University of Memphis

Settler use of Privately-Owned Palestinian Land and Israeli Democracy by DH @ the University of Memphis

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, on Wednesday, reconfirmed Israeli Supreme Court’s decision that Israeli authorities could expropriate privately owned Palestinian land for public use in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. According to the Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, Israeli settlers are part of the local civilian population of the West Bank, which affords them “the right to life, dignity, property and all the rights enjoyed by anyone in Israel.” This decision comes regarding the construction of an access path, which intersects privately own Palestinian land, to Harsha, an illegal Jewish outpost.

Given that Israeli settlers enjoy the freedoms of a thoroughly institutionalized and functioning democracy, Palestinians living a few miles away exist under a different set of Israeli legal pretenses.

To many, Israel stands as the only true democracy in the Middle East. In a region marked by tyrants, dictators, and failing states, it is hard to argue otherwise. Nevertheless, Israel has received notorious attention in the past few year.

What does the latest judicial decision mean in context to Israeli democracy? To state simply: I argue that it reinforces a democracy that only serves Israeli Jews living in Israel proper and the West Bank, as opposed to non-Jews.

Israel’s prolonged occupation of the Palestinian Territories since 1967 has come under wide international scrutiny and critique for a number of reasons. Human rights organizations and agencies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Court of Justice, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continuously report on Israel’s grave breaches of international human rights law regarding its enforcement of de facto segregation and unequal laws to Palestinians and Israelis.

Going beyond international human rights law, there are other domestic legal and political implications that should be considered in light of the latest judicial edict. For instance, in the West Bank Israeli settlers are governed my Israeli civil law, while Palestinians are governed by Israeli military law.[1] The Israeli government since 1967 has allowed “some 100 ‘outposts’ [to be] erected by Israeli civilians without formal authorization” [2] while demolishing 1,093 homes in the West Bank including Jerusalem.[3] Besides home demolitions, in East Jerusalem, eviction proceedings affected 180 Palestinian households.[4]

While in Jerusalem, a city in which Israel completely annexed into Israel proper and currently administers, Jewish and Palestinian schools in Jerusalem receive largely unequal and disproportionate funding.[5] Jews have the right to return to Israel, meaning that any person of Jewish heritage has the right to become an Israeli citizen, while there are no laws that guarantee Palestinians the right to immigrate or become a citizen even if they were born in Israel.[6] Since 1967, Israeli officials revoked the permanent resident status of 14,000 Palestinians who were unable to return to their homes in East Jerusalem.[7] Palestinians receive less water than Israeli settlers in the West Bank, often dealing with water shortages.[8]

Besides these few examples, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has compiled a database of these discriminatory laws in Israel.[9]

Mirroring the concerns of many Israeli Jewish scholars and government officials, the Israeli occupations negates and is incompatible with Israeli democracy.[10] As long as the occupation continues, Israel will never fully be a democracy it will be an ethnocracy. Ethnocracies are “states which maintain a relatively open government, yet facilitate a non-democratic seizure of the country and polity by one ethnic group.” They lack democratic framework, despite having democratic qualities and are not authoritarian. [11

Either Israel annexes the rest of the West Bank and offers equal citizenship to the Palestinians, or it halts its settlement expansion enterprise and withdraws from the West Bank so that it can become the future site of a Palestinian state. The current Israeli policy jeopardizes the two-State solution but also avails Israel to the categories of being an ethno-territorial colonial state, or worse, an apartheid state. [12]


[1] Kearney, M. G. (2017, March). On the situation in Palestine and the war crime of transfer of civilians into occupied territory. In Criminal Law Forum (Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 1-34). Springer Netherlands.

[2] See. Kearney, p. 5



[5] Nir Hasson, “Arab students in Jerusalem get less than half the funding of Jewish counterparts”, Haaretz, 23 August 2016.


[7] See



[10] See Avigail Abrbanel (2014); Gershom Gorenberg (2006); Michael Ben-Yair (2002)

[11] Oren Yiftachel, p. 364, (1999);

[12] Government Officials using the word ‘apartheid’:

1 Comment

  1. Dakota Fenn

    December 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    You briefly touch on the relevance of Israeli democracy within the larger context of the Middle East, and the opinion of the international community as shaped by that context. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the role of the international community either providing support for antidemocratic action (settlement in the West Bank, for example). Personally, I would think that the US has been instrumental in enabling antidemocratic operations of the Israeli state. Perhaps examining this relationship can give us a better understanding of the negative impact geopolitical alliances can have on democracy. As one of the only stable and reliable US allies in the region, the US government can rarely afford to denigrate the actions of the Knesset or other Israeli governing bodies. While the Obama administration may have taken some steps, minor though they were, away from unquestioning support of Israel (certain US actions in the UN security council, to name one example), the Trump administration has reinvigorated US backing of Israel’s actions. The most recent announcement of recognition of Jerusalem demonstrates support of the Israeli state and removes available bargaining pieces for a two-state solution or other democratic reforms. Moreover, this signals that Israel will enjoy the backing of the US despite (or perhaps because of) its abuses of democracy. I would be curious to hear your thoughts of the role of the US in supporting current Israeli policy which you identify as running the risk of “an ethno-territorial colonial state” or even an “apartheid state”.

Leave a Reply