The Different Forms of Discrimination against the Palestinian Minority in Israel

  • The Different Forms of Discrimination against the Palestinian Minority in Israel

The Different Forms of Discrimination against the Palestinian Minority in Israel

Written by Ramez Alhayek


The establishment of Israel on historic Palestine after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war has been followed by the immediate implementation of multiple laws and policies that have systematically discriminated against and undermined the status of Palestinian Arabs, who could remain in their lands within the green line. The end of this war was accompanied by significant demographic changes, in which the Palestinian Arabs suddenly turned from being the majority into becoming a marginalized minority in Israel. This demographic change mainly occurred due to the Zionist militias’ actions, which led to the expulsion and fleeing of many Palestinian Arabs outside of the borders of the newly established state, significantly decreasing the Palestinian population. In the status-quo, there are approximately 1.5 million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, which make up 20% of the total population (DePietro, 2012). While Israel represents itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, in which it preserves the rights for all of its citizens, the Palestinian minority has been subjected to various forms of discrimination and suppression since its founding, which include, but are not exclusive to; social life, politics, and economy.

An overview of the Main Discriminatory Laws and Policies that have been Implemented Against Palestinians since the Founding of Israel.

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was ended, severe restrictive measures were applied against Palestinian Arabs. Essentially, during the initial years of the construction of the Jewish state between 1948 to 1966, Israel imposed martial law solely on Arabs as well as other specific laws that aimed to alienate and restrict the Arab citizens (DePietro, 2012). Although some discriminatory laws, including the martial law, were fully dismantled in 1966 to assure and grant equal rights to the Arab citizens of Israel, direct and official forms of discrimination as part of the Israeli Constitution remained to exist nonetheless, challenging the democratic aspect of Israel (DePietro, 2012). In this regard, Israel regards itself as both; democratic and Jewish, as what appeared in its Basic Laws (DePietro, 2012). However, the feature of being a Jewish state has been criticized as it contradicts the principles of democracy since it affirms that Israel is a nation that is exclusive to the Jews only. Hence, it implies that other minorities residing in Israel, most notably the Arabs, do not belong to the state, which causes them to be alienated. This idea has been extensively endorsed by many Israeli figures and politicians, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, as the Prime Minister of the state, who publicly stated that Israel is a state “only of the Jewish people” (Al Jazeera, 2019). In this sense, the current structure of Israel has been characterized as a “Jewish state that privileges its Jewish majority over its non-Jewish minority through state policies, legislative measures, court decisions, and official institutions” (DePietro, 2012). Over the years, the Knesset, which acts as the legislative branch of the Israeli government, has adopted several discriminatory laws that deprive the Palestinian Arabs within Israel, in addition to those living in the West Bank and Gaza of their fundamental rights. It is essential to address that the Palestinian Arabs living outside the green line, who can be deemed as another minority for Israel, in terms of power, are not permitted to vote in the Knesset, despite being extensively and directly affected by the different laws that it passes. Of course, this reflects the undemocratic nature of the Israeli government in terms of Arab representation and the various forms of discrimination it follows against the Arabs to undermine their status.

There are several discriminatory laws that have been enacted by the Knesset against both, the Palestinian Arabs living within and outside the green line, which affirms the narrative that inequality in Israel is institutionalized. Most of these laws were implemented to preserve the current demographic status, in which the Arabs remain a minority compared to a significant Jewish majority within the borders of Israel. For instance, Israel’s Law of Return, which was issued in 1950, grants any Jew in the world the right to live in Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship without any restrictions (Al Jazeera, 2018). Whereas the Palestinian Arabs who were expelled from their lands and stripped of their citizenship are prohibited from returning back. This specific law clearly indicates that Israeli policies and laws favor Jews over Arabs as demonstrated by the hostile and discriminatory behavior Israel has towards the Arab minority. In addition to the Law of Return, Israel has issued other laws that fulfill similar interests, such as the Absentees’ Property Law, which was also issued in 1950, which placed the property belonging to absentees (expelled Palestinian Arabs) under the control and custody of the Israeli government (Al Jazeera, 2018). Essentially, the Absentees’ Property Law is considered to be the “main legal instrument” for Israel to “take possession of the land belonging to the internal and external Palestinian refugees, and Muslim Waqf properties across the state” (Adalah, 2007). Of course, since Palestinian refugees were and still are not permitted to return back to their lands, their properties were confiscated and taken by the Israeli government (Al Jazeera, 2018). It is important to clarify that this law is not only applicable to the property of the Palestinian absentees who were expelled outside the borders of Israel. Rather, even “Present Absentees” or the Arabs who got expelled from their homes during the war, but remained within the borders of the newly established state of Israel, were not allowed to return to their former homes, even if they had shown documents that prove their ownership over the land (Śegev, 68-91). 

Furthermore, other laws, such as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, passed in 2003, endorses the institutionalized racial discrimination against Palestinian Arabs since this law is deemed as a burden for family reunification for thousands of Palestinians. To explain, this law imposes severe limitations on Palestinian Arabs who apply for family unification to join their spouses who are located within the green line (ReliefWeb, 2017). These limitations vary from age restrictions for both males and females, and those who are not excluded by age can be prohibited for “suspicion of involvement in activities hostile to Israel,” such as a criminal offense, stone-throwing, etc (ReliefWeb, 2017). Consequently, Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship become forced to either live without their spouses or leave Israel to join them (ReliefWeb, 2017). In this regard, these restrictions are only imposed on the Arab minority, since non-Jewish foreign nationals who want to join their Jewish spouses do not go under this difficult process (ReliefWeb, 2017). Moreover, the Israeli Knesset issued the Nakba Law, in 2001, which grants the finance minister the power to “reduce funding or support” to any institution that openly commemorates Israel’s Independence Day with Al-Nakba (Al Jazeera, 2018). In this sense, this particular law restricts the freedom of expression of the Palestinian Arabs, as well as preventing them from having the right to commemorate the Nakba, which is an “integral part of their history” (Al Jazeera, 2018). Most recently, in 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed the controversial Nation-State law, which has questioned the claim of Israel being a democratic state as it affirms that Israel is unique to the Jewish people and it made the national self-determination exclusive to them only (Berger, 2018). The law also recognizes Hebrew as the only official language of Israel, removing Arabic as an official language and giving it a special status. In addition, it encourages the establishment of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and considers it as a national value, completely disregarding the presence of Palestinian Arabs within this territory (Berger, 2018). This law outraged many Arabs who have technically become second-class citizens. Of course, all of these policies have undermined the status of Arabs and created a discriminatory environment against them in Israel. As such, the discriminatory practices of Israel's violate different articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (1992), which ensures that minority groups shall be given their full rights without discrimination or prejudice (Kymlicka, 4). Although it is affirmed that the failure of complying with these conventions that protect minority rights would result in tangible consequences (Kymlicka, 4). However, the case of Israel demonstrates a clear inconsistency of such narrative as the UN has minimally engaged to put an end to the discriminatory actions of Israel.

An Overview of the Economic Discrimination against the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel.

Not only do the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel suffer from grave discrimination in terms of legislation and numerous laws that extensively undermine their status in the Israeli society, but also, they are subjected to severe restrictions, which considerably deteriorate their economic situation. In general, the State budget allocation of Israel explicitly and annually discriminate against the Palestinian Arab minority, which was evident through the analysis of the Mossawa Center on Israel’s development Budget, which contributes to several sectors of society, such as “housing, land, infrastructure, and transportation” (DePietro, 2012). It was found out that the Palestinian Arab minority has never received more than 6% of the Development Budget from the government, in comparison to budget lines that were specifically appointed for Jewish institutions, such as Jewish cultural organizations (DePietro, 2012). This discriminatory and unequal distribution has inevitably generated difficult living conditions for the Arabs, in which their towns suffer from “overcrowding, house demolitions, inadequate roads, state services, and infrastructure” that is deemed as inferior compared to Jewish towns (DePietro, 2012). Consequently, the Mossawa Center released a report in 2008, which showed that half of the Palestinian Arab minority living in Israel is under the poverty line, compared to only 15% of the Jewish population (Roffe-Ofir, 2008).

In regards to the discriminatory actions the Israeli government takes that directly harms the economy of the Palestinian Arab minority, one has to look at the Israeli Minister of Interior, which consists of a planning section that deals with the approval of city plans for the State. Out of its 120 million NIS budget, only 5 million NIS is allocated for the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel (DePietro, 2012). Moreover, 48 city plans were proposed and have to be proved by the Palestinian Arab local councils to the Ministry, in order to solve the issue of lack of housing and overcrowding in the Arab cities and neighborhoods of Israel (DePietro, 2012). Essentially, the lack of approval of such plans, the Palestinian Arab localities were forced to build approximately 36, 000 houses without permits – a risky action that subjects those houses to be demolished at any time since they are regarded as illegal under the law (DePietro, 2012). Similarly, the Ministry of Transportation follows the same discriminatory approach, in which it allocates only 12% of its annual budget for transportation facilities and urban roads which are especially used by the Arab community (DePietro, 2012). Because of this very low percentage, over 40 Palestinian Arab localities suffer from the problem of being disconnected from public transportation completely (DePietro, 2012).

The Political Struggles and Discrimination the Arabs are Subjected to.

Although the right to full political participation is equally granted to Palestinian Arab citizens, nonetheless there are several obstacles they suffer from. Mainly, their representation in political bodies is constantly hindered by the various attempts of mainstream political parties to ban the Arab political parties from participation. Generally, Palestinian Arab citizens are subjected to constant and continuous verbal attacks and legal indictments by several Israeli politicians, “both of which aim to accuse the members of Knesset as terrorists and traitors” (DePietro, 2012). For instance, in 2006, Israel’s former Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman publicly called for the execution of three Arab MKs who had visited Lebanon and Syria, claiming that “the fate of the collaborators in the Knesset should be identical to that of the Nazi collaborators” (Khoury, 2006). Likewise, other MKs have similar remarks, such as Danny Danon – a member of the Likud party, who depicted the Arab MKs as “masked terrorists” and stating that “we [Israelis] cannot remain quiet while a terrorist cell develops in the Knesset” (Stoil, 2010). Despite this incitement against Arabs, the Knesset did not challenge any of these discriminatory remarks, which “legitimizes racism in the national psyche” and causes the Arabs to be alienated and feel unwelcomed (DePietro, 2012). Furthermore, multiple Arab MKs were controversially indicted, such as Said Nafaa, who was charged, in 2010, with “contacting a foreign agent and visiting an ‘enemy state during a trip to Syria” (DePietro, 2012). Of course, this is just a single case that manifests the discriminatory behavior the Israeli Knesset follows against Arabs.

In addition to these unlawful indictments and attacks, there were several attempts from Israeli political parties to ban Arab MKs and parties to participate in national elections. For example, the Balad party along with its leader MK Azimi Bishara as well as MK Ahmad Tibi from Ta'al political party were disqualified in 2003 because of the demands and petitions from right-wing parties to the Central Elections Committee that called for their disqualification (DePietro, 2012). Their reason behind this action was based on the allegation that they "support the armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the state of Israel" (DePietro, 2012). However, this decision was lifted by the Supreme Court and they were able to participate in the elections. Similar cases happened before in the 2006 and 2009 elections, in which petitions were submitted to disqualify Arab MKs and political parties (DePietro, 2012). Essentially, this discriminating behavior is not only exclusive in the Knesset or the Arab Mks only, but also to the Arab voters. In April 2019, the Likud party attempted to intimidate Arab voters by placing around 1,200 cameras in predominant Arab polling stations as a mechanism to decrease the Arab voter turnout (Specia, 2019). Despite solid evidence that Benjamin Netanyahu was behind this discriminatory conduct, no legal measure was taken against him. In this, it becomes clear that Palestinian Arabs suffer from several obstacles that undermine their political participation, hindering the possibility of them being treated as equal citizens.


Based on this evidence, it can be concluded that Israel is not as democratic as it claims to be, which is clearly visible by the discriminatory nature of its policies that aim to undermine the status of Arabs and maintain the dominance of Jews over them. It is necessary to address that although Israel appears to be democratic, in the sense that it granted its Palestinian minority citizenships and ‘full and equal’ rights, the Arabs are subjected to different measures of blatant discrimination that is tolerated by the government, which challenges the claim that Israel protects the rights of its people equally. This is clearly demonstrated by the different economic situations between the Jews and Arabs, which is caused by the unfair distribution of the annual budget of the state, in addition to the different political barriers and discrimination, Arabs are subjected to, such as verbal harassment and legal indictments exclusively directed against Arab MKs. Given, it can be observed that this discriminatory approach against Arabs is institutionalized and endorsed by Israel as it has been implementing several policies and laws that directly or indirectly discriminate against Arabs since its founding as a state. Consequently, the Arab minority of Israel is not treated fairly or equally compared to Jewish citizens.


“Absentees' Property Law.” Adalah, 2007.

“Israel Must Repeal the Discriminatory Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law - Occupied Palestinian Territory.” ReliefWeb, 2017,

Al Jazeera. “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel Is a State 'Only of the Jewish People'.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 11 Mar. 2019,

Al Jazeera. “Five Ways Israeli Law Discriminates against Palestinians.” Israel News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 19 July 2018,

Berger, Miriam. “Israel's Hugely Controversial ‘Nation-State’ Law, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 31 July 2018,

DePietro, Dana. “The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel Is a ‘Core Issue, Not Second Tier to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict‘1.” BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, 2012,

Khoury, Jack. “PM defends Arab MKs after Lieberman calls for execution,” Haaretz, 4 May 2006,

Kymlicka, Will. 2007. "Introduction" in Multicultural Odyseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity p.3-25, Oxford University Press.

Roffe-Ofir, Sharon."Report: Most Arabs below poverty line," YNet News, 16 Feb 2008,,7340,L-3507481,00.html.

Śegev, Tom, et al. 1949 The First Israelis. Metropolitan Books, 1998.

Specia, Megan. “Israel Voting Cameras Lowered Arab Turnout, Netanyahu Backers Claim.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2019,

Stoil, Rebecca Anna. “Lieberman to Sanaa: We'll deal with you like other terrorists,” The Jerusalem Post, 10 December 2010,

About the Author:

Ramez Alhayek is the Advocacy Manager of Shoruq Organization. He holds a BA in International Law and Human Rights. He has worked in several NGOs and world-leading HROs all around the globe.