Two-Tiered Citizenship Law Bars Non-Jews From 93 Percent of Its
By Roselle Tekiner
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
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 "
"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
"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
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
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 (http://www.middleeastbooks.com).