The status of Palestinians in Israel: 1948-Oslo.

AuthorBsoul, Labeeb Ahmed


SINCE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE of Israel in 1948 the Palestinian Arab inhabitants have occupied a position increasing in influence and strength. Yet their economic, social, political and legal status has been largely neglected by scholars in the field. The focus of this study is the status of the Palestinian minority within Israel today. It also examines the social, political, and legal status of Palestinian Arabs within Israel in terms of segregation of the two communities of Palestinians and Jews. Israel defines itself as the only "democratic" state in the region despite its separate policies towards each community. This study aims to shed light on whether the state of Israel is entitled to define itself as a "democratic" state by examining the status of its Palestinian national minority citizen.

The data for this study is historical and taken from a variety of sources implicitly concerned with this subject, both in Arabic and Hebrew, as well as, several sources in English.

In order to understand the subject better, it is essential to first define the population of Palestinian Arabs within Israel, and why they are different from other Israelis.

The name Palestine has been used since Roman times to describe the land between Lebanon and the Sinai, excluding land to the east of the Jordan River. Today's Palestinians are descended from the first recorded inhabitants of Canaan who intermarried with the Philistines. This is what gave the land its name by the twelfth century before the Christian Era (B.C.).


Without going into the earlier history of the Palestinian catastrophe, I would like to start with the period when the provisional government of Israel submitted its application for memebrship in the United Nations, on 29 November 1947. (1) Under the United Nations Charter, a state is admitted to membership by an affirmative vote in both the Security Council and the General Assembly. The Security Council discussed Israel's application on 17 December 1947 at a time when Britain voiced concern that Israel had not responded to the United Nations request to explain the assassination of its mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte. (2) Furthermore, Britain addressed two issues before supporting Israel's membership, (a) the clarification of Israel's position on the internationalization of Jerusalem and (b) the repatriation of Palestinian refugees. Israel's application was held up and later rejected. (3)

Israel went through a major investigation but managed to convince the United Nations to accept its membership. In the case of the repatriation of the Palestinian Arab refugees, Israeli delegates to the United Nations maintained the same position as Ben-Gurion and declared that they were not responsible for the refugee problem. (4)

In 1948, two states recognized Israel (i.e., USSR and the USA), while other states did the same the next year. (5) The recognition of Israel and its admission to the United Nations created a controversy around Israel's legitimacy. Since there had been no lawful basis to establish Israel, its recognition questioned its legitimacy. Furthermore, despite the factual existence of Israel, it had not made clear the extent of its territory. The Jewish Agency declared statehood to be within the borders of the proposed Jewish state as defined in United Nations Resolution 181. (6) In October 1949, however, Israel told the United Nations that it asserted title to territory over which its authority was actually recognized, which presumably meant the territory within the 1949 armistice line. (7) This claim to territory on Israel's side of the armistice lines is doubtful, however, since the armistice agreement stated that these lines were not international borders. (8) According to many scholars, because Israel's borders were undetermined, (9) Israel was recognized as a state for operational purposes, which they regarded as the territory on the Israeli side of the armistice line. (10)


Because the armistice line was not well patrolled, some Palestinian Arab refugees managed to return. The new government of Israel called them infiltrators while at the same time, the Kneset passed a law against infiltration. (11) The authorities re-expelled those they found, who in many cases, were sizable groups. (12)

The Palestinian Arabs who were from Galilee, counted as the largest concentration of Palestinian Arabs within the armistice lines. (13) The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) depopulated nearly all of the Arab villages with the exception of Nazareth. The following figures show the extent of the depopulation of Palestinians in cities and villages before and after the expulsion:

Table 1 Depopulation of Palestinian Villages in 1948 LOCATION BEFORE AFTER Haifa 70,000 2,900 Jaffa 70,000 3,600 Jerusalem 70,000 3,500 Lydda-Ramleh 3,4920 2,000 Acre 15,000 3,000 Note: Tiberias with 5,300 Palestinians; Besian with 5,180 Palestinians; Beersheeba with 6,500 Palestinians and Safad with 9,530 Palestinians were urban areas where the Palestinian Arab population was not eliminated. (14) The expulsion of Palestine's Arabs opened up the possibility of creating a Jewish State. In fact during the expulsion process, the 1948 government of Israel formulated plans to recruit several hundred thousand Jews from Europe and the Middle East. (15) The government placed newcomers in the areas where it expelled Palestinians. (16) Jewish officials, such as Ben-Gurion, claimed that immigration would save Jews from destruction, (17) His concern however, was the creation of a Jewish populated state with military potential. (18)

This is the starting point of the Palestinian problem with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The Israeli provisional government used the Palestinian lands, dwellings, and possessions for its Jewish population, especially the newcomers from Europe and the Middle East. Ben-Gurion passed an order ceding the houses of expelled Palestinians to the Jews. (19) By April 1949, the government of Israel reported to the Kneset that it had managed to settle 150,000 Jews. In Jerusalem, the government gave the better Palestinian houses to government officials. (20) In Jaffa, many Jewish immigrants occupied the homes of Palestinians before the government could organize the process. (21) The government did not stop there. It took housing from the remaining Palestinians inside the armistice line. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) enforced this operation in Haifa and Carmel. (22) The same action targeted the inhabitants of Acre and what was left became a Palestinian ghetto. (23) Many Palestinians within the armistice line who became internal refugees tried to return to their homes. However, the Israeli government considered the land belonging to these remaining Palestinian external refugees absentee property. The custodian of absentee property rented it only to Jews (24) Due to the government's act of seizing the property of the Palestinian internal refugees, they had no housing to return to and many lived in tin shacks or burial caves. (25) Until late 1958, nearly 20,000 internal refugees lived in makeshift housing near Arab towns. (26) Nazareth received many internal refugees in 1948 and still had three refugee neighborhoods in substandard housing in the 1980s. (27)

The expelled inhabitants of Ikrit and Biram, two Galilean villages, resorted to the courts to ask for their rights to return to their villages. Their land had been distributed to kibbutzim (Jewish agricultural collectives). (28) In 1951, the Ikrit villagers obtained permission to return from the Supreme Court of Israel. (29) However, the Minister of Defense refused to allow them to return and the IDF demolished Ikrit. (30) In 1953, the Biram villagers took a similar action and sued the government. While their case was in process, the IDF sent airplanes and bombed Biram's buildings, leveling the entire village and the Kibutzim kept the land for themselves. (31) The Israeli government closed the Ikrit and Biram cases under the 1949 Emergency Regulation Law. (32) When asked about these cases, the Prime Minister of Israel (Ben-Gurion) explained that "these are not the only villagers living a long way from their home villages. We do not want to create a precedent for the repatriation of refugees." (33) These villagers continued unsuccessfully to petition the government. (34) Expelled residents of other villages did the same without success. (35)

The Defense (Emergency) regulations provided a full set of regulations by the rule of martial law imposed by the Israeli government from 1948 until 1966. It declared Palestinian populated sectors to be "closed areas" under Article 125 of the regulations. (36) It established three martial law zones: the northern area (Galilee), the central area (Little Triangle area), and the Beersheba (Negev Desert). (37)

The military government imposed many restrictions on the Palestinians. They required permits for traveling from one area to another no matter what the destination. The IDF set up checkpoints and inspected Palestinians regularly for their passes. (38) Whoever was found with an expired pass or was caught without one was fined or imprisoned. Furthermore, any Palestinian who resided in a locality without permission from the military government could be evicted and have their property confiscated. This situation is similar to the system imposed upon the "bantustans" in South Africa. (39)

On several occasions, the military government ordered its soldiers to force large numbers of Palestinian Arabs to bring their identity papers out of their houses for identity checks. They would gather groups of residents in an open field where they kept men, women, and children for hours without food, water, or toilet facilities. (40) Furthermore, the same authority would deny travel permits to Palestinian farmers who needed to sell their produce in traditional market towns. These...

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