993, the PLO and the government of Israel exchanged official letters in which the Palestinians formally recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” while in return Israel acknowledged the PLO as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.
  • The demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” only appeared in 2001, when officials in the Bush administration began mentioning it. Prior to that, Palestinians had only been asked to agree to Israel’s existence as a state.
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean acquiescing in the permanent second-class status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population.
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean renouncing at the outset of negotiations the internationally recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land and homes that they were expelled from during Israel’s creation.
  • Asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” is akin to asking American Jews and other non-Christians to officially recognize the United States as a “Christian state.”

For more on this subject see:

Why Palestinians can’t recognize a ‘Jewish state’, by Hassan Jabareen, founder and general director of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State?, by Ahmad Samih Khalidi.

Defining ‘Jewish state’: For many, term has different meanings, by Glenn Kessler.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are those Palestinians who remained behind in what became the state of Israel following the Nakba (1947-9), or “catastrophe,” when approximately 725,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land by Zionist forces in order to make way for a Jewish-majority state.

Between 1948 (when Israel declared independence) and 1966, Palestinians living in Israel were granted no political rights and were subject to Israeli military rule. After 1966, they were granted the right to vote and other civil rights, but to this day they continue to suffer from widespread, systematic and institutionalized discrimination affecting everything from land ownership and employment opportunities to family reunification rights. Today, there are approximately 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, about 20% of the population.

Institutionalized discrimination

  • There are more than 30 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. directly or indirectly, based solely on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third class citizens in their own homeland.
  • 93% of the land in Israel is owned either by the state or by quasi-governmental agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund, that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel face significant legal obstacles in gaining access to this land for agriculture, residence, or commercial development.
  • More than seventy Palestinian villages and communities in Israel, some of which pre-date the establishment of the state, are unrecognized by the government, receive no services, and are not even listed on official maps. Many other towns with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns.
  • Since Israel’s founding in 1948, more than 600 Jewish municipalities have been established, while not a single new Arab town or community has been recognized by the state.
  • Israeli government resources are disproportionately directed to Jews and not to Arabs, one factor in causing the Palestinians of Israel to suffer the lowest living standards in Israeli society by all socio-economic indicators.
  • Government funding for Arab schools is far below that of Jewish schools. According to data published in 2004, the government provides three times as much funding to Jewish students than it does to Arab students.
  • The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law prevents Palestinians from the occupied territories who are married to Palestinian citizens of Israel from gaining residency or citizenship status. The law forces thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel to either leave Israel or live apart from their families.
  • In October 2010, the Knesset approved a bill allowing smaller Israeli towns to reject residents who do not suit “the community’s fundamental outlook”, based on sex, religion, and socioeconomic status. Critics slammed the move as an attempt to allow Jewish towns to keep Arabs and other non-Jews out.
  • The so-called “Nakba Bill” bans state funding for groups that commemorate the tragedy that befell Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948, when approx. 725,000 Palestinian Arabs were ethnically cleansed to make way for a Jewish majority state.
  • The British Mandate-era Land (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance law allows the Finance Minster to confiscate land for “public purposes.” The state has used this law extensively, in conjunction with other laws such as the Land Acquisition Law and the Absentees’ Property Law, to confiscate Palestinian land in Israel. A new amendment, which was adopted in February 2010, confirms state ownership of land confiscated under this law, even where it has not been used to serve the original confiscation purpose. The amendment was designed to prevent Arab citizens from submitting lawsuits to reclaim confiscated land.
  • Over the entirety of its 63-year existence, there has been a period of only about one year (1966-1967) that Israel did not rule over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights.
  • Former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have both warned that a continuation of the occupation will lead to Israel becoming an “apartheid” state. Barak stated: “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic… If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, heroes of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, have both compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.
  • Today, there is a virtual caste system within the territories that Israel controls between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, with Israeli Jews at the top and Muslim and Christian Palestinians in the occupied territories at the bottom. In between are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

Increasing intolerance for dissent & diversity in Israel

  • In September 2011 a survey found that a third of Israeli Jews don’t consider Arab citizens to be real Israelis.
  • According to a February 2011 survey, 52% of Israeli Jews would be willing to limit press freedoms to protect the state’s image, while 55% would accept limits on the right to oppose the government’s “defense policy.”
  • In January 2011 the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that civics teachers around the country were complaining of rampant, virulent anti-Arab racism amongst their Jewish students. One teacher said, “When we have a discussion in class about equal rights, the class immediately gets out of control… The students attack us, the teachers, for being leftist and anti-Semitic, and say that all the Arab citizens who want to destroy Israel should be transferred.” Another said: “We’re not talking about a minority, or children from families that have extreme political views, but about normal children who are afflicted with ignorance… The political discourse in recent years has given them the legitimacy to be prejudiced.”
  • In December 2010, dozens of municipal chief rabbis on the government payroll signed a letter supporting Eliyahu and his decree prohibiting Jews from renting property to non-Jews. One of the signatories, Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, head of the Ashdod Yeshiva (religious school), stated, “Racism originated in the Torah… The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel.”
  • In December 2010, the wives of 30 prominent rabbis signed an open letter calling on Jewish women not to date or work with Arabs. The letter stated: “For your sake, for the sake of future generations, and so you don’t undergo horrible suffering, we turn to you with a request, a plea, a prayer. Don’t date non-Jews, don’t work at places that non-Jews frequent, and don’t do national service with non-Jews.”
  • In September 2010, the spiritual leader of the Shas party (which sits in PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government), Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, declared that non-Jews were created to “serve” Jews, stating that: “Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel… Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created.”
  • In August 2010, on the eve of peace talks in Washington, Yosef delivered a sermon describing Palestinians as “evil, bitter enemies” and calling on god to make them “perish from this world” by striking them with a plague.
  • In 2001, Yosef, delivered a sermon in which he stated: “It is forbidden to be merciful to [Arabs]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable…The Lord shall return the Arabs’ deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world.”
  • In August 2010, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of a state-funded religious school in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, published a book that condoned the murder of non-Jewish children on the grounds that they may grow up to pose a threat to the state, writing that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks against them “curb their evil inclination.” Several other prominent rabbis subsequently endorsed the book.
  • In July, 2009, Israel’s Housing Minister, Ariel Atlas, warned against the “spread” of Israel’s Arab population and said that Arabs and Jews shouldn’t live together, stating: “if we go on like we have until now, we will lose the Galilee. Populations that should not mix are spreading there. I don’t think that it is appropriate for [Jews and Arabs] to live together.”
  •  In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s devastating three-week military assault against Gaza that killed more than 1300 Palestinians in the winter of 2008-9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israeli army units had been printing t-shirts depicting disturbing, violent images such as dead Palestinian babies, Palestinian mothers weeping on their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child, bombed-out mosques, and a pregnant Palestinian woman with a target superimposed on her belly and the caption, “1 shot, 2 kills”. Another showed a Palestinian baby, growing into a boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, “No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.”

To learn more about the work of the Institute for Middle East Understanding see their website here.


In Pictures

Click to see the Album Ethnic Cleansing of Negev Bedouin

Click to see the Album House Demolitions

Click to see the Album Settlement Construction


Not only Muslims Palestinians are subjected to Israel’s Policies:
Zionist Crimes Against Christianity

Click to see the Album: Christians in Palestine

More pictures in the Gallery Images | الصور

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