Submission to
Amman NGO networking meeting for the UN World Conference Against Racism
Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

5 February 2001


Adalah, the first Arab legal NGO focusing on Palestinian minority rights, was established to work on issues of group discrimination faced by the Palestinian minority.  The main goal of Adalah is to achieve equal rights and minority rights protections for Arab citizens in the field of Land and Housing Rights, Education Rights, Language Rights, Political Rights, Women’s Rights, Prisoner’s Rights, Culture Rights and Religious Rights.

Palestinians citizens make up approximately 20% of the population.  Arabic is their native language, and they belong to three religious communities: Muslim, Christian and Druze.  After the 1948 war, the Arab minority remained in their homeland and became citizens.  For the next 18 years, they lived under a Military Administration, applied only to them, despite their status as citizens.  The State never sought to integrate the Palestinian citizens, excluding them from public life and the public sphere while practicing systematic discrimination in many areas.  Although the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel promised complete equality for all its citizens, it refers specifically to Israel as a “Jewish State” committed to the “ingathering of the exiles.”  The tension between these two principles helps to explain the institutional and systematic discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel.

Racism exists at almost every level of society.  It is expressed by individuals and manifested in policies pursued by official institutions, and no State institution has taken appropriate steps against the phenomenon of racism not educated against it.  A main reason for its prevalence is that these institutions, including the government, legislature, judiciary, army and religious bodies, consistently emphasize the State’s national-religious character.  In addition, the militaristic character of the State, due in part to Israel’s many wars with Arab countries, greatly contributes to the sense of isolation among Jewish Israelis.  The fact that Arab citizens belong to the “Arab nation,” considered by the State as an enemy, significantly adds to the racist attitudes held and sentiments expressed against them.  The myth of “us” versus “them” plays a prominent role in the national consciousness of the Jewish majority.

Numerous academic institutions have conducted surveys on this subject, and the results are clear that racism in Israel runs deep.  One 1997 study indicated that the curriculum taught in state Jewish schools portrays Arabs as dangerous, as murderers and thieves.  It also reflected that such discrimination is increasing, especially among the youth.  In February 1998, a study found that nearly half of all Jewish youth believed that Arab citizens should be deprived of at least some of their rights, and one-fifth favored depriving Arabs of their rights because “Arabs endanger the state’s security, and therefore we need to get rid of them.”

Arab Members of the Knesset (MKs) are excluded from government coalitions because the government considers them as lacking legitimacy.  Almost half of the Jewish MKs argued at the time that the Oslo Agreement was illegitimate because Arab MKs were involved in the process.  Similarly, soon after MK Azmi Bishara announced his candidacy for Prime Minister, a bill was submitted to the Knesset prohibiting Arab citizens from running for this office.

All aspects of racism culminated when the al-Aqsa intifada broke out on 29 September 2000.  During the first week of October, security forces killed 13 Palestinian citizens and injured hundreds more.  Adalah’s investigation indicates that there was a predetermined plan to respond violently toward any expression of solidarity by Palestinian citizens with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and that this plan was consistent with the Prime Minister’s declaration that security forces had a green light to do whatever was necessary.  Situations such as those in Nazareth, in which police looked on while hundreds of Jewish citizens demonstrated and tens attacked Palestinian citizens, make it clear that this was a policy based not on fear, but on discrimination.

As the first Arab-run legal center addressing matters of Palestinian group rights in Israel, we focus our efforts on a number of issues that are particularly relevant to those addressed by the WCR, including:

Land and Housing Rights

Land Ownership, Housing and Development

Since 1948, Palestinian ownership of land has decreased from 93% to 7%.  Israel has enacted a series of laws in order to confiscate Arab-owned and Arab-held land and bring it to State ownership.

The Absentees’ Property Law defines persons who were expelled, fled or who left the country between 1948 and 1952, as well as their movable and immovable property, as absentee.  Property belonging to absentees was then put under the control of the Custodian for Absentees’ Property, and the State acquired control over the property.

In addition, the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency (Status) Law authorizes these bodies, formed in the early 1900s, to function as quasi-governmental entities; emphasizes the significant and important role played by these organizations; and reiterates the need for continued cooperation between these entities and the State.  As the internal regulations of these bodies explicitly aim to benefit only Jews, and the State cooperates and coordinates many of its governmental functions through them with them, the needs of the Arab citizens are systematically disregarded.  Among their other functions, they are entrusted with the work of developing land including building projects in existing Jewish towns and Jewish agricultural settlements, as well as the establishment of new Jewish localities.

The Uprooted Villages

Arab citizens have been evacuated from their villages and land using Regulation 125 of the British Mandatory Defence (Emergency) Regulations.  This regulation allows military commanders absolute discretion in declaring land as a “closed area.”  Once land is so declared, no one is allowed to enter or leave the area without special permission.  Many Arab citizens were forced from their villages and have not been permitted to return since the 1950s; these affected villages are known as “uprooted villages.”  The residents of such villages are “present absentees,” and they make up approximately a quarter of the Palestinian population.  Regulation 125 has never been used to close Jewish settlements in Israel, even where these communities are located in dangerous areas.  Moreover, Jewish settlements adjacent to these uprooted villages have used these lands for their own purposes.

Unrecognized Villages

Although many of these villages existed prior to the establishment of the State, they were declared illegal by the National Planning and Building Law, when the lands on which they sit were zoned as non-residential and ownership was claimed by the State.  There are tens of such villages where approximately 70,000 of Palestinian citizens (most of them Bedouin) live.  These villages are afforded no official status: they are excluded from government maps, have no local councils, belong to no other local governing bodies, and receive little to no government services such as electricity, water, telephone lines, or educational and health facilities.  In fact, Article 157A of the National Planning and Building Law prohibits national utility companies from connecting a building to national electrical, water and telephone networks if it lacks a building permit issued by a local authority; the residents of these villages are unable to get such permits.

In addition, the Government does not allow any physical infrastructure development, thus prohibiting the building and repairing of homes and the construction of paved roads and proper sewage facilities in these communities.  The government uses a combination of house demolitions, land confiscation, denial of services, and restrictions of infrastructure development to drive the residents from their homes.  Official government policy is to re-locate residents to designated concentrated areas in order to use the land for the creation and expansion of Jewish cities and towns.

Discriminatory Practices in Land and Housing

During and after the war of 1948, Israel destroyed close to 450 Arab villages, none of which have been re-built.  In fact, since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the state has neither built nor supported the construction of any Palestinian town, city or village.  To the contrary, the State has massively confiscated land belonging to Arabs who became citizens of the state and passed laws that facilitated the State’s acquisition of Palestinian-owned land to plan and build towns designated either for the existing Jewish majority or for Jewish immigrants.  Newly-built Jewish towns consistently receive permits to expand their jurisdiction even when neighboring Arab towns have larger populations.  State planning authorities also practice such discrimination: the Master Plan for the Northern Areas lists increasing the Galilee’s Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns as a priority goal.  They rarely make land available for housing to assist in the development of Arab towns; in contrast, land is consistently made available for the expansion of Jewish towns.

Language and Culture Rights

Symbols of National Identity

The flag and the official emblem of the State represent Jewish religious and Zionist symbols, which are not universal to all citizens.  They reflect no collective identity, nor do they address the two nationalities of the state.  As such, they clearly ignore the existence of the Palestinian citizens, who have no state-recognized national symbols with which they can identify. 

The Flag and Emblem Law (1949) was amended in 1997 to require, inter alia, that all public buildings raise the flag of Israel.  As a result, all Arab public institutions such as Arab schools and local councils must raise the flag, although the symbol in no way reflects Arab identity and ignores the existence of Arab as equal citizens.  The State Stamp Law (1949) also requires that the State stamp, which includes these same non-inclusive symbols, must be placed on all official documents.

Official State Holidays

The Law and Governance Ordinance (1948) designates all Jewish religious holy days (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, two days each of Succhot and Pesach, and Shavuot) as official state holidays.  The only other official state holiday is Israel’s Independence Day, also known as al-Naqba, which is clearly not a day of celebration for the Arab minority.  Therefore, there are no official state holidays that include all citizens.  Religious holidays of the Arab minority are ignored.

Cultural Institutions

There is no institute that exists to conduct academic research on or develop the Arabic language, although the High Institution for Hebrew Language Law (1953) establishes a special institution to do so for the Hebrew language.  This is true even though Article 82 of the Palestinian Order-in-Council (1922) states that Arabic is an official language of the state as well as Hebrew.  Moreover, the Laws of Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School give statutory recognition to cultural and educational institutions, and define their aims, inter alia, as developing and fulfilling Zionist goals.  No law establishes or provides such recognition to existing privately-run Arab cultural or educational institutions.  This law was challenged after a request for funds for an Arab music festival was denied on the grounds that the festival included Christian music.  A petition was subsequently filed before the High Court; it was denied based on the explanation that the State was not required to support institutions that promoted Christian music.

Language Rights

Throughout the years, Israel has marginalized the Arabic language.  Arabic is perceived as being useless and marginal, although it is the native language of 20% of the population and the primary language spoken in the Middle East.  Through its institutions, including the government, legislature, and judicial system, Israel has developed Hebrew to be the dominant language, although Article 82 of the Palestinian Order-in-Council (1922) (referenced above) was retained as a valid law after 1948.  Nonetheless, government practices ignore the official status of the Arabic language.  Laws are enacted, regulations are set, and court decisions are written only in Hebrew, without translation to Arabic.  Even when the use of Arabic is upheld in a High Court decision, it is protected as free speech rather than as an official language.

Other laws also emphasize the dominance of Hebrew.  The Citizenship Law (1952) requires a candidate for Israeli citizenship to have some knowledge of Hebrew, yet does not make the same requirement for Arabic.  The law which governs the Israeli Bar Association also requires Israeli lawyers to possess knowledge of Hebrew but not Arabic.

As indicated above, there exists no academic institution to preserve and develop the Arabic language, although one exists for Hebrew.  Moreover, there is no Palestinian university in Israel, and Arabic language and literature classes at Israeli universities are taught in Hebrew rather than Arabic.  Licensing examinations in law, medicine, and accounting are offered only in Hebrew, which is particularly problematic for Palestinians who studied overseas, yet wish to return home to practice in their field.

Language discrimination is also evident in media outlets.  Of the two official television channels, neither broadcasts any Arabic programming in prime time, and one broadcasts only 2.5% of its programming in Arabic.

Hate Speech

One obvious way in which the deep-seated racism against the Palestinian minority in Israel is manifested is that of hate speech against this minority.  Although the legal system possesses all the necessary tools – through its laws and ordinances – to institute criminal charges against individuals for incitement to racism and racist speech, the Attorney General’s office rarely uses these powers when the speech is directed against an Arab.  Although some attempt was made to enforce laws which criminalize racism or racist speech in the wake of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1996, there are few reported cases brought against an individual for such speech.  Although Rabbi Kahana’s extremist ultra-Orthodox Kach party was outlawed from participating in the Knesset, he was never criminally charged with incitement to racism.  His followers continue to propagate racist views against the Arab minority, yet they remain uncharged and go unpunished.

In addition to criminal charges, the authorities have the power to limit racist speech and incitement through prior restraint of speech or through regulations and ordinances that ban extremist racist speech against the minority, although they rarely use this power.  Although freedom of speech is important in building a liberal democratic society, the Arab minority does not have access to the majority media or to majority culture to forcefully counter the hate speech against them in the liberal principle of “words versus words.”  Further, when Rabbi Kahana petitioned the High Court to be able to air his views on television, Justice Barak concluded that “freedom of expression includes also the freedom to express dangerous thoughts, irritant and deviant, that the public averses and hates … the freedom of expression includes, in its interpretation also the freedom to use racist speech...”

In sharp contrast, Israel utilizes these laws and ordinances when dealing with speech by Palestinian citizens.  In 2000, the Labor Party government mounted a campaign of prosecuting Arabs for “incitement.”  The Israeli police are investigating several Arab Knesset members – MK Mohammed Barakeh, MK Azmi Bishara, and MK Sheik Abdulmalik Dehamshe – for comments regarding peace and equality that they had made in rallies and other public fora.  All three have stated that they consider this to be an attempt to prevent them from expressing their opinions, and a violation of their right to freedom of speech.


Citizenship laws are based on the principle of blood relations rather than territory.  National identity is the primary factor in deciding questions involving the acquisition of citizenship, and factors of family ties, place, territory or residency are less important.  This reflects the ideology of the State, as expressed in the Law of Return (1950).  A Jewish individual who left the country during the 1948 war can return at any time and acquire citizenship based on the Law of Return and the Citizenship Law (1952).  Jewish residents can become citizens immediately based on the Law of Return, as can Jewish non-citizen spouses of Jewish citizens.

In contrast, the process of obtaining citizenship for Arabs or non-Jewish spouses of Arab citizens is much more complicated.  If an Arab left the country during the 1948 war and then returns, he has to meet a complex series of conditions under the Citizenship Law.  Although this law was amended in 1980 by the addition of Section 3(a) to ease the difficult process of becoming a citizen, the section leaves in force the distinction between the conditions of acquiring citizenship for Jews as compared to non-Jews.  Arab residents must go through the naturalization process as outlined in Section 5(a) of the Citizenship Law to acquire citizenship, during which the chances are negligible.  It is not considered his/her right to obtain citizenship, but rather a privilege.  Non-Jewish spouses of Arab citizens must also meet the criteria outlined in Section 5(a), but there is little chance to acquire citizenship.  The Arab citizen must apply for family reunification in order to obtain permanent residency status for his/her spouse.  According to the policy for granting permanent residency status for non-citizens, a permanent residency permit will be issued only after five years, and three months from the approval of the day of the application for family reunification.  During the waiting period, the non-citizen spouse received no social benefits such as health care or national insurance.

Religious Rights

Although the State comprises Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews, Israeli practice and laws officially recognize only Jewish religious sites as holy places, only Jewish holidays as state holidays and only the needs of the Jewish religious community.  This discriminatory approach is apparent in a series of laws relating to religious matters, as well as the budget of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The Protection of Holy Sites Law (1967)

The Protection of Holy Sites Law (1967) empowers the Minister of Religious Affairs to list the names of the holy sites in regulations that govern the implementation of the law.  Although it does not refer to any specific groups, the Minister of Religion instituted the Protection of Jewish Holy Sites Regulation (1981) to declare and name solely the holy places of the Jewish religion.  The determination of holy sites is significant because this recognition provides state funding to institutions to protect the sanctity of these places and preserve them from damage.

The Religious Jewish Services law (1971)

The Religious Jewish Services law (1971) authorizes the Minister of Religious Affairs to establish religious councils in Jewish towns, cities and settlements.  The local governing bodies co-fund 60% of the religious councils that serve the populations in all religious matters.  No law grants Muslim or Christian leadership bodies similar statutory status, although a religious council was established for the Arab Druze.  As a result, no funds are reserved by the state to assist in the provision of religious services in Arab towns and villages.

The Chief Rabbinate Law (1980)

The Chief Rabbinate Law (1980) codifies the functions of the Chief Rabbinate Council, enumerates rules for the Council’s election, and provides for the election of two Chief Rabbis.  There is no law granting Arab religious bodies or leaders statutory status similar to that of the Chief Rabbinate.

The Budget of the Ministry of Religious Affairs

The typical allocation of the budget of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is based on the Budget Law, to the Arab Muslim, Christian and Druze religious communities is less than 2% of the total.  The remaining 98% is dedicated solely to the Jewish religious community.

Social, Economic and Employment Rights

Discriminatory Standards and Criterion

One of the most discriminatory criteria in place against Palestinian citizens is the requirement of military service for obtaining governmental preferences and benefits.  Although most Jewish Israelis go into the army, most Arab citizens do not and are not required to do so.  As a result, about 90% of the Arabs are excluded from receiving substantial benefits including greater housing loans, partial exemptions from fees in state-run occupational training courses, and preferences in public employment, educational loans and on-campus housing.  The benefits in the Absorption of Former Soldiers Law (1994) include grants for completing high school, university and professional courses, as well as additional awards for housing loans, the purchase of apartments and the start-up of new businesses.  In addition to the benefits enumerated in this law, governmental offices seek to provide additional benefits to former soldiers above and beyond what is legislated – benefits from which Palestinians are excluded.

Another area which reflects the discriminatory criteria is that of the re-definition of the “national priority areas” in Israel.  Every few years, the government sets a plan designating “national priority areas” to which numerous grants, tax incentives for industry, educational programs, and other benefits and preferences are provided; the goal of the program is to support socially and economically weak localities.  Although Palestinian localities are amongst the lowest socio-economic levels in Israel, merely a handful of Arab towns have ever been defined as such.

Additionally, Arab municipalities and local councils receive a small share of the total State budget allocations to local governing authorities in Israel.  A report by the Ministry of the Interior confirmed that these municipalities receive a fraction of the funds allocated per resident in comparison with the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and in the development towns.

Discrimination in Employment

Although the Equal Opportunity Law prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, and other suspect classes, this law is not effective in protecting the rights of Palestinian citizens from discrimination in employment.  Few Arab citizens are employed in government offices.  National identity is usually the reason for excluding Palestinian workers from these public service positions, although it is often masked by “neutral” criteria such as the requirement for military service.  Such requirements are often totally irrelevant for the requirements of the position.