Jewish Nation State Law Sets Legal Parameters for Complete Takeover of Historic Palestine

The drafters of Israel’s latest constitutional law Israel – The Nation-State of the Jewish People have been definitively swept up and emboldened by the global right-wing wave of racist politics. With this law, the Israeli Knesset proudly admits what many of Israel’s supporters have been desperate to hide, or at least sugar-coat: Israel was never a state for all its citizens and has always been a settler-colonial project that seeks to take over the maximum amount of Palestinian land with the fewest Palestinians, and to permanently guarantee privileges to Jewish people over others on that land.

The Basic Law reserves national self-determination exclusively for Jewish people and makes discriminatory immigration and housing national values. Yet, what is omitted – especially the lack of geographic boundaries – is at least as relevant as what is admitted: when situating the newly adopted Basic Law within existing and proposed Israeli legislation, practice and policy, what emerges is the consecration of a vision for an exclusively Jewish state in all of historic Palestine.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | The “Right to Have Rights”: Partition and Palestinian Self-Determination]

From the very beginning, as negotiations were taking place between white, European elites to give away Palestine, the benefactors of the to-be stolen land were adamantly opposed to a discussion of borders. Even after Zionist colonizers declared victory following the initial conquest of the majority of Palestinian land in 1948, their leadership refused to acknowledge the boundaries of their new State of Israel. Pinhas Rosen, who would become Israel’s first Minister of Justice, was overruled when he suggested to David Ben-Gurion that the state demarcate its borders in its 1948 Declaration of Independence:

Rosen: “There’s the question of the borders, and it cannot be ignored.”
Ben-Gurion: “Anything is possible. If we decide here that there’s to be no mention of borders, then we won’t mention them. Nothing is a priori.”
Rosen: “It’s not a priori, but it is a legal issue.”
Ben-Gurion: “The law is whatever people determine it to be.”[1]

Indeed, the law is not an instrument of justice, but rather a tool used by the powerful to serve their interests. Ben-Gurion was, as colonizers have often been, refreshingly honest. And while the intervening years of Israeli politics have been marked by brilliantly executed window dressing, the Israeli Knesset just pulled back the curtain and returned Israel to its roots. The text of the law is explicit, and what is unsaid is also revealing: No mention of Palestine, Palestinian history, Palestinians, or Arabs; no mention of equality, democracy, or human rights for all; and significantly, no mention of borders.

While the absence of borders might seem to suggest that the expansionist ambition of the early Zionists is still unrealized, the demarcation is actually omitted because there is no longer a need to articulate where the sovereign State of Israel ends. The facts on the ground and supporting legislation speak for themselves. The opening article of the Basic Law does nod to the imaginary two-state solution by purporting to make a distinction between Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel or historic Palestine) and the State of Israel (presumably land within the 1967 “Green Line” and any already-annexed Palestinian land such as East Jerusalem). However, the law itself blurs the line. For instance, Article 3 declares “a greater, united Jerusalem” to be the capital of Israel, reaffirming the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem. And Article 7 casually endorses “Judaization” or the promotion of Jewish-only settlement. Supporters of the law have rushed to interpret Article 7 as applying only to areas within the Green Line, though nothing within the law itself or in the policy of any Israeli government would suggest any such limitation. And reading the new Basic Law together with over twenty “Annexation Laws” proposed in the Knesset in the last three years uncovers the legal scaffolding for the complete colonization of historic Palestine already in place.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Taking the Land without the People: The 1967 Story as Told by the Law]

These Annexation Laws are at various stages of the legislative process but all create the conditions for the de facto confiscation of private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank through the application of Israeli domestic law to areas in and around the illegal Israeli settlements. The same method was used to illegally annex East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights to Israel in 1967. In its response to a Supreme Court petition by Adalah regarding the “Settlements Regularization Law” – the most egregious of these Annexation Laws – the Israeli government stated plainly: Jewish settlement in the West Bank fulfills the values of Zionism; and the Israeli Knesset, which is not subject to international law, is the source of authority in the occupied Palestinian territory. Before its Supreme Court, the Israeli government defined itself as the sovereign in the West Bank settlements, meaning there is only one legal regime operating on both sides of the Green Line – throughout Eretz Israel. And last week, the Knesset enshrined Jewish supremacy as the absolute constitutional value of this legal regime, while also definitively eliminating the possibility of Palestinian self-determination anywhere in that entire geographic space, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

The new Basic Law therefore signals the end of any prospective Palestinian national project, as long as this new era of bald-faced, legalized racism lasts. This law thus has severe consequences for Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens or residents currently under Israeli control. With Judaization as a national value, the Israeli government could justify the forcible transfer of populations, and with discrimination enshrined, non-Jewish people have limited ways of challenging unequal access to land, housing, or state resources.

[Interactive | #418Villages: Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948]

Codifying the myth of human hierarchy is deadly – when states elevate one group of people as more valuable, others are dehumanized and their very lives are threatened. At the same time, by explicitly (re)stating and constitutionalizing this myth, the Israeli Knesset has also clarified the root of the problem. And when the root of the problem is understood, so too is the solution. The alternative to this colonial, supremacist present is a decolonized future of equal rights for all. While settler-colonialism is a zero-sum game, decolonization is not. Supremacy insists that only one group of people deserve freedom; equality means we all do.

[1] Tom Segev. 1949, The First Israelis. Picador: 1988. p. xviii

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About Nadia Ben-Youssef 1 Article
Nadia Ben-Youssef is a lawyer and human rights advocate. She is the co-founder and director of Adalah Justice Project.

1 Comment

  1. Since its inception Israel has always used UNGAR 181 as the legal basis for its existence. Consequently, it cannot deny the right to statehood for the Palestinians in the remaining territory that was included in 181.
    The territory therefore, that rightfully and legally belongs to the Palestinians is all of the West Bank which includes East Jerusalem.
    Israel, by its own insistence of legality based on 181 can’t deny the right to self-determination for the Palestinians. Those are the legal borders of Israel as defined by 181 and accepted by Israel.

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