A deep dive into the tiers of discrimination faced by Palestinians

A general view of Jenin refugee camp, where a mosque was hit in an Israeli air strike. Picture: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters

A general view of Jenin refugee camp, where a mosque was hit in an Israeli air strike. Picture: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters

Published Oct 24, 2023


When talking about the Israel occupation and war in Gaza, we often mention apartheid and discrimination, but how far does this discrimination really go?

According to Human Rights Watch, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which Israel has recognised as a single territory encompassing the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli authorities treat Palestinians separately and unequally to Jewish Israeli settlers.

The discrimination Palestinians face runs deep, and what’s worse is that there are “levels” and tiers. We first take a look at why this is the case.

Nation-State law

A huge aim of the Israeli government is to ensure that Jewish Israelis maintain dominance across Israel and the OPT. In 2018, the Knesset passed the “nation-state law”. It was met with both celebration and fierce condemnation.

The law stated that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people”. It established “Jewish settlement as a national value” and established Hebrew as Israel’s official language, while downgrading Arabic.

Since the implementation of the law, Palestinian citizens of Israel have a different legal status from Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

But all Palestinians are regarded as inferior to Jewish Israelis.

Jewish Israelis

Jewish Israelis have the most rights and are free to live throughout Israel, East Jerusalem, and most of the West Bank. They are free to vote, free to acquire plots, and will get treated.

Palestinian citizens of Israel

Palestinian citizens of Israel are barred from hundreds of small Jewish towns in Israel and are largely concentrated on about 3% of the land. They have legal status but still have fewer rights than Jewish Israelis.


East Jerusalem residents

Israel considers annexed East Jerusalem part of its sovereign territory, but it remains an occupied territory under international law.

If you are a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem, you live there with a legal status that effectively weakens your residency rights by conditioning them on your connections to the city, among other factors.

West Bank ID holders

From this “tier”, Palestinians do not have citizenship or residency rights. They have an ID, which is weaker than both citizenship and residency. People in the West Bank are barred from building in the majority of the West Bank or entering lsraeli settlements.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are subjected to severe military law that enforces segregation. Palestinians are also prohibited from entering settlements.

Gaza ID holders

If you live in Gaza, you are barred, with very few exceptions, from leaving Gaza or living in the other part of the OPT. In the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel imposes a generalised closure and restricts the movement of people and goods.

Palestinian refugees and exiles

The fifth category and most overlooked people in this matter are the Palestinian refugees and those who were forcefully expelled.

They fled or were expelled from their country over the course of the 1947–1949 Palestine War and the Six-Day War. Their descendants are also considered exiles and refugees.

There are about 7 million refugees, most of whom are stateless.

Israel denies exiled Palestinians the right to return to their homes, even if they were born there, and their right to self-determination.

These Palestinians may not live under Israel’s rule, but they are denied their fundamental rights.

Can Palestinians relocate?

Palestinians cannot relocate between units if it means they would upgrade to a superior tier.

For instance, East Jerusalemites upgrading to citizenship is inaccessible and, in most cases, impossible.

Palestinians in the West Bank can't relocate to East Jerusalem to upgrade their status to permanent residency or citizenship.

Gaza Palestinians are prohibited from relocating to any other geographical unit, and Palestinians in exile can’t reside in any unit, even if they were born there.

However, Palestinians may be allowed to relocate if it means downgrading their citizenship.

Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or East Jerusalem residency can relocate to the West Bank, but this threatens their rights and legal status.

Palestinians in the West Bank can relocate to Gaza if they sign a pledge surrendering their rights and vowing to never return.

Meanwhile, Jewish Israelis can move freely between all units, except the Gaza Strip, while maintaining full rights.

According to a report by Amnesty International, the West Bank has 175 permanent checkpoints and roadblocks. It has scores of temporary irregular barriers as well as a permit regime that is supported by a biometric surveillance system.

Israeli authorities also placed additional restrictions on freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank through closures that disrupted everyday life and amounted to unlawful collective punishment.

Last year, in April, the Israeli army closed checkpoints in Jenin in a move that appeared designed to stifle Jenin’s businesses and trade with Palestinian citizens of Israel then in October, re-imposed a closure on Jenin and closed off Nablus for three weeks, and Shufat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem for over a week.

According to COGAT, a unit of the defence ministry, Israel revoked the permits to work in Israel of 2500 Palestinians as a means of collective punishment.

A new procedure issued by the Israeli military authorities came into effect in October, restricting the ability of foreign passport holders to live with their Palestinian spouses in the West Bank by limiting their visas to a maximum of six months and requiring couples to request permanent residency status in the West Bank, which is subject to Israeli approval.

In Gaza, the illegal Israeli blockade is in its 17th year.