Israel’s Two-Tiered Citizenship Law Bars Non-Jews From 93 Percent of Its Lands


On a bus tour through the Galilee several years ago, the guide commented that the government was having difficulty preventing Arabs from encroaching on the land through which we were passing. I asked why Arabs were being kept off this land and he replied that it was national land. I told him I didn’t understand what “national land” meant if it has to be secured against Arabs. “Aren’t Arabs citizens of Israel?”

“Of course they are,” he replied, “but it’s much more complicated here than in the United States and difficult to explain. ” That ended our brief exchange, for he turned abruptly away. He apparently had learned to recognize and avoid loaded questions that he either could not or did not want to answer.

No Israeli nationality applies to all citizens, as does a US nationality in the United States

Zionist uses of the term “nation,” “national, ” and “nationality” are indeed difficult to understand and to explain because they derive from concepts that are unfamiliar to Americans. Moreover, their true meanings are deliberately obscured by usually incorrect translations from Hebrew into English.

The prime example of deception, from which the others flow, is the accepted translation of Israel’s Law of Citizenship as “Nationality ” Law. In the original Hebrew text, the word is ezrahut, the correct translation is “citizenship.”

It would not occur to the average English peaking observer to object to translating ezrahut as “nationality” because “citizenship” and “nationality” are interchangeable terms in the United States, as well as in most democratic societies. In Israel, however, they are two separate and very different statuses. Citizenship (ezrahut) may be held by Arabs as well as Jews while nationality (le’um), which bestows significantly greater rights than citizenship, may be claimed by Jews alone.

 To refer to “Arab nationals,” as this law does, is a deceptive translation of ezrahut, because Arabs or others who are not Jews cannot be “nationals” of Israel. Only Jews can be “nationals.” Their nationality rights are granted by the Law of Return. No Israeli nationality applies to all citizens, as does a US nationality in the United States or French nationality in France, for example. In Israel, there is only a Jewish nationality. That nonJews cannot qualify for nationality rights in the state of Israel was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1972 in a statement that there is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish people.

The original mis-translation of ezrahut as “nationality” has been consistently repeated, successfully concealing the existence of the two legal statuses, with non-Jews eligible for only one. Like a virus introduced into a computer system, the error is continually replicated and now permeates most writings on the topic of nationality and national rights in Israel. Having 5uccessftilly conveyed the erroneous perception- that Arabs and Jews alike are nationals of Israel, it seems logical to assume that national lands, like national lands in other countries, are a national asset belonging to all the people. Even if a tour guide were equipped with details of this clever ruse, however, he would not last long in his job if he explained the rationale behind prohibitions of Arab encroachment on ” national” lands.

“Redeeming the Land” for the “Jewish People”

The process by which the land becomes national” land is through purchase or confiscation by the Jewish National Fund. The procedure is referred to as “redeeming the land,” which then becomes the inalienable property of the Jews of the world, who are(; Israel’s national constituency and referred to in law as “the Jewish people.”

“Redeeming the land” derives from the Bible. The concept was appropriated by political Zionism and transformed into strictly nationalist terms. The state, instead of God, would return the people from exile to restore the relationship between “the Jewish people ” and the land. The problem was: how can a country, eager for world recognition as non-discriminatory and democratic, structure its institutions to deprive permanently its citizens who are not Jews of use of much of its land?

The solution came through Knesset enactment of the Status Law, empowering the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency to develop the country for the Jewish people. “National” institutions, such as the Jewish National Fund, were then established for Jews only. The Zionist movement created a network of “national” institutions to carry out policies-such as land redemption for Jews-which are clearly discriminatory. By publicizing these institutions as purely philanthropic agencies, the popular perception that Israel is a genuine democracy has remained largely undamaged.

The fact is, however, that the Jewish Agency is a component of the government with massive resources and has at times had a budget almost as large as the development budget of the government. Ninety-three percent of Israel’s land is “national” land, which is developed, leased and administered by “national” institutions for Israel’s “national ” constituency, “the Jewish people.”

The government, serving a “citizen” constituency, can at any time give the Jewish Agency authority to deliver services to its “national” constituency. In this way, services can be legally withheld from non-Jewish citizens. For example, Ian Lustick, in his book Arabs in the Jewish State, tells how a program providing special incentives for large families was administered by the Jewish Agency instead of by the government, to ensure that only Jews would be motivated to have more children. The rationale was that it is in the interest of Israel to increase the Jewish, but not the Arab, population.

The United States grants tax-deductible status to many of Israel’s “national” institutions. US administrations have continually ignored US laws prohibiting funds of a tax-exempt organization to be directed to or disbursed by a foreign government. Deliberately, or in ignorance of the effects of the Status Law, which makes the Jewish Agency a component of the Israeli government, contributions to the Jewish National Fund via the United Jewish Appeal are treated by the US Internal Revenue Service as if they are as qualified for income tax deduction as any contribution to any private, voluntary , American philanthropic agency in the US. Consequently, American taxpayers contribute significantly to “redeeming the land” for “the Jewish people,” helping to prevent Arab encroachment on what has become “national” land through Israel’s unique “redemption” process.

Roselle Tekiner is an anthropologist living in Sarastoa, FL. She is an editor of AntiZionism: Analytical Reflections, published in 1989 by Amana Books and available from the AET Book Club.