Adalah's Initial Position on the Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law - 1994 (Amendment No. 24, 2022), which was approved by the Israeli Knesset on 23 May 2022

The new amendment to the Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law – 1994, also known as the “From Uniforms to Studies Law”, stipulates that a discharged soldier, as defined in the law, will be entitled to receive financial support for university or college tuition fees from the “Uniforms to Studies Fund” in an amount equal to two-thirds of the annual tuition fees. If the tuition fee of a discharged soldier in a given year is less than two-thirds of the annual tuition fees, he/she will be entitled for funding equal to the actual tuition fee.

 

Under Israeli law, national military service is mandatory for most Israeli citizens over the age of eighteen, with exceptions made for Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel, and on certain other grounds, e.g. religious, physical or psychological grounds. Military service lasts for a minimum of two years and eight months in the case of men, and two years for women.

 

In addition to tuition fees, the criterion of military service is used by the state to condition eligibility for many other economic benefits relating to almost all aspects of life, from education, employment, allocation of land resources, housing loans, credit points for mortgages and other costs associated with purchasing a house, to business and employment, and more. In practice, the state uses the military service criterion as a proxy for discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, as a means of channeling enormous financial benefits to Jewish Israelis using public funds.

 

In order to gain a deep understanding of the meaning and consequences of the law, it must be viewed within the context of the socio-economic policy of the State of Israel towards its Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise about 20% of the population of the state. The mechanism of awarding benefits based on military service is part of decades-long, systemic discrimination against Palestinian citizens in all of the aforementioned areas of life, which has driven the growth of an enormous economic gap between them and the Jewish majority in Israel.

 

According to the National Insurance Institute, 56.6% of Palestinian Arab families in Israel live in poverty, and 42% suffer from food insecurity. Compared to 37.5% of Jewish citizens that live in poverty and 11.1% who suffer from food insecurity. In the Naqab (Negev), hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin citizens of Israel are suffering from even higher poverty and unemployment rates and are at the bottom of Israel’s rankings for almost all socio-economic indices. Bedouin citizens living in the Naqab are systematically denied their basic social and economic rights, with no adequate access to adequate housing, education, health or water services. The Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority (a body of the Israeli government) which is responsible for all aspects of Bedouin residents’ lives, operates a separate and unequal system for Bedouin citizens, hindering their social and economic development. The separated Arab education system in Israel in general lags behind the education system for Jewish citizens in terms of levels of educational attainment and receives less public funding per school student compared to the Israeli Jewish education system.

 

Most Arab towns are ranked in the lowest socio-economic clusters (clusters 1-3 out of 10), and budgets for Arab localities are increasingly moving in a separate track from Jewish localities, whereby Arab localities receive funds through state-funded economic development plans rather than directly from government ministries. This is due to the institutionalized, prolonged and persistent discrimination against Arab localities. Thus, the vast majority of public state resources are disbursed to benefit Israeli Jewish citizens and localities in an institutionally discriminatory manner.

 

The system of economic exclusion of Palestinian citizens of the state is based on a raft of laws and decisions made by the government and public authorities, which Adalah has challenged since its establishment in 1996. Examples include:

 

Military service criteria for affordable housing;

 

The Admissions Committees’ Law - 2011;

 

Government decisions regarding National Priority Areas;

 

Discrimination in balance grants to Arab towns;

 

Discrimination in education budgets to Arab educational programs for Arab children;

 

Discrimination in employment services, and

 

Discrimination in health services.

 

The role played by military service as a criterion employed by the state in order to exclude Palestinian citizens of Israel from lucrative state benefits has been expanded over the last two decades, in clear breach of the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

 

The “From Uniforms to Studies Law” will significantly increase the already wide socio-economic gaps between Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab students, turning Israeli universities into an apartheid space. Within this space, Palestinian Arab students will be in an even worse economic situation relative to Jewish Israeli students, as they will have to pay tuition fees that are two-thirds higher, even though they are relatively less well-off. This burden comes in addition to the discrimination they face in access to dormitories, which in some universities are preferentially allocated to discharged soldiers.

 

This gross discrimination was enabled by a series of judicial rulings that legitimized the distribution of public state resources on the basis of nationality. Examples include the Israeli Supreme Court judgments that rejected petitions against:

 

The Admissions Committees’ Law;

 

A criterion set by the Housing Ministry, which confers mortgage benefits to discharged soldiers;

 

Prioritizing discharged soldiers in the allocation of residential land plots in the Arab towns of Nazareth and Kufur Kama;

 

The transfer of Bedouin citizens from their land in order to allocate the land to Jewish Israelis.

 

These Supreme Court rulings have many implications, the most severe of which is that they provide a legal seal of approval to institutionalized racial discrimination. Such legal conception adopts the idea that the Jewish identity of the majority of Israel’s citizens justifies the distribution of public state resources on the basis of race and/or religious belonging. It was constitutionalized in the 2018 Jewish Nation-State Law, which was upheld in a 10-to-1 decision of the Supreme Court, and is a prominent feature of economic apartheid.

 

It was during the period of military rule imposed on Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from 1948 to 1966 that economic apartheid was most extreme and visible. During this period, the state eliminated the agricultural economy on which the Arab population had relied before 1948 and directed the vast majority of public resources to Jewish Israeli citizens. These steps were taken in addition to the furtherance of draconian policies of Judaization and the permanent deportation of Arabs from the country. Since that time and until today, Israeli socio-economic policies have systematically kept the Palestinian Arab population in a state of relative poverty, amid institutionalized socio-economic discrimination and exclusion against them. The “From Uniforms to Studies Law”, which adopts the military service criterion is an integral part of this racist policy.

 

Photo taken from PM Naftali Bennett’s official Instagram account