Observations of an Expat: Israel – The Problem is Internal

The current fighting in Israel is different. It was not sparked by a suicide bomber from Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority or an Arab state. Hamas did not decide to test its rocket capability with a random attack.

No, this time the cause is the long smouldering fuse of discontent by the Palestinian’s living inside Israel. And because the roots are internal, the problem is even more intractable and dangerous.

Not all the Palestinians fled Israel during the 1947-1948 war of independence. Some of them simply refused to go. Some actually savoured the thought of living in a democratic country. The descendants of these stay-at-homes now comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population.

For the first years of Israel’s existence the two communities – Arab and Jewish – rubbed along together reasonably well despite Israel being declared a Jewish state with the right of abode to every member of the global Jewish diaspora. But the annexation of the West Bank in 1967 and a succession of right-wing Likud governments supported in coalition by even more conservative Orthodox Jewish parties have gradually changed circumstances.

The Orthodox parties are determined that Israel should be the home for Jews – ONLY. And they have been gradually whittling away at the rights and conditions of Palestinians in Israel to make living conditions unbearable so they are “encouraged” to move. So much so that Human Rights Watch recently published a report accusing the Israeli government of apartheid, which, since international conventions accepted in 1973 and 1998, is a crime against humanity. Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has vehemently denied the accusation.

To understand the problems of Palestinians in Israel you need to discuss them in the context of three geographic communities: The West Bank, East Jerusalem and Palestinians living in territories which were part of Israel before the 1967 war. Different laws and restrictions apply to each.

West Bank Palestinians are the worst off. They live in land captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The international community has deemed this land “Occupied Territories” and considers Jewish settlements illegal. The Israeli government is determined to ignore international law and annex the land.

To facilitate annexation, the Israeli government makes life as difficult as possible for the 2.6 million West Bank Palestinians. Other Palestinians are largely barred from entering the West Bank. They are denied basic rights such as freedom of assembly. Moving to other parts of Israel parts of Israel is prohibited and the prohibition is enforced by the military. Building permits are strictly limited and many of the villages have only rudimentary services such as roads, sewage, water and electricity. The opposite applies to internationally illegal Jewish settlements.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem – which includes large slices of the old walled city – are better off even though they too were the result of spoils of the ‘67 war. There are restrictions on moving home and/or selling the property. But perhaps the most important restriction is that Palestinian residents are not citizens. They are officially residents with the same rights as a foreign resident in most countries. This residency right can be revoked by the authorities at any time – and has been. There is a path to citizenship, but the authorities rarely grant it.

The only Palestinians who can vote in Israeli elections are those descended from families that remained in Israel after the 1947-48 War of Independence. But there are some exceptions to this rule. In the Negev Desert there are 35 Palestinian villages which officially do not exist. They are on no maps and they receive no utility services. Throughout Israel, Palestinians are banned from family reunifications with Palestinians living elsewhere in the world or from marrying Palestinians outside Israel if they plan to live in Israel. If they leave Israel for any period of time they cannot return. There are separate schools for the two communities. Jewish schools receive more money and are superior.

The intention of “Judaising” Israel was underscored in 2018 when the Knesset passed a law affirming Israel as the “Nation State of the Jewish People” and declared that within the territory of Israel, the right to self-determination “is unique to the Jewish people.” There are 50 laws that privilege Jews over Arabs.

The situation started to climb towards its current climax when the Supreme Court postponed a ruling on the possible eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Fuel was added to the tensions generated by the court case by a provocative march of tens of thousands of Jerusalem Jews celebrating “Jerusalem Day” – the anniversary of the capture of East Jerusalem in the ‘67 war.

Finally, came the clash at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. The square inside the gate is a traditional gathering point for Arabs because of its proximity the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is particularly popular during Ramadan when Muslim families gather to break their fast at sunset. An inexperienced chief of police was concerned that the nightly gatherings would lead to violence and erected barricades, thus guaranteeing the unintended outcome. The ensuing violence quickly spread to the Muslim holy sites on Temple Mount. Israeli troops moved in with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Then, and only then, did Hamas, decide to exploit the situation by launching rocket attacks.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Tom provides some useful background, but as he says, the current unrest has many causes, and some of what he says needs clarifying. It is not the Palestinians in the West Bank who are the worst off, it is the two million in Gaza, which has been called an open prison by some, a closed prison by others. For more than ten years, all movements in and out, and the supplies of all the basic essentials for human existence in Gaza have been controlled by Israel, and kept at a level where life is barely sustainable. If Israel wanted to create anger and resentment in Gaza they could hardly have come up with a better plan.
    It is true that many Palestinians remained in Israel post-1948, but that wasn’t because they craved the democracy on offer. The incoming European Jews needed a cheap labour force to do some of the hard graft they themselves were unused to, and they allowed Palestinians to stay for that reason. Other low-grade work was done by the incoming ‘Arab’ Jews from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries.
    Describing the West Bank as having been “captured” during the 1967 misrepresents the relevant international law. Land can only be ‘occupied’ during a war, and has to be vacated as soon as possible after the war ends. The Geneva Conventions lay out the conditions under which the invading force must operate during the temporary period of occupation in the aftermath of a war, conditions which are flouted on a daily basis by Israel. The idea that lands overrun in June 1967 are still being controlled in the aftermath of a war makes a mockery of the conventions, and if the Israeli Supreme Court decides against the Palestinians in the current case it would be treating international law with utter contempt. Sadly, this would not be breaking new ground. There are more than half a million ‘settlers’ in the West Bank, and every one of them represents a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which explicitly outlaws any permanent settlement by the victorious side.

  • Peter Martin 15th May '21 - 9:03am

    “Not all the Palestinians fled Israel during the 1947-1948 war of independence. Some of them simply refused to go. Some actually savoured the thought of living in a democratic country. The descendants of these stay-at-homes now comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population.”,

    So you’re implying the Palestianian population had the choice?

    To create the State of Israel, Zionist forces attacked major Palestinian cities and destroyed some 530 villages. Approximately 13,000 Palestinians were killed in 1948, with more than 750,000 expelled from their homes and becoming refugees – the climax of the Zionist movement’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

    The present generation of orthodox Zionists perhaps don’t consider their grandparents did a sufficently thorough job!


  • nigel hunter 15th May '21 - 9:43am

    Right wing Likud and extreme Jewish factions.Jphnson , right winger and quiet on Israel..Is England at this early stage of discrimination?

  • John Marriott 15th May '21 - 9:46am

    At the risk of repeating what I wrote on the other Palestine/Israel thread currently going the rounds, I would say that, when it comes to blame, a whole load of politicians and peoples have played a part over the past 100 years.

    Let’s just look at what happened when the state of Israel was created in 1948. The first thing to happen was that the neighbouring Arab states declared war, as they did on several occasions afterwards. Each time Israel managed to gain more territory, which it would appear it has been reluctant to give back.

    It might seem drastic; but I would give Palestine a decent access to the sea (currently it resembles a ghetto), declare Jerusalem an ‘international city’, a bit like the Vatican but with all religions involved; only, however, on condition that ALL Arab states recognised Israel’s right to exist. Of course it’s too logical, or misguided, according to which side of the fence you are sitting on. So it won’t happen!

  • First of all, thanks for the clarifications, criticisms and additions, which, as usual, are excellent. If I had the space and time available to discuss all the various twists and turns of possibly the world’s most complex and dangerous international issue than your points would have most likely have been included in the article. Unfortunately I didn’t. So I concentrated on the new and dangerous addition to the Arab-Israeli formula: the entry into the conflict of Palestinians living in Israel. Previously the two communities have co-existed relatively peacefully. That is not the case at this moment. As I write this riots are taking place across Israel. They are instigated by both sides. Palestinians are throwing petrol bombs at police and Orthodox Jews are dragging Palestinians out of their homes and beating them. The situation has been described by senior members of the Israeli police as “civil war conditions.” This is new. This is dangerous. This is what I believe the current focus should be upon without losing focus on the other issues such as the prison-like conditions of Gaza.

  • Roger Roberts 15th May '21 - 12:12pm

    Deeply saddened by news from Israel/Palestine. have i a choice- should I resign as a member of both friends of Israel and friends of Palestine ?

  • It is just plain horrible, and as usual in these things, it’s the innocent who suffer.

  • Roger Roberts 15th May '21 - 1:46pm

    Foreign Office
    November 2nd, 1917

    Dear Lord Rothschild,

    I have much pleasure in conveying to you. on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet

    His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

    I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.


    Arthur James Balfour


  • The Haaretz analysis suggests that neither Hamas nor the IDF want to see a widening conflict https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-gaza-jerusalem-jewish-arab-tensions-and-israeli-politics-a-roadmap-to-bloodshed-1.9807694 with Egypt working in the background to calm things down.
    The Arab Peace Initiative drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, in which Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967 (Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank) remains the best option on offer.
    Saudi Arabia’s former Ambassador to the US and intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been quite critical of Palestinian leaders’ historic “failures” https://english.alarabiya.net/features/2020/10/07/Saudi-Arabia-supports-Palestine-but-not-its-leaders-has-own-interests-Prince-Bandar and in particular the role of Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat in frustrating Saudi Arabian efforts to secure a peace deal in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s.
    “…Arafat had signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, despite having derailed previous deals that contained the same conditions. He also voiced his frustration at Arafat allegedly undermining the Camp David 2000 Accord, which the Palestinian leader refused to sign.”
    “I wanted to cry, my heart was burning at how the opportunity was lost again and perhaps for the last time, as if I was seeing a movie playing in front of my eyes,” he told Al Arabiya.
    “An opportunity comes, and it is lost. After it is lost, we agree on what we rejected, and we put it on the table. Then people say that there is nothing on the table, and so on, over and over. As the saying goes, with repetition you become cleverer,” he said.
    While an initiative led by Prince Abdullah and Prince Bandar almost came to fruition under Bush, the September 11, 2001 attacks derailed it at the last minute, he added.”

  • George Thomas 15th May '21 - 4:29pm

    Definitely about to show my ignorance here, but if Israel’s concern is the threat caused by Hamas as the de facto representation of the West Bank and in turn Palestine’s concern is the threat caused by Israel’s right-wing, expansion approving government wouldn’t it start to solve some of the key problems if the people of Palestine could vote to elect the government of Israel and people of Israel could vote to elect a government of Palestine?

  • Israel has no interest in a peace settlement until Israel is a Jewish state,,They have waited 2000 years for a homeland and another few decades will allow them to have achieved this..Year on year, bit by bit, there is an erosion of Palestinian rights to live and work in Israel and the occupied territories..
    The ‘Roadmap initiatative’ of 2002/03 proved that a negotiated settlement, even one brokered and monitored by the USA, is not acceptable to Israel..
    The roadmap was published by GW Bush on 30 April 2003 ( in a statement, Bush made clear that the plan was entirely developed by the United States) and accepted in good faith by the new Palestinian prime minister (Mahmoud Abbas). Within days Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had stated that a settlement freeze, a main Road Map commitment, would be “impossible” due to the need to build new houses for settlers who start families. Ariel Sharon asked, then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell “What do you want, for a pregnant woman to have an abortion just because she is a settler?

    Three weeks later the Israeli government unilaterally added 13 conditions fully aware that the Palestinian authorities could not accept them..
    The first condition contained the statement that The Palestinians must cease violence and incitement and educate for peace whilst (unlike the Palestinians) Israel is not obliged to cease violence and incitement against the other party, pursuant to the Roadmap..
    The other 12 ‘conditions’ are available on the ‘net’

  • The Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group has issued this statement which has been signed already by two or our MPs and one of our peers – no doubt others will follow.


  • A similar move is required from the US Congress

  • Israel is actually a functioning democracy. As such the people that have the greatest level of control here are the voters in Israel by virtue of the governments they elect or rather the coalitions that can be formed. Palestinians in the Gaza strip have no effective control over Hamas and neither does the International community outside perhaps Iran.
    Palestine became a non-member state in the United Nations, and the Security Council has condemned the Israeli settlements after America, under former President Barack Obama, refused to use the right of veto.
    Netanyahu’s political fortunes increased as a result of the Israeli left’s decline as part of the left’s retreat internationally. He has had success in achieving solid economic progress for Israel, whose average per capita GDP has become comparable to many European developed countries and the administration has been a leader in rolling out vaccines against the Covid pandemic. He has also been able to make progress in normalising relations with the Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
    In his positions with the Palestinian Authority (an authority that has gained great respect at the diplomatic level in recent years), Netanyahu does not seem to care about the increasing international moral condemnation of Israel. There is an extreme right-wing agenda, which focuses on swallowing the land that was occupied during the reigns of his predecessors.
    It is only when enough Israeli voters decide they the Likud party is no longer acting in their interests that things might start to change for Palestinians. Until the conflict with Gaza broke out , and the subsequent Jewish-Arab violence ensued, the Yamina party had been in advanced stages of forming a power-sharing government with Yesh Atid, with the support of the Islamist Ra’am party, that would replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, that now seems to be on hold and coalition talks with Likud are back on.

  • If only the US Congress would follow suit

  • Part of the issue is whether human rights are truly universal? I am staggered by Israel’s spokespeople’s arrogance. When will it understand that we live in an interconnected world and actions have consequences.

  • John David Leaver 18th May '21 - 1:08pm

    There are, indeed, some excellent responses greeting an insightful opening post. However, what strikes me is how limited internal options appear in this Israel/Palestine conflict. I agree with Joe Bourke: Israel is a functioning democracy. I shudder, as my highest degree concerns Southern Africa, at the free-fire use of ‘apartheid’ in a Middle Eastern context. However, Israelis of Palestinian identify are victimized, as Palestinians have been collectively since 1948, and even before that under British rule. Israel, then, isn’t — it seems — a healthy democracy.

    A Southern African parallel resonates. Southern Rhodesia (colonial Zimbabwe) had ‘[recent] settlers’, identity-based [racial] democracy and growing conflict. That example offers tragedy only, either in the 1970s or under Mugabe. I wish I saw an internal solution, but the Middle East is drifting inexorably toward growing conflict, a direction dragging in more and more external actors that is very bad for all but a few bad leaders in the region.

    For such a complex conflict as this to be internationalized, until there is a paradigm shift, only exacerbates problems. That shift for Rhodesia was the fall of Portuguese Mozambique, opening up hundreds of more miles to guerilla infiltration, for South Africa it was the end of the Soviet Union. What paradigm shift, if this conflict becomes more internationalized, will reconcile exhausted combatants in five or ten years? Bear in mind both sides’ involvement with nuclear weapons! Please tell me I’m too pessimistic.

    An initial achievement would be tamping down current conflict, before anyone — Israeli or Palestinian – can addres underlying issues! But where is the internal leadership on either side addressing first that initial goal then the more difficult second one? Sadly, Benjamin Netanyahu sounds more like Ian Smith than F. W. de Klerk, while Hamas acts more like Mugabe’s ZANU-PF than Mandela’s ANC.

  • Alex Macfie 19th May '21 - 5:27pm

    Michael Meadowcroft: Very interesting comment on Israel’s electoral system. I have no doubt that use of STV would benefit moderate parties and reduce the power of the hotheads. Shinui was a sister party of the Lib Dems, and was led in its later years by the late Tommy Lapid, father of Yair Lapid who is leader of Yesh Atid, our current sister party in Israel.

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