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Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy

Topic / Human Rights

Law and Policy Used to Address & Aggravate Palestinian Isolation: A Focus on Case Studies from Lebanon, Jordan, Israel


As Israel has explored the possibility of annexing parts of the West Bank, many have begun to question the viability of a future Palestinian state, while also raising concerns regarding the status and condition of the Palestinian diaspora. This essay explores how the role of law and policy has been used in three countries—Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel, respectively—to both accelerate and to frustrate Palestinian integration. In doing so, the essay also explores the necessary history to contextualize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of the Palestinian diaspora. Ultimately, the essay posits that through the use of law and policy, 1) Lebanon has sought to segregate Palestinians; 2) Israel has sought to integrate Palestinians; and 3) Jordan, in hybrid fashion, initially sought integration until the prospects of political instability became too insurmountable, thereby resorting to practices promoting Palestinian exclusion.  


Overwhelmed economically by the aftermath of World War II, the decline of its empire, and its inability to secure partition, Britain finally withdrew from Mandatory Palestine in May 1948, ending 26 years of colonial rule.[i] While Britain hoped its retreat would advance regional stability, removing itself from a situation that could “undermine its relations with the independent Arab states,” Britain’s withdrawal ultimately fueled sectarian tensions and a cascading refugee crisis.[ii]

With no foreign power left to preserve peace, tensions mounted between Jews and Arabs, who both sought irreconcilable partitions. When Israel declared independence, several Arab countries—Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Transjordan[iii]—initiated war alongside Palestinian Arabs, seeking to “destroy the new state.”[iv] Whereas Egypt prevailed with Gaza, Jordan prevailed with the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel retained the rest.[v]

Though the war temporarily settled the partition dispute, it did not settle the sentiment that sought Israel’s destruction, thereby perpetuating war and furthering Palestinian displacement. Upon rising to power, Egypt’s president Gamel Abdel Nasser spearheaded a campaign to eradicate Israel, which included militarizing the Sinai border; signing a military pact with Jordan; and blockading Israel’s southern port, Eilat.[vi] The latter two initiatives triggered the Six-Day War, whereby Israel attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, destroying their air forces and claiming Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan; Sinai from Egypt; and the Golan Heights from Syria.[vii]

Israel’s borders remain contested to this day, and the refugee crisis resulting directly from these two wars also persists. The first Arab-Israeli War created 750,000 Palestinian refugees, who fled or were expelled from their homes, only to “never [be] allowed back.”[viii] The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates that today, as a result of these wars, there exist five million Palestinians eligible for refugee status, an estimation likely only possible because of UNRWA’s very generous classification of the term “Palestinian refugee.”[ix]

Ultimately, UNRWA classifies a Palestinian refugee as any person “whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”[x] But importantly, UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee allows refugee status to transcend multiple generations, inheritable by the children of Palestinian refugees, many of whom had never visited modern day Israel or the Palestinian Territories nor had ever experienced physical displacement.[xi] Hence, “[t]he descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration.”[xii]

While the prelude and aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War also propelled the displacement of 850,000 Jews throughout the Middle East and North Africa,[xiii] this essay for purposes of scope concerns itself with the plight of displaced Palestinians, and their challenges to integrate in “diaspora.” More specifically, the essay explores the causes of the Palestinian refugee crisis and compares the laws and policies that Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel have employed to facilitate and impede Palestinian integration.         

Historical Background

Prior to exploring the integration efforts (or lack thereof) that these countries have employed, it is first essential to understand the history of Palestinian displacement, which was largely caused by the letter as well as the mismanagement of Ottoman and British property laws. At the outset of the 20th century, Palestinian society was “predominantly rural and peasant,” and thus greatly unprepared for the legal complexities posed by the Ottoman and British registry systems.[xiv]

Later adopted by the British when they assumed the Palestine Mandate, a land code implemented by the Ottomans in 1858 challenged traditional property laws that once defined property ownership in the region.[xv] This complex new system challenged the status quo that defined property rights in the land since the early period of the Muslim conquest, eventually leaving many Arab rural landowners vulnerable to land sales to which they did not consent.[xvi]

Under the prior system, “only dwelling and limited appurtenant areas were regarded as vested in absolute private ownership,” meaning that rural land “belonged to the miri category (princely),” whereby a “representative of the … entire Muslim community, retained ultimate ownership,” and whereby an “individual could gain a right to possession and usufruct on the condition that the grantee cultivate the land.”[xvii] Hence, under the pre-1858 system, rural land was often collectively owned and subject to “customary collective land rights.”[xviii] 

In 1858, the Ottomans introduced a new property system, which “prohibited [these] customary collective land rights,” seeking “to reorder the tenure system in the Empire” and to “compel registration of individual titles to rights in miri land.”[xix]The ultimate goal was to privatize agrarian land, to “[affix] tax liabilities to specific individuals,” to “minimiz[e] tax evasion,” and to “facilitate enforcement of military conscription.”[xx] Hoping to avoid taxation and conscription, much of the Palestinian peasantry “disavow[ed] claim to the[ir] lands,” “vest[ing] title of village lands in the hands of a few village leaders or register[ing] them in the name of a fictitious or long-deceased individual.”[xxi] By evading conscription and taxation, many Palestinians naively gambled their future ownership of their rural lands, entrusting their lands to their corrupt village leaders.[xxii]

This gamble began realizing its first “setbacks” with the emergence of Zionism, especially under Britain’s accession of Palestine. Then, “[British Land Courts] maintained the effort to enforce the Ottoman Land Code, including the drive for individual registration,” doing so more vigilantly and efficiently than their Ottoman predecessors.[xxiii] With the emergence of Zionism—which sought recognition of a Jewish homeland in Israel-Palestine in part due to intensifying European anti-Semitism—many rural Palestinians soon realized losses as masses of Jews migrated to Israel-Palestine in six waves, called Aliyahs.[xxiv] These Aliyahs ultimately brought 650,000 Jews to the area, many of whom were escaping pogroms and anti-Semitism in Hungary, Poland, and Russia, and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.[xxv]

With many Jewish refugees desperate for land and integration, many Arab village leaders, who now possessed the deeds to the lands worked by Palestinian peasants, corruptly sold their villagers’ lands without their consent.[xxvi] Consequently, many Arab “villagers found themselves subject to eviction, and without legal recourse” when Zionists purchased property according to the then-legal protocol.[xxvii] Many other Palestinian peasants lost property after relying on local moneylenders “who charged usurious rates for loans needed to pay taxes and purchase seed,” and then repossessed the debtors’ property when their debts became insurmountable, then selling it to Zionists.[xxviii] These practices were so common that “there was never a shortage of willing [Arab] vendors” to sell land to Zionists.[xxix]

As more rural Arabs lost their lands, sectarian tensions mounted as local Arabs began scapegoating Jews, and the Arab village leaders who sold lands to Jews, as threats to their livelihood.[xxx] These tensions culminated in the Arab riots of 1921 and 1929,[xxxi] whereby Arabs—then encouraged by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, “to ‘defend’ their Holy places from the Jews”—massacred Jews and “Arab villagers sympathetic to Jews.”[xxxii] With land disputes becoming more problematic, Britain intervened, introducing the 1921 and 1929 Land Ordinances, which sought to better protect and compensate rural tenants who faced eviction.[xxxiii]

Yet, despite such ordinances, sectarianism and violence overwhelmed the British. In 1936, the Arab Higher Committee headed by Haj Amin al Husseini arranged strikes, which culminated in three years of violence that targeted Jews and British officials.[xxxiv] Upon eventually quelling the riots, the British sought to restore order by preventing future land disputes—and a supposed source thereof, Jewish immigration.[xxxv] Cue the White Paper of 1939, which asserts,

            “[O]wing to the natural growth of the Arab population and the steady sale in recent years of Arab land to Jews, there is now in certain areas no room for further transfers of Arab land, whilst in some other areas such transfers of land must be restricted if Arab cultivators are to maintain their existing standard of life and a considerable landless Arab population is not soon to be created. In these circumstances, the High Commissioner will be given general powers to prohibit and regulate transfers of land.”[xxxvi]

By then restricting migration to 75,000 Jewish immigrants over the next five years,[xxxvii] Britain burdened Jews when they most needed a safe haven during the Holocaust. Yet, Britain’s action confirmed that land disputes—despite the fact that Jews only controlled five percent of all land comprising the Mandate of Palestine before the 1948 War, and one-fifth of all cultivable land therein—and mostly false conspiracies about Jews stealing land remained an exacerbating source of conflict.[xxxviii]

Overwhelmed by land tensions, Britain proposed partition in 1937. In its first effort, the Peel Partition Plan, Britain proposed to devote 25 and 75 percent of the land to establishing a Jewish and Arab state, respectively.[xxxix] Under this plan, the Jewish state would entail the Galilee region and the Mediterranean coast northwards from Tel Aviv, while the Arab state would assume Jaffa, the Negev desert, and the central mountains, merging with Transjordan in the process.[xl] A British neutral zone binding Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a “corridor to the Mediterranean near Jaffa” would encompass the remaining land.[xli] This plan was rejected by Arab leadership, which sought a monopoly and “unitary state because 70 percent of the population was [Arab].”[xlii]

Unable to secure partition and burdened by the mandate’s costs, especially after the Second World War, Britain withdrew, delegating partition to the United Nations.[xliii] The UN proposed two states—nearly half of the land for each people, though Jews then comprised one-fourth of the populations—whose boundaries considered the whereabouts of each community.[xliv] The Jewish state would have spanned most of the Mediterranean and the Negev, while the Arab state would have had the West Bank, the Western Galilee, Gaza, and nearby lands to the south.[xlv] Jerusalem would have remained under international control.[xlvi] While Arab leadership rejected the partition, favoring a unitary state where the Arab majority was to govern, Jewish leadership accepted, despite the threat of war from Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Arab Palestine.[xlvii]

In May 1948, Israel declared independence, and its neighbors initiated war.[xlviii] Egypt prevailed with Gaza, Jordan possessed the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Israel retained the rest. As the conflict unraveled, more than 700,000 Arabs suffered displacement due to a complex variety of causes, including: 1) “frightened communities fleeing their homes at the first whiff of grapeshot;” 2) expulsion by Israeli troops; and, 3) Arab commanders ordering villagers to “send away women, children and the old to safety in inland areas.”[xlix] This account, authored by historian Benny Morris defies common misconceptions regarding displacement, these being that the displacement was primarily fueled by “orders from or at the behest of Palestinian or outside Arab leaders,” or by “expulsion from Israelis . . . with a preset master plan or . . . a systematic policy.”[l]

Hence, while a variety of causes perpetuated mass displacement during the 1948 War, the War was ultimately fueled by land tensions and misconceptions thereof, a consequence of British enforcement of the Ottoman Land Ordinances. These property laws were not suitably tailored for the local population and resulted in mass displacement and land disputes during the especially sensitive period of migration which included the Holocaust and prelude thereto. While these cascading developments fueled sectarian tensions between Jewish and Arab communities that still simmer, it also sent 750,000 Palestinians into disarray, with many now posed to either remain in a newly founded Israel or to migrate elsewhere, such as Lebanon or Jordan.  


Of today’s five million Palestinian refugees, 475,075 are currently registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with 45 percent of those living throughout 12 refugee camps.[li] Arguably, Lebanon remains the most inhospitable of all to the Palestinian diaspora, instituting laws that effectively prevent Palestinian integration and long-term welfare.

One such law is the “1925 Nationality Law,” which makes it difficult for foreigners and their children to obtain Lebanese citizenship and its consequential benefits, and thus, to integrate.[lii] While the law extends Lebanese citizenship to foreign women who marry Lebanese men, as well as to their children, it refuses citizenship for those whose circumstances are vice-versa.[liii] Hence, when Palestinian men marry Lebanese women, the husbands and their Lebanese-born children cannot qualify for Lebanese citizenship.[liv] This law has effectively left almost all Palestinians in Lebanon as stateless “with the exception of approximately 30,000 Christians who arrived in 1948 and were granted Lebanese citizenship.”[lv] Therefore, since 1948, Palestinians have effectively been barred from naturalization, and most have cleaved to their refugee status through UNRWA and the Lebanese government, which at least affords them residency permits, identification cards, and travel documents allowing them to enter and exit Lebanon.[lvi]

Despite being effectively barred from Lebanese citizenship, Palestinians also suffer stifling economic restrictions, which while targeting foreigners, effectively compromise the Palestinian’s ability to integrate.[lvii] Prior to Law No. 129 of 2010, Palestinian refugees and other foreigners had to pay a 450,000 LBP (a modern $297 USD) fee for work permits, whereas now they do not.[lviii] Today, only employers seeking work permits must pay approximately one-fourth of the previously stipulated fee for work permits.[lix]

While this sum might not be overwhelming, navigating the Lebanese bureaucracy to obtain the permit is. Palestinians pursuing Category One work permits, assigned to employers and employees whose salaries are thrice that of the minimum wage, must secure approval from the Minister of Labour.[lx] Palestinians pursuing Category Two work permits, assigned to employers and employees whose salaries are between twice and thrice that of the minimum wage, and Category Three work permits, assigned to those who earn anywhere between the value of the minimum wage and that twice thereof, require approval from the Director General of the Ministry of Labour, or when renewing, approval from the Head of the Labour Department.[lxi]

Hence, even to simply work in Lebanon, registered Palestinians refugees must undergo an extensive bureaucratic process, whereby the future of their career prospects remains in the mercy of higher-up Lebanese officials, who as recent as June 2019, shut down or fined 600 Lebanese businesses for employing Palestinians and Syrians without work permits.[lxii] This bureaucratic process has also deterred all but a few Palestinians from opening businesses, as starting businesses “usually requires political connections,” which most Palestinians do not have.[lxiii]

Perhaps more burdensome than the permit application process, however, are the legal prohibitions that restrict Palestinians from entering higher-end professions, thereby further stifling Palestinian economic prospects in Lebanon. Overall, Palestinians and foreigners are prohibited from 60 professions,[lxiv] including careers in the following professional fields, which are exclusively reserved by law for Lebanese nationals: medicine, engineering, optometry, nursing, pharmacy, law, accounting, and the army.[lxv]

Just as Palestinians are outright prohibited from certain professions, they are also entitled access to a certain compromised number of professions, most of which are less financially rewarding. As per Article 3 of the Ministerial Decision of the Minister of Labour, Palestinian refugees have legal access to only 70 professions.[lxvi] These professions, which tens of thousands of Palestinians pursue, include the following: construction, farming, home-improvement, agriculture, cleaning, and cab driving.[lxvii] Hence, facing overwhelming economic constraints—such as profession restrictions and a lengthy bureaucratic process to secure work permits—it is to no surprise that [Lebanon] once had, and may still have, “the highest percentage of Palestine refugees who are living in abject poverty.”[lxviii] While Lebanon’s economic policies may target foreigners, they have implicitly disenfranchised Palestinian refugees, devastating their prospects of integration.

While Lebanese law has limited the Palestinian’s prospect of economic mobility, it has also excluded Palestinians from military enrollment, a prime opportunity to prove national allegiance and to integrate.[lxix] While not high paying, military enrollment may function as a key forum for equalization and integration—armies generally recruit from all walks of life and impose equalizing roles and expectations, while also allowing recruits to demonstrate their loyalty to the state. With Palestinians essentially excluded from all high-end career paths, and the military, a prime forum for integration, Palestinians remain economically and nationally segregated with limited access to social mobility.

While the above laws and policies have only targeted foreigners as a general group, Lebanon’s laws have also sought to explicitly hinder Palestinian refugees’ integration prospects. For instance, Lebanese law forbids Palestinians from bringing building materials into some refugee camps, leading to deteriorating living conditions by “preventing the repair, expansion or improvement of homes” in camps through threat of fine, imprisonment, or demolition.[lxx] According to UNRWA, the camps’ conditions are already “dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice,” making deterioration all the more severe.[lxxi] Lebanese law also forbids Palestinians from owning houses outside the camps, preventing Palestinians from achieving realistically sustainable living conditions, and effectively ensuring that they either suffer or leave.[lxxii] According to Saber Halimeh, a Palestinian journalist and refugee rights activist, these laws intend “to discourage Palestinians from staying permanently.”[lxxiii]

Hence, Lebanese law has both unintentionally and intentionally sought Palestinian disenfranchisement, while also denying citizenship to Palestinian refugees, and thus the ability to integrate economically and legally into the framework of Lebanese society. To no coincidence, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon “were considered… the worst off of all Palestinian refugees” prior to the Syrian Civil War.[lxxiv] 


Just as many Palestinians fell under Lebanese control following the 1948 War, even more so fell under Jordanian control, with one-third to one-half of all Palestinians either remaining in what was then the Jordanian-controlled West Bank or relocating to what is now Jordan proper: the East Bank.[lxxv] The influx of Palestinians was so great that it actually tripled Jordan’s population.[lxxvi] Thus, the experience of Palestinians in Jordan remains one of the most important for Palestinians in diaspora.

This experience has been mixed. The Jordanian monarchy initially promoted Palestinian naturalization and integration into Jordanian governance and civil society, but soon backtracked as tensions mounted between Palestinian nationalists and the Jordanian government, which feared insurrection. Ever since, the Jordanian monarchy has increasingly sought to exclude Palestinians from citizenship, governance, and civil society.

Following the 1948 War, Jordan began to govern the West Bank, which it annexed under King Abdullah in 1950.[lxxvii] Initially, Jordanian governance sought to integrate Palestinians into society to appease the Palestinian population, which now outnumbered that of the native Jordanian, and to lessen prospects of insurrection.[lxxviii] Hence, in a gesture to “unite the East and West Banks” and to forge a common Jordanian identity, the Kingdom approved full citizenship for all Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, established a commission to “integrate the legal systems of the East and West Bank,” and appointed Palestinians “to senior posts in the government.”[lxxix] Through promoting a common legal system, Palestinian participation in Jordanian governance, and Palestinian naturalization, the monarchy initially championed Palestinian integration under the banner of a Pan-Jordanian identity.[lxxx]

However, this vision of a Pan-Jordanian identity suddenly experienced setback in 1951, when a Palestinian assassinated King Abdullah, causing many Jordanians to lose sympathy for the Palestinians, whom they now regarded with more “apprehension and wariness.”[lxxxi] While the assassination sowed the first seeds of sectarian distrust, King Talal sought to downplay the incident, emphasizing the need for unity and Palestinian integration.[lxxxii] Hence, he “dissolved the upper house and constituted it with more Palestinians, [and] drafted a new constitution focused on basic rights,” while characterizing “Palestinians and Transjordanians as two branches of the same family.”[lxxxiii]

Despite Talal’s political and rhetorical efforts to unite the Palestinian and Jordanian communities, tensions exacerbated, perpetuating distrust, sectarianism, and a shift in policy from a once welcoming, but still insurrection-fearing monarchy.[lxxxiv] The first pivotal event fueling these tensions was Black September (1970), when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine parked four hijacked airliners on Jordanian soil.[lxxxv] While Jordan’s army had previously condoned attacks against Israel, lending Palestinian guerrillas “sympathy and assistance,” these attacks fueled the monarchy’s fears of insurrection, only to be confirmed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s declaration that it had parked on “liberated territory.”[lxxxvi]

With guerrillas now operating as though they “were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Jordanian state,”[lxxxvii] King Hussein responded by killing thousands of Palestinians. This began to foster sectarianism: “Black September deeply divided the Hashemite Kingdom’s population along Jordanian and Palestinian ethnic lines. Jordanians felt betrayed… Yet, for the Palestinians, this event only solidified ‘the extent of their isolation in the Middle East.’”[lxxxviii]

Realizing their welcome in Jordan had suffered a setback, Palestinian nationalists assumed control over their own independence campaign, distancing themselves from Jordan, which previously sought to “represent Palestinian interests.”[lxxxix] When the PLO and Yasser Arafat gained recognition as the official representatives of the Palestinian cause through the UN’s Rabat Resolution (1974), tensions mounted as King Hussein’s legitimacy and “claim to the West Bank” suffered.[xc] Tensions furthered during the First Intifada, whereby the Palestinian United Command of the Uprising called on Palestinians deputies “in the Jordanian Parliament to resign their seats and align with the people.”[xci]

Frustrated by the “betrayal,” Hussein abandoned the West Bank in 1988 under Article 2 of Jordan’s Disengagement Instruction, legislation that has since profoundly punished Jordanian-Palestinians, revoking their Jordanian nationality and leaving them effectively stateless.[xcii] Article 2 notes, “Every person residing in the West Bank before the date of 31/7/1988 will be considered as [a] Palestinian citizen and not as Jordanian.”[xciii] Thereby, the monarchy subjected “hundreds of thousands of current [Jordanian] citizens of Palestinian origin” to citizenship revocation, which it has invoked “arbitrarily and without notice.”[xciv] The monarchy ultimately enforced Article 2 by rendering Jordanian passports of Palestinians in the West Bank as temporary, forcing Palestinians to obtain new passports without a national number, an essential for redeeming citizenship benefits.[xcv]  

While Article 2’s purpose has yet to be revealed, Human Rights Watch suspects a segregating motive: “Jordan’s desire to be able to rid itself of hundreds of thousands of Jordanian citizens of Palestinian origin whom Jordan could then forcibly return to the West Bank or Israel as part of a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem.”[xcvi] This conclusion makes sense, since by revoking citizenship for Palestinians living in the West Bank, Jordan also disabled several privileges of citizenship, all of which are essential for integration: the right to a driver’s license; to purchase and sell property; to open a bank account; to attend elementary and secondary education; to access free or subsidized health care; and to vote.[xcvii]

Through enabling a legal double standard that allows for Palestinian citizenship revocation, Jordan proactively excludes Palestinians. Whereas Jordan’s Nationalization Law mandates that “children of a Jordanian man shall be Jordanian wherever they are born,” and that “[a] minor . . . whose father has acquired a foreign nationality shall retain his Jordanian nationality,” Jordanian courts often fail to comply.[xcviii] Frequently, they revoke citizenship to Jordanian-born children born to Palestinian fathers—despite their Jordanian citizenship being then valid at the time of their children’s birth.[xcix] Hence, just as the monarchy has sought to revoke citizenship from Palestinians in the West Bank, it has also targeted native-born Jordanians of Palestinian origin, suggesting its intent to exclude Palestinians.

These efforts to disenfranchise, by no coincidence, have extended to Jordan’s governance, where Palestinians are reportedly “underrepresented” and “not just due to matters of citizenship” and revocation thereof.[c] In 1993, Jordan through its Chamber of Deputies instituted a gerrymandering law that reportedly “dilute[d] urban and thus Palestinian representation;” while in the mid-2000s, it complemented these efforts to disenfranchise by stripping over 2,700 Palestinians of their citizenship.[ci] Unsurprisingly, despite that Palestinians have comprised “more than half of Jordan’s population,” in 2006, they only accounted for “9 of 55 senators” and “18 out of 110 lower house members” in Jordan’s Parliament.[cii] Further, in 2006, no Palestinians “held any [of the twelve] governorships,” a king-appointed position delegated to govern each of Jordan’s governorates.[ciii]        

Thus Jordan has evolved from a country that, while once welcoming to Palestinian integration—promoting Pan-Jordanian identity, Palestinian citizenship, and participation in politics—has since become more inhospitable, revoking citizenship status for those living in the West Bank prior to July 31, 1988 and suppressing Palestinian representation in governance. Jordan’s integration efforts, at least in historical perspective, can be defined as mixed.


While most Palestinians relocated after the 1948 War, others remained and became Arab citizens of Israel, otherwise known as Arab-Israelis. Of Israel’s 8,972,000 citizens, 20.9 percent are Arabs, Israel’s largest ethnic minority.[civ] Unlike the Palestinian experience in Lebanon and Jordan—largely characterized by work, naturalization, and property-ownership impediments—the Arab-Israeli experience has been far better, especially in recent times, promising citizenship, affirmative action programs, and generally, legal equality.

 Israeli law that governs domestic life and affairs “makes no distinction between its Arab and Jewish citizens,” while entitling Arab-Israeli citizens to the “same rights as their Jewish neighbors.”[cv] Consequently, Arab-Israelis are afforded greater access to social mobility and thus integration than Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan. Whereas Palestinians in Lebanon are treated as foreigners and barred from legal professions, Arab-Israelis are citizens and have enjoyed careers throughout Israeli life. They have even ascended to Israel’s most powerful legal institution, the Supreme Court: Arab-Israeli Justices Salim Joubran,[cvi] Abdel Rahman Zoabi,[cvii] and most importantly, George Karra have all sat on the bench.[cviii] When Justice Karra sentenced a Jew and former Israeli President Moshe Katsav for rape, he metaphorically confirmed the reality that, in Israel, no ethnicity is above or below the law.[cix]

This reality has been furthered by the presence of Arab-Israelis in the legislative process of the Knesset. According to Dov Lipman, a former Knesset member, 81 native Arabic speakers had served Israel’s Knesset up until 2019.[cx] Further, in Israel’s April 2019 and September 2019 elections, the Arab Joint List won the third most seats per any standing coalition.[cxi] And perhaps, most notably, in 2021, Mansour Abbas of Raam, an Arab-Islamist party often cited to be inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, accepted an invite to advance a coalition that ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, a political mastermind who led Israel for 15 out of the last 25 years, propelling Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid into rotational leadership in a new government.[cxii] Even Chibli Mallat, a critic of Israel, acknowledges Israel’s success of Arab integration into its institutions: “They were able to organize politically and secure a significant presence in the Israeli Parliament, if not one which is commensurate with their numbers.”[cxiii] Thus, through naturalization, Israel has elevated its citizens of Palestinian origin, affording them access to its most powerful institutions, a privilege often unavailable to Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israel’s efforts to promote integration extend to the military and its national service program. As aforementioned, the military and national service program serves as a primary forum for integration, recruiting from all walks of life, imposing equalizing roles and responsibilities, providing opportunity to establish loyalty to the state, all while preparing Israel’s youth for the workforce. Freedom House notes that in Israel, “[m]ilitary service plays an important role in both political and civilian life, with many top officers entering politics at the end of their careers.”[cxiv]

Israel has also furthered Arab-Israeli integration in these programs through affirmative action (AA). While the law commands Jewish, Circassian, and Druze[cxv] men and women to serve 32 and 24 months in the military or national service programs, respectively, Arab-Israelis have long been exempt.[cxvi] Israel’s existence has been predicated on surviving war from its Arab neighbors, and this policy has prevented Arab-Israelis from “an untenable position” of war with their “brethren.”[cxvii] While the law may discriminate, the following must be heeded: 1) Arab-Israelis can still serve; 2) the discrimination is intended to be culturally sensitive; and 3) certain ultra-orthodox Jews are also exempt from service, reflecting both the policy’s benign intent of cultural sensitivity.[cxviii]  

Despite its history, Israel has since sought to integrate Arab-Israelis into the military and national service programs through AA. Arab-Israelis who enlist in the IDF or National Service program receive benefits afforded to all soldiers (800 shekels monthly allowance, free healthcare, free public transportation use, an 11,000 shekel yearly grant after one year’s service, and a year’s worth of university tuition for two years of service);[cxix] but they also receive exclusive benefits, such as the ability to leave at will, to receive a monthly stipend for attending a “fully funded year-long university preparation program,”[cxx] and to apply “for a grant of land to set up… [a] home.”[cxxi]

To expedite Arab integration into the army, Israel even created the option of an all-Arab unit—the Gadsar—comprising 500 soldiers in 2016.[cxxii] With all these benefits, in 2016, “[t]en times as many Israeli Arabs” join[ed] the IDF than they did three years earlier,[cxxiii] while non-Jewish enrollment in the National Service Program increased from 600 volunteers to 4,500 volunteers between 2010-2016.[cxxiv] Thus, through economic incentives and AA, Israel has promoted Arab participation into the military, Israel’s greatest forum for integration.

Israel has further prioritized economic incentives to foster integration, embodied by its “Leading Change” initiative. Through such, Israel is investing $560 million “to develop Arab… east Jerusalem and hoist residents out of poverty,” thereby granting them “access to Israel’s robust economy.”[cxxv] Israel’s commitment to integrating its Arab populace has been further complemented by a 9.35 billion dollar, five-year initiative approved by the Knesset in October 2021.[cxxvi] While still in the beginning stages, the program strives to “close gaps” in terms of “education, welfare, employment, and infrastructure.”[cxxvii]

While critics highlight Israel’s previous “neglect” of East Jerusalem, one must contextually appreciate these integration efforts.[cxxviii] Unlike in Jordan and Lebanon, which respectively bar Palestinians from property ownership, and the import of construction supplies into refugee camps, in Israel, Palestinians benefit from public programs devoted to “education, infrastructure” and integrating Arab women into the workforce.[cxxix] Further, Jerusalem’s mayor has acknowledged East Jerusalem’s previous neglect, and has committed to its restoration.[cxxx]

 Thus, Israeli governance has committed, through action and word, to integration efforts.[cxxxi]

Israel’s commitment to integrating Arabs in East Jerusalem, over which Israel claims sovereignty, has also unraveled in naturalization reforms. While Palestinians in East Jerusalem can apply for citizenship, only 5 percent have done so, with many citing the arduous application process, which can take six years, as a deterrent.[cxxxii] While the remaining 95 percent redeem permanent resident status, entailing work and other social privileges other than voting, times are changing. Israel’s Population Authority recently revealed its plan—a one year application process.[cxxxiii] Hence, through shortening the application process, Israel has demonstrated a commitment to naturalize more Palestinians, thereby promoting integration.[cxxxiv] 

Despite such reforms, critics may argue that Israel has likewise fostered exclusion. Cue the “Nation State Law,” which downgraded the status of Arabic from an official to a special status language.[cxxxv] While critics may argue that said law demeans its Arab minority, Arabic still maintains a status superior than that of minority languages in most countries—only 55 out of 193 nations are officially bilingual or more.[cxxxvi] Additionally, the law, while symbolic, “has little practical impact” other than establishing Israel’s name, its flag, and status as the “historic home of the Jewish people,” implying the “exclusive right” of the Jewish people to “national self-determination.”[cxxxvii] Thus, the Nation State Law does not explicitly deny Israel’s Arab minority any specific rights, nor is it out of line with the rest of the world by elevating one official language.

Another source of criticism remains Israel’s Right of Return Law. Whereas any Jew can receive immediate nationality, Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the 1948 War cannot.[cxxxviii] While this law may appear to discriminate, it is important to understand its contextual basis, which reflected the world’s political realities at the time. While Israel initially allowed “tens of thousands of Palestinians to return to their homes and villages,”[cxxxix] its policy soon became influenced by that of the India-Pakistan partition. Hence, George Bisharat, an Israel critic and law professor at UC Hastings,[cxl] concedes, 

“The Government’s reluctance to the… repatriation of all refugees, however soon hardened… Israeli sympathizers defended this policy by characterizing the Palestinian exodus and the massive influx of Jews to Israel from Arab in the immediate post-independence years, as an ‘exchange of populations…’ The Israeli Government also pointed to other such exchanges, such as between India and Pakistan, as precedent for its stance.”[cxli] 

The basis for the law, however controversial by Western standards, is also not out of line with the current political realities of the Middle East. Unto today, the Palestinian Authority refuses Jewish naturalization and “considers land sales to … Jews to be treason and even punishable by death.”[cxlii] Thereby, Jews are effectively banned from citizenship and residency as well as return to their homes in the Palestinian Territories, including those who were expelled pre-1948 in Hebron and Gush Etziyon.[cxliii]

Hence, since Israel’s existence as a “Jewish state” is often foiled to that of the de facto “Arab state” of the Palestinian Territories, its laws should be critiqued proportionately. Those who criticize Israel’s Law of Return must do so only after prioritizing criticism for the PA’s far more discriminatory law, as well as the regimes of Israel’s surrounding neighbors, which displaced—either through explicit or constructive expulsion—850,000 Jews and have since made no effort to repatriate their effectively extinct Jewish populations.[cxliv]

In sum, Israel has facilitated Arab integration into its highest institutions—the Supreme Court, the Knesset, and its military. It has also sought naturalization reform for Palestinians under Israeli jurisdiction, while investing hundreds of millions of dollars into its Arab communities, and designating aside billions more. These integration efforts—while perhaps qualified by what could appear as discriminatory laws and policies when analyzed out of context—are unparalleled, especially in comparison to Lebanon and Jordan’s, which proactively promote the exclusion of Palestinians from citizenship, employment, and governance.     


Since their plunge into diaspora, Palestinians have suffered policies of exclusion in many of their host countries. In Lebanon, Palestinians have effectively been classified as “foreigners,” and barred from citizenship and integration since 1948. In Jordan, as a consequence of cascading relations exacerbated by Palestianian-inspired nationalism and insurrection, Palestinians have suffered a demotion in legal rights, with many losing Jordanian citizenship or becoming subject to revocation thereof. In contrast, Arab-Israelis have seen an upsurge of initiatives designed for their naturalization and integration into key factors of Israeli society. The world must continue to advance Palestinian rights, but in doing so, it must champion reform where it is needed most: the Arab world of the Levant. Failure to do so may just enable the neglect that has stifled the welfare and integration of the Palestinian diaspora for the last 72 years.        

[i] Michael Omer-Man, This week in history: The British Mandate for Palestine, Jerusalem Post (July 29, 2011),; Louise Slavicek, Israel (Creation of the Modern Middle East) 44 (2nd ed. 2008).

[ii] Ellen Ravndal, Exit Britain: British Withdrawal From the Palestine Mandate in the Early Cold War, 1947–1948, (21)3 Diplomacy & Statecraft 416-33 (2010).

[iii] The Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Office of the Historian: Department of State,

[iv] Jeremy Bowen, 1967 war: Six days that changed the Middle East, BBC (June 05, 2017),

[v] The Arab-Israeli War of 1948, supra note 3.

[vi] Bowen, supra note 4; Precursors to War: Arab Threats Against Israel, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (2002),

[vii] Bowen, supra note 4.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Palestine Refugees, Unrwa,; Who We Are, UNRWA,

[x] Who We Are, supra note 9.

[xi] See id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands and from Iran, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs(November 30, 2017),

[xiv] George Bisharat, Land, Law, and Legitimacy in Israel and the Occupied Territories, 43(2) American Uni. Law Review (1994) 468, 491.

[xv] Id. at 493.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id. at 492.

[xviii] Id. at 493.

[xix] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 493-94.

[xx] Id. at 494.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] See id.

[xxiii] Id. at 495, 497.

[xxiv] Zionism, History (August 21, 2018),

[xxv] Id.

[xxvi] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 497-98.

[xxvii] Id. at 498.

[xxviii] Id.

[xxix] Id. at 500.

[xxx] See id. at 498-500.

[xxxi] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 498, 500.

[xxxii] Ricki Hollander, Anti-Jewish Violence in Pre-State Palestine/1929 Massacres, (August 23, 2009), Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America,

[xxxiii] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 498-99.

[xxxiv] Hollander, supra note 32.

[xxxv] Id.

[xxxvi] British White Paper of 1939, Yale Law School: Avalon Project (2008),

[xxxvii] Id.

[xxxviii] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 495-96.

[xxxix] Slavicek, supra note 1 at 36.

[xl] Peel Commission Report (1937), Encyclopedia,

[xli] Id.

[xlii] Id.

[xliii] Slavicek, supra note 1 at 44.

[xliv] Id. at 46.

[xlv] Id.

[xlvi] Id.

[xlvii] Id.

[xlviii] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 502.

[xlix] Benny Morris, For the Record, Guardian (January 13, 2004),

[l] Id.

[li] Palestine Refugees, supra note 8; Where We Work: Lebanon, UNRWA,

[lii] Country Policy and Information Note: Lebanon and Palestinians, Home Office 22 (June 2018).

[liii] Id.

[liv] Id.

[lv] Id. at 17.

[lvi] Id. at 7-9.

[lvii] Jad Chaaban et al. Survey on the Social Economic Status of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. American Univ. of Beirut & Unrwa 84 (2016).

[lviii] Id.

[lix] Country Policy and Information Note: Lebanon and Palestinians, supra note 52 at 64.

[lx] Chaaban et al., supra note 57, at 84.

[lxi] Id.

[lxii] Lama Al Arian, In Lebanon, Palestinians Protest New Employment Restrictions, NPR (July 26, 2019),

[lxiii] Jack Khoury, Lebanon Exempts Palestinian Refugees From Foreign Worker Clampdowns Following Protests, Haaretz (July 18, 2019),

[lxiv] Id.

[lxv] Employment of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. UNRWA & The EU 2 (2017); Palestinians protest Lebanon crackdown on unlicensed foreign workers, Times of Israel (July 16, 2019),

[lxvi] Id.

[lxvii] Id.; Khoury, supra note 63.

[lxviii] Exiled & Suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Amnesty Int’l 2, (October 17, 2007).

[lxix] Palestinians protest Lebanon crackdown on unlicensed foreign workers, supra note 65.

[lxx] Exiled & Suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, supra note 68 at 4.

[lxxi] Where We Work: Lebanon, supra note 51.

[lxxii] Al Arian, supra note 56.

[lxxiii] Id.

[lxxiv] Khoury, supra note 63.

[lxxv] Shaul Gabbay, The Status of Palestinians in Jordan and the Anomaly of Holding a

Jordanian Passport, 2(1) Journal of Political Science & Public Affairs 113, 115 (2014).

[lxxvi] Id.

[lxxvii] Id.

[lxxviii] Id.

[lxxix] Id.

[lxxx] See Id.

[lxxxi] Gabbay, supra note 75, at 115-16.

[lxxxii] Id. at 116.

[lxxxiii] Id.

[lxxxiv] Id.

[lxxxv] Id.

[lxxxvi] Gabbay, supra note 75, at 116.

[lxxxvii] Id.

[lxxxviii] Id.

[lxxxix] Id. at 117.

[xc] Id.

[xci] Gabbay, supra note 75, at 117.

[xcii] Id.

[xciii] Id.

[xciv] Id. at 113.

[xcv] Id.

[xcvi] Stateless Again: Palestinian-Origin Jordanians Deprived of their Nationality. Human Rights Watch 1 (February 01, 2010).

[xcvii] Gabbay, supra note 75, at 113-14.

[xcviii] Id.

[xcix] Id. at 114.

[c] Jordan: Palestinians, Minority Rts. Group (2021),

[ci] Id.

[cii] Data: Assessment for Palestinians in Jordan, Univ. of Maryland (2006),

[ciii] More updated statistics regarding Palestinian representation in Jordanian governance would pose useful, yet remain not as readily accessible. Id,; Jordan: Towards a New Partnership with Citizens: Jordan’s Decentralisation Reform, OECD 6 (2017),

[civ] Stuart Winer, Israel’s population nears 9 million on eve of 2019, Times of Israel (December 31, 2018),

[cv] Response to Common Inaccuracy: Arabs are Second Class Citizens, ADL (2019),

[cvi] Yonah Bob, The legacy of Israel’s first Arab Supreme Court judge, Jerusalem Post (August 4, 2017),

[cvii] Abdel Rahman Zoabi, the first Arab Supreme Court justice, dies at 82, Jerusalem Post (September 14, 2014),

[cviii] Raoul Wootliff, 4 new Supreme Court judges tapped, as right starts to shift bench, Times of Israel (February 23, 2017),

[cix] Dan Izenberg, Judge in Katsav trial known to be independent, fearless, Jerusalem Post (January 3, 2011),

[cx] Dov Lipman, Do Arab Israelis Really Suffer from Apartheid, Honest Reporting (July 16, 2019),

[cxi] Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash, Are Arab Israelis having their political moment?, Washington Post (September 24, 2019),; Joseph Hincks, I Think and Hope That Netanyahu Will Fail.’ A Top Israeli Arab Lawmaker on the State of Coalition Talks, Time (September 27, 2019),

[cxii] Muslim Brotherhood’s true colors on display as Arab Islamist party joins Jewish nationalists in Israeli coalition, Arab News (June 05, 2021),; Orly Halpern, Mansour Abbas on Why He Joined Israel’s New Coalition, Time (June 11, 2021),

[cxiii] Mallat, supra note 100 at 221.

[cxiv] Israel, Freedom House (2020),

[cxv] David B. Green, Arabs in Israel: No Service?, Tablet Mag (June 13, 2012),

[cxvi] Ruth Eglash, Why a growing number of religious women want to serve in the Israeli military, Washington Post (November 10, 2017),

[cxvii] Green, supra note 111. 

[cxviii] See id.

[cxix] Dov Lieber, More Arab Israelis join national service, discovering state benefits, patriotism, Times of Israel (August 15, 2016),

[cxx] Id.

[cxxi] Jane Corbin, Israel’s Arab soldiers who fight for the Jewish state, BBC (November 8, 2016),

[cxxii] Id.

[cxxiii] Id.

[cxxiv] Lieber, supra note 115.

[cxxv] Israeli east Jerusalem plan gets cool Arab reception, YNet News (July 20, 2018),,7340,L-5313559,00.html.

[cxxvi] Alisa Odenheimer, BLOOMBERG (Oct. 25, 2021),

[cxxvii] Id.

[cxxviii] See Israeli east Jerusalem plan gets cool Arab reception, supra note 127.    

[cxxix] Id.

[cxxx] Id.

[cxxxi] See id.

[cxxxii] Nir Hasson, Israel Vows to Drastically Cut Wait Time for Jerusalem Palestinians’ Citizenship Applications, Haaretz (February 26, 2019),

[cxxxiii] Id.

[cxxxiv] See id.

[cxxxv] Andrew Carey & Oren Liebermann, Israel passes controversial ‘nation-state’ bill with no mention of equality or minority rights, CNN (July 19, 2018),

[cxxxvi] The 55 bilingual countries in the world, UOttowa,

[cxxxvii] Carey & Liebermann, supra note 127.

[cxxxviii] Mallat, supra note 100 at 221.

[cxxxix] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 504-05.

[cxl] George Bisharat,  Univ. of California at Hastings Law (2021),

[cxli] Bisharat, supra note 14, at 504-05.    

[cxlii] Mohammed Daraghmeh, Palestinian gets life sentence over land sale to Israelis, AP News (December 31, 2018),

[cxliii] Herb Keinon, Netanyahu: Arabs ‘Ethnically Cleansed’ Jews from West Bank, Jerusalem Post (December 28, 2016),

[cxliv] Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands and from Iran, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (November 30, 2017),