Is tax law culturally specific? Lessons from the history of income tax law in mandatory palestine

Assaf Likhovski*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tax law is a technical area of law which does not seem to be culturally specific. It is thus seen as easily transferable between different societies and cultures. However, tax law is also based on definitions and notions which are not universal (the private sphere, the family, the gift etc.). So, is tax law universal or particular? Is it indeed easily transferable between different societies? And in what ways does tax law reflect ethnic or cultural rather than economic differences? This Article seeks to answer these questions by analyzing one specific example - the history of income tax legislation in Mandatory Palestine. This history reveals the dual nature of income taxation. On the one hand, the Income Tax Ordinance which was enacted by the British in Palestine in 1941 was based on a one-size-fits-all colonial model, and the lawyers involved in its enactment, in Palestine and in the Colonial Office in London, made relatively little effort to adapt it to local conditions. On the other hand, other actors - the officials, politicians and businessmen involved in the initial debate about the imposition of income taxation in Palestine in the 1930s, and the administrators involved in the application of the specific rules of the Ordinance after it was enacted in the 1940s - were aware of the need to adapt the law to the specific conditions of Palestine. Thus, while on a formal level the Ordinance seems to represent a process in which the tax law of Palestine converged with that of other British colonies (and ultimately, with English income tax law), once we expand our framework and examine not just law in the books, but also law in action, and actors such as politicians and administrators, we discover that particular local conditions were an important factor in the enactment and application of the Palestine Income Tax Ordinance. The study of the process of transplantation, the Article concludes, should therefore focus not only on the formal norms being transplanted, but also on the role of the different non-legal actors involved in the process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-763
Number of pages39
JournalTheoretical inquiries in law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 27 Jun 2010


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation510/04, 1609/07


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