Palestinians in Israel: Ethnocracy, not democracy

Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy, by Ben White, reviewed by Richard Kuper

May 28, 2012
2 min read

This is a short, readable guide to the realities of life for Palestinian citizens of Israel. Notionally equal, they suffer widespread discrimination. It is, White argues, systematic, not accidental – built into the fabric of the so-called ‘Jewish and democratic’ state.

The burdens to which Palestinian citizens of Israel are subject are explored under five headings: the nature of the state; the land regime; the ‘demographic threat’; discrimination in other aspects of daily life; and how the system in Israel thwarts democratic change.

When the Jewish and democratic aspects of the state are perceived to be in conflict, it is the former that trumps the latter. Any attempt to advocate change to make Israel into a state of all its citizens is widely perceived as a threat to the very existence of the state itself. Discrimination is seen most clearly in the areas of citizenship and land rights, but it expresses itself in almost every aspect of daily life – education, government and private employment, and a pervasive racism on the streets.

All Jews, no matter where they live, are by definition entitled to Israeli citizenship; most Palestinians are not. Following 1947, the Palestinians that remained as notionally ‘full citizens’ of the state of Israel cannot in reality live in over 90 per cent of the country. Efforts to Judaise the Galilee and the Negev have been intensified in response to Palestinian population growth – perceived as a ‘demographic threat’ – with Jewish settlements built up around the Palestinian population or Palestinians forced off their land entirely.

The book also outlines how Palestinian citizens are on average much poorer and less well-educated, and have a much lower percentage of state and municipal funding directed their way than do Jewish citizens. Israel is, White shows, not a genuine democracy but an ethnocracy: ‘The truth is that policies that would be considered grotesquely racist applied in other contexts are routine and institutionalised in Israel.’

This is an important book, dealing with a much-neglected but key aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.