Israeli protests cast light on laws discriminating against Palestinians

Israel has passed many laws that codify bias against Palestinians but did not meet the same uproar as the judicial overhaul bill.

An aerial view shows protesters attending a march in Tel Aviv on July 22, 2023.
Israeli protesters have taken to the streets for months in opposition to the government's judicial overhaul bill - but anti-Palestinian bills are often ignored [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

The passing of a bill this week by the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, restricting the Supreme Court’s powers has garnered domestic opposition and even international calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government to reconsider.

The push for the bill, months in the making, has brought out thousands of Israelis to the streets, with the country’s opposition rallying around a call to “protect democracy”, and maintaining that the present government and its control of the Knesset mark a departure from the norms of Israeli parliamentary democracy.

Palestinians, watching on, may have a different opinion. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories rarely, if ever, receives censure in the Knesset. Instead, many bills are passed – relatively unnoticed – that continue to subjugate and discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as those living in occupied East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Demonstrators wave the Israeli and Palestinian flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv
Demonstrators wave Israeli and Palestinian flags during a protest against the judicial reform bill, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, July 22, 2023 [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

Sari Bashi, programme director at Human Rights Watch, said Israeli law codifies racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and facilitates institutional privilege of Israeli Jews over Palestinians.

“I respect the pro-democracy protestors engaging in mass demonstrations against the further erosion of judicial independence in Israel, and many are also protesting Israeli occupation and apartheid. But let’s please be clear about the Israeli ‘democracy’ they are trying to protect,” she tweeted.

Here are just some of the laws Israel has passed in recent years that experts have said codify discrimination against Palestinians and restrict their rights but that have not met the same public uproar:

Expansion of the Admissions Committees Law

On Tuesday, the Knesset expanded a 2010 law that allows communities to screen and reject applicants deemed “unsuitable to the[ir] social and cultural makeup”. This, observers have said, essentially maked it easier for towns to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from moving to Jewish-majority towns. Many of these towns were built on or near Palestinian towns and villages that were depopulated before or during the 1948 Nakba, after their inhabitants were expelled or fled.

“The passage of the ‘Admissions Committees’ law in the Knesset yesterday, which effectively authorises segregation in Israeli towns, is but the latest reminder that principles of democracy and equality have been absent in Israel long before this most recent judicial overhaul,” said Yousef Munayyer, a senior fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.

“From NGO laws targeting human rights organisations, laws around Palestinian family unification, laws around the right to boycott and laws around the right to commemorate Palestinian history, the assault on liberal principles in Israel has been a very long road, which was paved by some of the same political figures screaming about democracy today,” Munayyer told Al Jazeera.

Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People

In July 2018, the Knesset voted to pass a law that defines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people”, with Hebrew as its official language and Jerusalem – including the illegally occupied eastern side – as its capital.

The bill denies Palestinians any national rights and further entrenched racial discrimination against them by declaring that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people”.

According to the Haifa-based Adalah legal rights centre, the law “transforms discrimination into a constitutional, systematic and institutional principle, and into a basic element of the foundations of Israeli law”.

The law states that Jewish settlement is “a national value” and that the state will “encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation” – essentially giving it carte blanche to settle more land in the occupied territories – the Golan Heights included, or in Israel proper.

Upholding the 2008 Citizenship Law

In July 2022, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the state can revoke citizenship over offences constituting a “breach of loyalty”, providing the government with legal mechanisms to strip Palestinians of their citizenship and fundamental rights and deport them, after rendering them stateless.

In August 2017, the Haifa District Court revoked the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, a Palestinian citizen of Israel serving time in prison after being convicted of attempted murder. This was the first time an Israeli court has ruled that an individual’s citizenship be revoked, according to Adalah.

“There has never been a request to revoke the citizenship of a Jewish citizen, even when Jewish citizens were involved in serious and grave crimes,” Adalah noted, highlighting the case of Yigal Amir, the assassin of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a request to revoke his citizenship in 1996, but upheld the ruling against Zayoud.

Law banning BDS supporters from entering Israel

In March 2017, parliament voted to ban any Palestinians or foreign nationals if they, or the organisations they belong to, publicly endorse the boycott of Israel or its illegal settlements.

The law, with its vague wording, also has implications for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem whose partners live with them on Israeli military-issued permits or a temporary residence status.

If those spouses are vocal about supporting BDS – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – they could be vulnerable to having their status or permits revoked based on their political opinions.

BDS is a campaign to push Israel into withdrawing from all occupied Palestinian and Arab territory, and to give its Palestinian citizens the same rights as its Jewish ones.

Source: Al Jazeera