Israel is a country in which all citizens are equal under the law, have the right to vote, and can do anything they want, so why is it called an apartheid regime? Lets untangle this mess.

What is Apartheid?

The term ‘Apartheid,’ an Afrikaans word meaning ‘apartness’ or ‘segregation,’ refers to South Africa’s system of racial segregation from 1948 to 1991. Under this system, citizens were classified by race, assigned to specific residential zones and schools, and black people’s voting rights and freedom of movement were severely restricted. Public facilities and social events, including public transport, government buildings, beaches, cinemas, bars, and restaurants, were all racially segregated. Moreover, interracial marriage and relations were banned during this period of stringent racial discrimination.

Apartheid has been defined as follows:

  1. The state has established an institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression and discrimination.
  2. There is an intent to maintain the domination of one racial group over another.
  3. A series of inhumane acts were committed as an integral part of this regime.

Is there Apartheid in Israel?

Mansour Abbas, an Israeli Arab, one of the 11 (out of 120) Israel Parliament members

All citizens in Israel are equal under the law.  All citizens have the right to vote and run for office. Israel has no legislation whatsoever preventing or limiting non-Jewish citizens from doing anything they chose to do, as long as it is legal.  They may attend the school or university their choice, and reside in the neighborhood of their choice.  Non-Jews (and people of all colors) use the same public transport, same medical clinics and hospitals, same theatres, restaurants, beaches and public toilets as any Jewish citizen.

Khaled Kabub, an Israeli Arab, one of the 15 Supreme Court judges in Israel.

Non-Jews are free to join the police force, the army, the ambulance service and any other state institution they choose.  This is routinely observable by the amount of Druze and Bedouin in both the police force and the army and the Arab doctors, nurses and pharmacists, be they Muslim or Christian in the hospitals.  There are Supreme Court Justices who are Arab, as well as Arab and Christian Parliament members. 

Rana Raslan, Miss Israel 1999

In 1999 the Miss Israel beauty pageant was won by Rana Raslan, an Arab Muslim woman from Haifa.  For a more detailed description, see Israel, an Integrated Society.

Outside Israel


Israel has no civil marriage so only people of the same religion may marry, and in the case of Muslim/Christian/Jewish mixed marriages, couples either need to marry outside of Israel or one of the partners needs to change faith.  However, divorces in these cases are extremely problematic.  Same sex marriages are still not performed in Israel although, since 2006 gay marriages abroad have been recognized in Israel.  In comparison to other Middle Eastern countries and territories, (Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, the West Bank & Gaza Strip, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates), Israel affords LGBTQ+  people more benefits and rights, which include the right to adopt, the right to social security, protection from employment discrimination, and the ability to serve openly and equally in he military, than any other country in the region.  Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly cities in the world, and annually hosts a much publicized and internationally attended Pride event.  The claim that Israel is an apartheid state is baseless and inaccurate.

West Bank

In 2005 Israeli settlements were unilaterally dismantled and Israeli citizens and military were evacuated from inside the Gaza Strip.  As Israel is no longer involved in Gaza, except to safeguard its own security, (checking for weapons at the gates and ports), both apartheid and occupation claims here are misplaced and irrelevant.

The West Bank, unlike Gaza, is not a contiguous piece of land.  It consists of 227 fragmented and disconnected cities and villages, many that can only be reached by using the roads outside of the villages, which are in Israel or in territory supervised by Israel. 

These areas of the West Bank are classified as A, B and C, in the Oslo Agreement (see map).

Area A consists of 14 parts plus the Gaza strip, is entirely under PA control, and Israel has no hand in it. 

Area B is under Israeli security control and PA civilian control.

Area C with 180 villages is entirely under Israeli control.

Border control

Because of this peculiar disconnected format and the need to use Israeli roads, Palestinians are subject to security searches between villages. Israel’s restrictive policies in these territories are driven by security concerns and are not motivated by racism.  There is no legal designation of institutionalized discrimination based on racial superiority.  The term apartheid should not be used here as the confinement is only in effect on non-citizens, who may pose a security risk to Israel. 

It is correct that Palestinians who live in West Bank and are not Israeli citizens, have limited ability to move freely, have no right to vote in Israeli elections and are subject to a different legal system, but this is because they are not Israeli citizens.  The Palestinians vote in Palestinian Authority elections, which no Israeli may vote in, which is part of the point. They should govern themselves.  The Gaza Strip was under Palestinian Authority control until the elections in 2006 when Hamas was voted into office (and subsequently killed the Palestinian Authority representatives in what is known as “The Battle Of Gaza”). Since then there have been no further elections. 

Palestinians are not able to move freely between the West Bank and Israel (as Jewish citizen settlers are able to do) and are required to obtain permits to enter Israel and face military checkpoints.  Like every other nation state, Israel does not allow non-citizens to roam freely inside its territories, without a passport/ travel permit, and a reason to visit. 

Judicial systems

If Israeli settlers in the West Bank (i.e. outside of Israel) are accused of committing crimes they are tried in the Israeli court system, whereas Palestinians who are accused of crimes are tried in Military Court or in the Palestinian Authority courts.

This peculiar situation of two parallel legal systems for two different sets of people occurs because Palestinians (versus Arab Israelis) are not Israeli citizens, and as Israel is administering part of the West Bank, the citizens enjoy the benefits the state provides.  It is an unusual situation but does not rise to the definition of apartheid, although Palestinians feel that they cannot participate in the legal system that governs their lives, which is a valid observation.


Occupation is legal term for a territory that was part of a sovereign state, which has now been attained, but due to the fact that Palestine is not, and has never been, a sovereign state this label too is incorrect, although many cite the Fourth Geneva Convention and claim Israel has violated it. This bans the occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.

This article has dealt with legal definitions, and may not be to everyone’s satisfaction, but hopefully some clarity is provided in as much as the apartheid claims of restricted movement and lack of voting rights have been explained.

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