From Chapter I in: Israel – An Apartheid State, by Uri Davis, Zed Books, London and New Jersey, 1987
The Republic of South Africa is not the creation of the United Nations Organization, and it can survive as a ‘white’ supremacy state for a considerable period of time, though by no means indefinitely, with the aid of its diamond, gold, uranium and other abundant resources, in the face of international isolation, and the moral and material boycott of the international community. Israel is much more vulnerable in this, as in other respects. Whereas the Republic of South Africa does not critically depend on enlightened public opinion in the West, as institutionalized in the United Nations Organization and the UN Charter, Israel does.
Formally speaking, the Israeli procedure of denationalization is far more radical and far-reaching than its South-African equivalent. The Republic of South Africa, in the framework of its apartheid policy, devise a legal mechanism to deprive some 75 percent of its inhabitants – the majority of its black people – of their South African citizenship. Under the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act (1970) (amended as the Bantu Laws Amendment Act (1974)) every black person with South African citizenship becomes a ‘citizen’ of one of ten ethnic homelands. Originally constituted as part of the Republic of South Africa, since 1976 four homelands (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) have been granted independence, thereby depriving eight out of the twenty million black citizens of the Republic of South Africa of their South African citizenship.
In the Republic of South Africa, the principle of apartheid is applied under the categories of ‘white’, ‘coloured’, ‘Indian’, and ‘black’. Under the new 1984 Constitution, a stratified hierarchy was established inside the Republic recognizing the minority of 25 per cent of the ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’ inhabitants of South Africa as citizens of the Republic (though segregated politically in three separate Houses of Parliament, ‘white’, ‘coloured’ and ‘Indian’, respectively) while denying access to South African citizenship to the majority of 75 per cent of the inhabitants of South Africa, namely, its twenty million black people.
It still remains the case, however, that South African apartheid recognizes the legal personality of its black inhabitants in a way that Zionist apartheid with regard to the Palestinian Arabs does not. While aiming to exclude its black inhabitants from citizenship in the Republic of South Africa, South African apartheid still recognizes them as legal persons (albeit inferior), and thus predicates the legal mechanism of their exclusion on the ‘replacement’ of their citizenship in the Republic of South Africa with an alternative citizenship, namely, citizenship in one of the ten bogus ethnic ‘new independent states’. Through this mechanism the majority of the inhabitants of the Republic of South Africa, its black people, are rendered aliens in their own homeland, but they are not defined out of legal existence.
In the case of Israel, Zionist apartheid is applied under the categories of ‘Jew’ versus ‘non-Jew’. Of the almost three million non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs who are today entitled, under the constitutional stipulations of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, to Israeli citizenship, less than 25 per cent (approximately 700,000 persons) are Israeli citizens. Under the Absentee Property Law (1950), the state of Israel has similarly denationalized 75 per cent of its non-Jewish Palestinian Arab inhabitants (over two million persons classified as ‘absentees’). However, having classified them as ‘absentees’ in the eyes of the law, it has thereby not only defined them as aliens in their own homeland, but has cast them outside legal existence altogether.
The Absentee Property Law (1950) having defined the mass of the Palestinian Arab refugees from the territories that came under Israeli rule and occupation in 1948-9 out of existence as ‘absentees’, not only denies them the right to citizenship in the Jewish state as stipulated by the 1947 UN Resolution, but at the same time denies them the right to their vast properties inside Israel. It is important to note that the status of ‘absentee’ is inherited. Children of ‘absentees’, whether born inside or outside the state of Israel, are similarly classified as ‘absentees’.
It is difficult to see why leaving one’s ordinary place of residence in Palestine for a place outside Palestine, or a place in Palestine held at the time by forces which sought to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel, or which fought against it after its establishment should entail losing the right to one’s property. The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian Arabs who moved were non-combatants. The men, women and children who left their ordinary place of residence in Palestine for a place outside Palestine (in the Middle East, Europe or elsewhere), or for a place in Palestine held at the time by forces which sought to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel, did so in an attempt to secure the welfare of their families when their country was ripped apart by war.
Needless to say, these draconian measures are not applied to the numerous non-combatant Jewish families who also left their ordinary place of residence in Palestine for a place outside Palestine (Europe, for instance) motivated by similar sentiments, namely, overwhelming concern for the welfare of their families. Needless to say too, the procedures of denationalization, loss of citizenship and alienation of property applied by Israeli legislation against the non-Jewish Palestinian under the Absentee Property Law are not applied against the Jewish Palestinian. His or her citizenship is guaranteed in any circumstances under the Law or Return, and his or her property is presumably secure in perpetuity through an alleged Biblical title.
Following the establishment of the state of Israel, the Palestinian Arab population remaining within the boundaries of the new state was immediately subject to a separate administration of the Military Government under the Defence (Emergency) Regulations (1945). The country was divided into three regional Commands: The Northern, the Central and the Southern. This separate Military Government was administered by the Commanders of the three Commands in their capacity as Military Governors, appointed by, and accountable to, the Chief-of-Staff. Every aspect of the life of the Palestinian Arab population inside Israel was regulated and determined by the Military Government until 1966 (see Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel, and Ian Lustick, Arabs in the Jewish State).
In Israel, the Military Government was dismantled in 1966, only to be set up one year later in the post-1967 Israeli-occupied territories: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai (returned to Egyptian sovereignty in 1982), and the Golan Heights (annexed to Israel in 1981). It is important to note that it was the separate administration of the Military Government inside pre-1967 Israel that was dismantled, not the Defence (Emergency) Regulations (1945). These have remained in force in all the territories under Israeli rule and occupation since the declaration of the state of emergency by the Provisional Council of State on 19 May 1948, four days after the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel on 15 May of that year.
In due course, all Palestinian Arabs who remained under Israeli jurisdiction following the 1948-9 war were granted permanent residence in Israel and regular identity cards. They were not, however, necessarily granted citizenship.
A belated insight into the legal reality of the citizenship of the Palestinian Arab population inside pre-1967 Israel was provided in 1980 by the Israeli Minister of Interior, Joseph Burg, following the passage by the Knesset in July of that year of the Fourth Amendment (1980) to the Israeli Nationality Law (1952):
An announcement concerning the granting of Israeli citizenship to more than 30 thousand Arab residents in the state…was made yesterday by Minister of Interior Joseph Burg in the course of his visit to Arab villages in the western Galilee…This applies to residents who left the country in the War of Independence, and were not here in 1952 when Israeli Nationality Law was passed in Parliament (‘Burg Announced the Granting of Israeli Citizenship to 30 Thousands Arabs’, Haaretz, 21 November 1980)
And Ma’ariv of the same date explains in somewhat greater detail:
The new citizenship law, which enables the Arabs who live in Israel to apply for Israeli citizenship, will now enable more than 30 thousand Arab residents who are defined as present-absentees to obtain Israeli citizenship. This applies to people who fled from Israel in the War of Independence, and who returned to their villages and their families in various ways, mainly after 1952 (‘Arabs Who Fled and Returned Can Get Citizenship’, Ma’ariv, 21 November 1980)
In other words, we now know that by 1980, thirty-two years after the establishment of the state of Israel, at least 5 percent of the Palestinian Arab population, residents of the state of Israel inside its pre-1967 borders, were stateless.
The Israeli authorities have never released figures on the number of Palestinian Arabs citizens of the state of Israel who are classified as ‘present Absentees’. It is known that their number is massive. It is the assessment of this writer that the majority of the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are so classified.