Week 7: Discriminatory Policies towards the Palestinian People

In declaring February 20 the World Day of Social Justice, the United Nations stated “that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations and that, in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It is clear that there are many practices of the Israeli government that deny Palestinians their human rights and fundamental freedom and, by extension, their social development and justice.

One of these practices is that of citizenship denial and discrimination, and the restrictions on movement and opportunities that come with it. Asking a Palestinian about her passport quickly becomes an object lesson in the machinations of occupation. Which passport, if any, a Palestinian possesses, where they may live, which roads they can drive, and even who they can marry, is often determined by something as minor as which side of a roadway a grandparent lived on in 1948. Here’s what you need to know about citizenship discrimination so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Discriminatory Policies towards the Palestinian People

In the Nakba of 1948 over a million Palestinians were displaced from their homes. While most expected to return to their homes, they eventually found themselves living as refugees in other countries, the West Bank, or Gaza. Starting with the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and in the decades since, subsequent resolutions, the Israeli seizures of 1967 (Golan, West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza), and the so-called peace process have made a patchwork of the region. Whereas all Palestinians living across Palestine in 1947 had the same basic citizenship and travel rights, they now have incredibly different statuses, rights, and restrictions based on where they ended up in the patchwork.

Furthermore, a number of Israeli policies and laws have served to divide Palestinians under Israeli control (as citizens and as an occupied population) into a number of categories, with different rights and restrictions for each. Some of the most insidious include the permit system; the combination of the apartheid wall (Week 29), checkpoints (Week 9), and other barriers; separate laws and systems (such as roadways) for settlements (Week 8); and numerous laws that embed discriminatory practices into the Israeli legal system.

This jumble of history, policies, and laws has created a citizenship lottery that casts Palestinians in a sort of caste system not of their own making and beyond their control that dramatically affects their daily lives, life choices, and even family planning. In short, the level of discrimination for the Palestinian people varies depending on the place they are located. For many people this could sound very confusing. We will now try to show the complicated reality of Palestinians: 

Palestinians who live in the occupied state of Palestine in accordance to the 1967 borders:

A) Palestinians who live in the West Bank: The occupied West Bank was divided into three areas—A, B and C—as part of the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993 and 1995. 

Area A: This area is home to Palestinians who live in Palestinian cities that fall under both the administrative and security responsibilities of the Palestinian government, although Israel’s military routinely violates Palestine’s limited authority. Palestinians in this category hold Palestinian issued green ID cards and require Israeli military permits to travel into Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem, limiting their access to hospitals, family unification and job opportunities. Today, Area A constitutes 18 percent of the West Bank. 

Discrimination: family unification, freedom of movement

Area B: In Area B, which comprises about 21 percent of the West Bank, the PA controls most of the administrative responsibilities but the security responsibilities are left for Israel. Similar to the Palestinians who live in area A, all residents of Area B require Israel military permits to travel to Gaza and East Jerusalem. 

Discrimination: family unification, freedom of movement, live under Israel’s military law 

Area C: This isthe largest section of the West Bank, comprising about 60 percent of the Palestinian territory. It is also the site of the vast majority of the more than 200 illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, where more than 400,000 settlers live.

Although control of part of this area was meant to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in 1999 as per the Oslo Accords, the handover did not materialize, leaving security, planning and construction matters in the hands of Israel. Palestinians who attempt to build in the area are subject to home demolition orders, resulting in displacement and the disruption of livelihoods.

Israel’s blocking of Palestinian development in the area is also carried out by designating large swaths of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks.

Discrimination: family unification, freedom of movement, building permits, live under military law, land confiscation, minimum budget allocations for services and development

B) Palestinians who live in Occupied East Jerusalem 

Israel unlawfully annexed East Jerusalem to its territory. Since then, and despite its incursion upon their homeland, it has treated the Palestinian residents of the city as unwanted immigrants and worked systematically to drive them out of the area.

In June 1967, Israel held a census in the annexed area. Palestinians who happened to be absent at the time, lost their right to return to their home. Those who were present were given the status of “permanent resident” in Israel – a legal status accorded to foreign nationals wishing to reside in Israel. Yet unlike immigrants who freely choose to live in Israel and can return to their country of origin, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have no other home, no legal status in any other country, and did not choose to live in Israel; it is the State of Israel that occupied and annexed the land on which they live.

Permanent residency confers fewer rights than citizenship. It entitles the holder to live and work in Israel and to receive social benefits and health insurance under the National Insurance Law. But permanent residents cannot participate in national elections—either as voters or as candidates—and cannot run for the office of mayor, although they are entitled to vote in local elections and to run for city council.

Israeli policy in East Jerusalem is geared toward pressuring Palestinians to leave, thereby shaping a geographical and demographic reality that would thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty there. Palestinians who do leave East Jerusalem, due to this policy or for other reasons, risk losing their permanent residency and the attendant social benefits. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the permanent residency of some 14,500 Palestinians from East Jerusalem under such circumstances.

Discrimination: family unification, building permits, minimum budget allocation for services and development, loss of residency rights

C) Palestinians who live in Gaza 

Israel contends that its role as occupying power in the Gaza Strip ended in September 2005, when it dismantled all settlements there, withdrew its military forces, and declared the end of the military government. Further to this position, Israel contends that it no longer has any obligations or responsibilities toward Gaza residents, other than minimal humanitarian duties designed to prevent a serious crisis in the Gaza Strip.

This position is baseless. In the early years following the implementation of Israel’s Disengagement Plan there was some vagueness regarding Israel’s legal obligations toward Gaza. However, Israel has continued its war on Gaza through its naval blockade, which is defined as an act of war under international law. Though Israel is no longer responsible for keeping the peace inside Gaza, through its continued naval blockade it has full responsibility for the well-being of the civilian population.

Discrimination: family unification, freedom of movement, d

Palestinians who live in Israel

A) Palestinian citizens of Israel

It is commonly believed that Palestinian citizens of Israel — officially known as Arab Israelis — enjoy full equality in the Jewish State. There are Arab members of parliament, the Arab population in Israel has been growing steadily for decades, and the Arab cultural scene is thriving in places like Haifa. While all of these statements are true, Palestinians regularly experience discrimination inside the state of Israel. 

During Israel’s establishment, approximately 1,000,000 Palestinians fled their homes and land in fear or were driven out. After the war, around 150,000 Palestinians remained inside of what became Israel’s internationally recognized borders. Today, there are approximately 1.9 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, comprising over 20% of the total Israeli population. Though Palestinian citizens of Israel can vote and participate in political life, they face a web of institutionalized discrimination and exclusion.

Successive Israeli governments regularly enact legislation which excludes, ignores, and discriminates against the Palestinian Arab minority. Since the establishment of the state, Israel has relied upon these laws to ground their discriminatory treatment of Arab citizens and allow the unequal status and unequal treatment of Jewish and Arab citizens to persist.

From 2009 to the present, the Israeli elections have brought to power the most right‐wing government coalitions in the history of Israel, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Members of Knesset in these governments have regularly introduced a flood of discriminatory legislation.

These new laws and bills seek, inter alia, to dispossess and exclude Palestinians from the land; turn Palestinians’ citizenship from a right into a conditional privilege; undermine the ability of Palestinian citizens of Israel and their parliamentary representatives to participate in the political life of the country; criminalize political expression or acts that question the Jewish or Zionist nature of the state; and privilege Israeli Jewish citizens in the allocation of state resources.

Human rights organizations have compiled a list comprising of over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the oPt on the basis of their national belonging. The discrimination in these laws is either explicit – “discrimination on its face” – or, more often, the laws are worded in a seemingly neutral manner, but have or will likely have a disparate impact on Palestinians in their implementation.

These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention. 

Discrimination: family unification, building permits, minimum budget allocation for the development of the city and offering services

B) Residents of unrecognized villages: 

More than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins reside in unrecognized villages, which the state refuses to provide with a planning structure and place under municipal jurisdiction. The government uses a variety of measures to pressure Bedouins into relocating to government-planned urban centers that disregard their lifestyle and needs. 

Before the creation of modern Israel, the Negev desert, which constitutes the southern half of the country, was almost entirely populated by Arab Bedouins. Nearly 90 percent fled during the Nakba of 1948. 11,000 Bedouins remained, a population which has now grown to over 200,000.

From the Bedouins still living in the Negev, half live in government-designated towns and cities, much like Native reservations in the United States, and the other half live in unrecognized villages. The Bedouin are Israeli citizens, but because their villages aren’t formally recognized by the state, they have no access to state services including water, electricity, telephones, sewage systems, and roads.

Today, the unrecognized villages of the Negev desert have the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Israel.

Discrimination: family unification building permits, minimum budget allocation for the development of the city and offering services

III. Palestinian refugees who live in the Arab world: 


Since 2011, UNRWA estimates that 120,000 Palestine refugees have left Syria for neighboring countries and beyond. In Lebanon and Jordan, UNRWA provides healthcare, education and cash assistance to cover the basic needs of 50,000 Palestine refugees from Syria.

Palestine refugees in Syria have many of the rights of Syrian citizens – including access to social services provided by the Government of Syria. Most of the Palestine refugees who fled to the Syrian Arab Republic in 1948 were from the northern part of Palestine, mainly from Safad and the cities of Haifa and Jaffa. A further 100,000 people, including Palestine refugees, fled from the Golan Heights to other parts of Syria when the area was occupied by Israel in 1967. A few thousand refugees fleeing war-torn Lebanon in 1982 also took refuge in Syria. 


More than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees live in Jordan. Most Palestinian refugees in Jordan, but not all, have full citizenship. There are ten recognized Palestine refugee camps throughout the country, which accommodate nearly 370,000 Palestine refugees, or 18 per cent of the country total. Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestine refugees. 

Nearly ten thousand Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) have sought assistance from UNRWA in Jordan. The majority of them are believed to suffer from abject poverty and live in a precarious legal status. UNRWA is working to accommodate PRS children in its schools and to provide relief and health care to those in need. 


Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with 180,000 estimated for planning purposes to be residing in the country.  About 45 per cent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Conditions in the camps are dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.

Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own real estate. Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestine refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon.

The conflict in Syria has forced many Palestine refugees from Syria to flee to Lebanon in search of safety. 

Discrimination: family unification, freedom of movement, building permits, live under military law, minimum budget allocations for services and development, loss of residency rights

IV. Palestinians in the Diaspora 

In the absence of a comprehensive census including all Palestinian diaspora populations and those that remained within the area once known as the Mandatory Palestine, exact population figures are difficult to determine. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the number of Palestinians worldwide at the end of 2003 was 9.6 million, an increase of 800,000 since 2001.

1948 and 1967 refugees make up the majority of the Palestinian diaspora. Besides those displaced by war and Israeli occupation policies, others have emigrated overseas for various reasons such as work opportunity and education. In the decade following the 1967 war, for example, an average of 21,000 Palestinians per year were forced out of Israeli-controlled areas. The pattern of Palestinian flight continued during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. 

The conditions of Palestinians in the diaspora differ depending on the country they are located in and their legal status in that country.  

What does international law say about all of this? The United Nation’s position is clear. Article 13 of the UDHR states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state,” and “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 15 declares, “Everyone has the right to a nationality.… No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” And the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples includes Article 6: “Every indigenous individual has the right to a nationality.”

While these declarations aren’t themselves binding law, there are several resolutions and international treaties that are. Focusing on the rights of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Society of St. Yves analyzes these laws at length in “Life Restricted: Freedom of Movement and Access Restrictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” First, it clearly outlines how Israel has repeatedly violated the Fourth Geneva Convention and 1907 Hague Regulations. Furthermore, Israel has broken the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with its restrictions on movement. In short, they concludes that

In the application of movement restrictions across the oPt, Israel has acted in total disregard of its obligations under international law, disregarding Security Council resolutions and the opinion of the International Court of Justice along with the rules of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Through the implementation of its policies Israel has reversed freedom of movement for Palestinians in the oPt from the rule to the exception.… 

Thus, while Israel has created one of the most convoluted and discriminatory systems in the world, the overall illegality and discriminatory nature of the system is clear. Through the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring Israel’s citizenship and movement policies and highlighting what organizations are doing to combat this hierarchy of discrimination.

Story: Loujain Az Zaeem, college student in Gaza

We met Loujain in 2012, in Gaza, when she was a 19-years-old student.

“I was always strongly inspired by my mother and tried to follow her in everything,” she told us.

“She has a degree in English literature from Bir Zeit University. I grew up hearing great stories about this university and I decided to study there too.”

However, Bir Zeit Univeristy is located in Ramallah, the West Bank, which meant that she could not get there unless Israel issued a special permit for that purpose.

“In 2011, I finished my secondary school with very high marks and immediately applied to the Law Faculty at Bir Zeit. I applied for an exit permit through a human rights organization and was very disappointed to learn that my application was rejected by the Israeli security authorities.

“I cannot see any legitimate reason why Israel would stop me from going to the university I want in my country. Israeli students can choose to study at any university they like in Israel.

“Although I’ve started to study law at Al Azhar University in Gaza and already completed the first year, I would be happy to start again at Bir Zeit.”

Published by U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in their online collection “50 Stories of Palestinian Life Under Occupation,” available at https://www.ochaopt.org/50Stories/Loujain_Az_Zaeem.html

 Kumi Action

Everyone deserves the rights and benefits that come with being a citizen of a state: equal protection under the law, the right to leave and return to the state, the right to travel freely within the state, etc. Many of us look upon our passports with pride, confident that that document can protect us and that it allows us to travel much of the world. Palestinians, however, find themselves denied citizenship or a passport or, if they do have one, discriminated against based on its content. 

This week, let’s raise awareness for this injustice by sharing a social media post with the flag of your country, the flag of Israel, and the flag of Palestine (you can find a template on the website). Include a message such as “We are all citizens of the world, and we all deserve equal rights as citizens of our countries. Let Israel know that they must stop citizenship discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, Syrian Golan, Gaza, and the refugee camps.”

Post your image on as many social media sites as possible, and consider printing out a stack of them and posting them in the real world. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #citizenship, #KumiNow, and #Kumi7.

Don’t see your flag? Email us at kumi@kuminow.com and we’ll make one for you. It only takes us a minute!

Literature: “A Conversation that Never Took Place” from The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard

This fictional conversation is used by Michael Sfard to illustrate the dilemma faced by human rights lawyers as they struggle to balance actions that help individuals and actions that will address systemic problems. However, the conversation also epitomizes much of the absurdity of how Palestinian citizens are treated.

LAWYER: So what can I do for you?

CLIENT: I’m a resident of Nablus. I was born there. My father is a doctor. My grandfather was a doctor. He was a doctor back during the British Mandate. Anyway, until two years ago, I was studying in Amman, medicine of course. That’s where I met my wife. She was also a medical student, and she was also born in Nablus, but her parents decided to move to Jordan when she was a baby, so she grew up there. We got married in Amman and we have two kids, a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. Here, look …

L: Beautiful children. Cute. Where are they?

C: In Amman, with their mother.

L: I’m guessing you want your wife and children to join you in Nablus.

C: Yes … I have a job in Nablus, and the family built an apartment for us.

L: Have you filed a family unification application?

C: Yes, right after I came back to Palestine, almost two years ago. I got no answer until two weeks ago, when they said the application was rejected.

L: Did they say why?

C: No. They never even sent me a response. I went to the Coordination Office every few weeks to see what was going on, and the last time, they gave me a piece of paper saying that the application had been rejected…Can anything be done?

L: Look, in principle, since your application was rejected, it’s possible to petition the High Court of Justice. This court can intervene in the authorities’ decisions, including the army’s. The military government treats family unification as a privilege, not a right. They used to approve family unification for minors and their parents, or for couples, like in your case. Then the policy changed, and marriage was no longer a sufficient criterion. If you file a petition, the state has to submit a response explaining why they object to letting your wife come. They might just say that current policy is not to approve applications beyond a certain quota. They might say that your wife, specifically, is denied for security reasons.

C: What security reason could there be? She’s a 25-year-old doctor. Who is she, Bin Laden?

L: What can I tell you? They find security reasons everywhere.…

C: So what do we do?

L: What you already did: apply for family unification, as if your wife’s a complete stranger in Palestine and is asking to enter by virtue of your marriage, because you’re a resident. But since your application was rejected, the only chance is a High Court petition.

C: Okay, so what are the odds?

L: It’s hard to say, but … you and your wife are doctors, well educated, you look secular, middle class, you might get some sympathy. The justices may push the lawyers for the state to accept your application. It happens sometimes.

C: And if the justices push the army capitulates?

L: It often happens, but sometimes not. It’s a sort of game between the justices and the army, like bartering in secret code. In cases where something about the story touches them, or when the justices feel the army has gone too far, they push the state to find a solution, to stand down, compromise with the petitioners … But there’s this tacit agreement that when the army puts its foot down, the justices don’t object.

C: So there’s a chance?

L: There’s always a chance.

From The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights by Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer.

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