Zionist Law in Palestine: The Laws that Allow Israel to Ignore Laws

The state of Israel was created in 1948 after a military attack and a mass deportation of Palestinian Arabs from the area. The Jewish state was and is the end goal of the Zionist movement. Facing growing anti-Semitism in Europe, the first Zionists advocated for a homeland where Jews could have their own state. This was based upon notions of self-determination and nationalism. When Zionists first chose Palestine as their homeland to-be, their plans stressed that they’d respect existing Arab populations’ rights.

However, Marxist-Leninist variations of Zionism coming from Russia rejected the employment of Arabs in Jewish farms. They argued that Jews should work their own lands and not exploit other peoples. Consequently, Zionism came to exclude Arabs from the Jewish economy, and became an exclusionary project. This had socio-political consequences that led to various controversies. Among these is what many call the Israeli apartheid state. This article will speak of current Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and Palestinian rights for those in Israel. Following Lentin (2016), it will consider Israel’s rule as a racial state and a state of exception.

Palestinian man confronting Israeli army
Palestinian man confronting Israeli army. Source: AL Jazeerah

Note: I used Lentin (2016) and Abdullah (2016). I will write the references they use, but in my ‘references’ section, categorise which ones belong to which text.

The 20th Century

The de-Arabization of Palestine began when Zionists wanted to buy enough land in order to have a majority presence in Palestine (Masalha 1992). In the 20s, Zionist leaders employed informants and secret agents to gather information about villages that would be “targeted for removal” (pp 55). They recorded topography, demographics and attitudes towards Zionism (Pappe 2006). During the British Mandate, many Zionist companies, like the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PJCA) or the Jewish National Fund, purchased land from absentee landowners. These landowners had obtained their land through questionable manipulations of Ottoman law (Masalha 1992). Peasants who lived in those lands were evicted, sometimes by force (Lynk and Akram 2013).

Colonization through purchase wasn’t very effective, and, after that, military colonization was Zionism’s move. Throughout the 30s, Zionist authorities organised “transfer committees” for mass forced removal (Masalha 1992; Pappe 2006). Plan Dalet was the most elaborate plan, and it included detailed instructions to seize villages, evict inhabitants and demolish homes. In 1922, the League of Nations approved the mandate for Palestine, where the British had the right to administer the land and lead the inhabitants to independence (Pappe 2006). The mandate included the Balfour Declaration in favour of Zionism, which Palestinians deemed hostile and led to tensions (Kattan 2009).

Jewish land purchase in Palestine
Jewish man signing a land contract with two Palestinian men. Source: Wikipedia

Incompatibility between the Zionist Plan and the Arabs

Abdullah (2016) quotes Zionist architect Joseph Weitz’s 1940 diary entry, saying: “Among ourselves it must be clear that there is no place in the country for both peoples together… With the Arabs we shall not achieve our aim of being independent people in this country. The only solution in Eretz Israel, at least the west part of Eretz Israel, without Arabs… and there is no other way but to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, transfer all of them, not one village or tribe should remain… and only with this transfer could the country absorb millions of our brothers. (quoting Weitz 1967 in Davis and Mezvinsky 1975, cited in Davis 2003: 20)”.

For Abdullah, slogans like “a land without a people for a people without a land” were propaganda. Palestine did have a people and Zionists such as the movement’s founder, Theodor Herzl, knew it well. But they tried in this manner to convince as many Jews as possible to move to the new homeland.

Black and white image of bearded man Theodor Herzl, one of the first Zionist writers
Black and white image of bearded man Theodor Herzl, one of the first Zionist writers. Source: Daily Sabah

Al-Nakba or the Day of Independence?

The 15th of May of 1948 is a date recognised differently by Jews and by Arabs. The British Mandate had recently given responsibility for Palestine to the United Nations, who put it under international management. The Zionists, however, threw an attack from April to May 1948 and expelled millions of Arabs. The next day, they declared the Jewish state of Israel. For Israelis, the 14th of May is thus the Day of Independence (יום העצמאות). For Palestinians, it is known as al-Nakba (النكبة), the catastrophe. The State Budget Amendment Law (2011) denies state-funding to and censures any organisation, Palestinian or otherwise, commemorating al-Nakba. It is only legal to celebrate Israel’s Day of Independence.

Yom Ha'atzmaut: Israel Independence Day
People with Israeli flags celebrating Day of Independence in the streets of Israel. Source: My Jewish Learning

Zionist far-right militias such as Stern and Irgun committed 70 massacres. On the 12th of April 1948, these two gangs seized Deir Yassin. They got the villagers out of their houses and executed them. There were accounts of rape (Pappe 2006) and parading victims on the streets of Jerusalem (Morris 1994). They broadcasting corpses to other villages as a warning (Abdel Jawad 2007). “In his 1952 memoir, then-former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin said that fear of the Deir Yassin massacre allowed Zionist forces to advance through Palestine ‘like a hot knife through butter’” (Karpf 2002: para. 4, quoted in Abdullah 2016:56). The main Jewish paramilitary group, Haganah, condemned the massacre, as did major Jewish figures abroad. The latter included physicist Albert Einstein and political thinker Hannah Arendt.

Palestinians mark 72 years of the Nakba
Palestinian family walking out of Palestine through a street after being expelled in the Nakba. Source: TRT World

Nation Building in Israel: Exclusion of Arabs

There were further nation building policies and strategies in the years that followed. People changed their names (e.g. Polish born David Gruen became David Ben-Gurion) to make them ‘more Hebrew’. The Israel Government Names Committee changed the Arabic names of villages, hills etc into Hebrew ones (Cook 2009). Zionists replaced Palestinian landscapes with European conifers as a way to erase traces of Palestinian land (Braverman 2009; Masalha 2009). This was the beginning of the “physical and conceptual erasure of the native Palestinians” (Abdullah 2016:56).

Protest against annexation of the West Bank
Palestinians protesting against annexation of the West Bank. Women holding up small signs and girl holding up a larger one written in English and Arabic. Source: The Nation

The Oslo Accords

These were pacts signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel (1st accords in 1993, second in 1995). They were a response to the first intifada, a violent Palestinian demonstration against Israeli occupation. They included a five-year development plan after which Palestine would have self-rule in 22% of occupied land (Wiles 2010). The PLO here became the Palestinian Authority (PA). Soon after these accords, however, Israeli settlement speeded up. Currently, the PA oversees health, education and civil court systems in major cities. The final choice of political action belongs to Israel.

When Britain left Palestine in 1947, they handed responsibility for it to the UN. In 1967, Israel invaded East Jerusalem, thus attaining full dominance over Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza. These areas, however, are still considered the responsibility of the UN, and thus Israel has no obligations to their inhabitants. Palestinians living in the OPT are not Israeli citizens and those areas are not registered as ‘occupied’, but as ‘international’. As a result of their status, Israel isn’t tied even to the regulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention for occupying powers (Bisharat 2013; International Committee of the Red Cross 1949). Abdullah (2016) argues that Oslo was only an annexation of Palestine.

US President Bill Clinton (C) stands between PLO leader Yasser Arafat (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) as they shake hands on September 13, 1993, at the White House in Washington DC. Rabin and Arafat shook hands for the first time after Israel and the PLO signed a historic agreement on Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories.
Yasser Arafat (right), leader of the PLO, signs the Oslo Accords with Israeli PM Yitzahk Rabin, hosted by US President Bill Clinton (centre). Source: CNN

The Zionist State of Exception

Zreik (2008) argues that the state of Israel is what Agamben (1995; 2005) called a state of exception. That is, Israel uses military force in the civil sphere and suppresses constitutional rights arbitrarily. The state can remove from Palestinians the norms that protect their individual liberties when and as it wishes. Lentin (2016) points out that Israel fits the definition of state of exception in Agamben’s Homo Sacer (1995). Agamben argues that the state of exception is when the state defines a group of people as captured within the political order but actively excludes them.

A government can declare a state of exception/emergency if it deems that it is facing extraordinary circumstances that need special care. For example, in a video by the channel The Nature of Writing about Agamben’s book, they present France’s case. In France in the 18th century, there were three legal states. In the état de paix (state of peace), the government controls the civil sphere. During an état de guerre (state of war), the army and government work side by side. In the état de siege (state of emergency, the military takes over. In a state of emergency, the government is legitimised to violate the constitution whenever necessary. However, whether or not a situation is an emergency is a subjective decision.

Giorgio Agamben looking at the camera in shades of gray
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, author of the state of exception, looking at the camera in a black and white image. Source: Universus Sosyal Arastirmalar Merkezi

Administrative Detention

A notable example is Israel’s use of administrative detention. This type of detention or imprisonment is done without trial. Various governments use it to combat terrorism and illegal immigration, or otherwise to defend the ruling regime. B’tselem (2014) notes that Israeli authorities conduct this process so secretively that the accused have little chance to defend themselves. In occupied Palestine there is no upper limit to how long Israelis can detain prisoners. Moreover, Israeli authorities have no obligation to inform detainees or their counsel about the charges against them. B’tselem notes that this violates the “right to freedom and due process” and “presumption of innocence” (quoted in Lentin 2016:33). Thus, Israeli administrative detention breaks international and Israeli law, and only the Israel-imposed state of emergency in OPT legitimises it.

Poster demanding justice for six men imprisoned without trial in Palestine
Poster demanding justice for six men imprisoned without trial in Palestine. Source: Samidoun

Racial State

Goldberg (2009) argues that modern states are racial states. Through citizenship entitlements, border control and census categorisations, they include and exclude selected portions of the population. They can also use invented histories/traditions that create state memory, ceremonies and cultural imaginations and the evocation of ancient origins. Lentin (2016) argues that Israel is a racial state per excellence.

The state of Israel inherited the British Mandate’s Emergency Regulations, where it is permissible to apply different laws to citizens and subjects of the state. The application of this law is more arbitrary for ‘subjects’ (Shenhav 2006a quoted in pp 35). In the world-view of Israel, argues Goldberg (2009), the Jews are a modern people (despite being ancient Biblical people). The Palestinians are premodern and primitive, and so they need the Israelis to civilise them, but always through colonisation. Goldberg calls this “historicist racism”. This type of racism is the same ideology with which all European powers legitimised their colonisation projects.

Falk (2006) argues that Zionism is an eugenic race project that aims at maintaining the exclusivity of the Jewish people, the volk (a nation based on blood and soil). Notably, in Israel, the 1950 Return Law grants citizenship to anyone who can prove that they have a Jewish mother. It simultaneously denies citizenship to Palestinians who fled or were expelled during or after the Nakba. The 160.000 Palestinians who remained were not recognised as Palestinians but as “Israeli Arabs” and they’re subjects to military law.

Israeli forces arresting Palestinian child
Israeli forces arresting a Palestinian child. Source: Business – Insider

Zionist Territorial Divisions of Israeli-Occupied Palestine

The West Bank is divided into areas A (18% of the West Bank), B (22%) and C (60%). Israeli military checkpoints, settlements, segregated bypass roads, and the Separation Wall. Area A is under PA civil control. The area B is under combined PA civil control and Israeli security control. Area C is fully under Israeli civil and security control, and used for Israeli settlement building. It prohibits Palestinian Arabs from entering 99% of Area C. Israelis and Palestinians live in separate towns, with separate infrastructures and facilities. Israeli settlements are based on Palestine’s reservoirs of drinking water. “a separate road system, buffer zones, physical barriers such as cement blocks, trenches and the Separation Wall” (Abdullah 2016:59). Israel applies Israeli civil and criminal law to Israeli Jews, while it employs a harsh military law on Palestinians (UN Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 2014).

Palestinians have less access to housing, health, education and the labour market. They have no control over water supplies in the West Bank, while Jews in the same area have unlimited access to water. Palestinians purchase water from Israel’s water company Mekorot, which charges them higher prices than Jews (Koek 2013). “The result is that Jews live in lush settlements with green lawns and swimming pools, while Palestinians, often metres away, must ration water for agriculture, drinking and cooking” (Abdullah 2016:60). Moreover, Israel fully controls building permits and denies Palestinian projects almost always. Consequently, Palestinians build illegally in poor conditions, and Israeli authorities will probably demolish these buildings.

In Pictures: Israel's illegal separation wall still divides
The Separation Wall, made up of thin gray plates, divides large urban buildings from a poor rural area. Source: al-Jazeerah


Israel uses the state of emergency in Palestine to be able to break constitutions and apply its ethnic cleansing plans. From the beginnings of Zionism’s political application, Zionists knew that a Zionist homeland couldn’t accept any other people but Jews. Modern day Zionism is a militant, colonial ideology, a nationalism based on the Jewish volk. Palestinians face ethno-religious discrimination in their country, and the Zionist project applies an effective divide and rule strategy. Until today, Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 and later don’t have the legal right to enter Palestine.

| Read more on the current situation in Palestine here

| Read more on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here


Abdulla. R (2016). Colonialism and Apartheid Against Fragmented Palestinians: Putting the Pieces Back Together, in State Crime Journal, Vol 5, No 1, Palestine, Palestinians and Israel’s State Criminality pp 51-80

(Abdel Jawad 2007) (Bisharat 2013) (Braverman 2009) (Cook 2009) (International Committee of the Red Cross, 1949) (Karpf 2002) (Koek 2013) (Kattan 2009) (Lynk and Akram 2013) (Masalha 2009) (Morris 1994) (Pappe 2006) (UN Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 2014) (Wiles 2010)

Ronit Lentin. (2016). Palestine/Israel and State Criminality: Exception, Settler Colonialism and Racialization. State Crime Journal, 5(1), 32-50. doi:10.13169/statecrime.5.1.0032

(Agamben 1995) (Agamben 2005) (B’tselem 2014) (Falk 2006) (Goldberg 2009) (Shenhav 2006a) (Zreik 2008)

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