Restoring ethnic democracy: The Or commission and Palestinian citizenship in Israel

Yoav Peled*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Israel's Palestinian citizens have historically enjoyed limited individual rights, but no collective rights. Their status as rights-bearing citizens was highlighted in 1967, with the imposition of Israel's military rule on the non-citizen Palestinians living in the occupied territories. It was the citizenship status of its Palestinian citizens that qualified Israel, a self-defined "Jewish and democratic state", as an "ethnic democracy". In October 2000 Israeli police killed 13 citizen Palestinians who participated in violent but unarmed demonstrations to protest the killing of non-citizen Palestinians in the occupied territories. Both the citizen Palestinian demonstrators and the police were engaged in acts of citizenship: the former were asserting their right as Israeli citizens to protest the actions of their government in the occupied territories, while the latter attempted to deny them that right and erase the difference between citizen and non-citizen Palestinians. Significantly, no Jewish demonstrator has ever been killed by police in Israel, no matter how violent his or her behavior. In November 2000 a commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate the killings. Its report, published in September 2003, is yet another act of citizenship: it seeks to restore the civil status of the citizen Palestinians to where it was before October 2000, that is, to the status of second-class citizens in an ethnic democracy. The Commission sought to achieve this end by undertaking a dual move: while relating the continuous violation of the Palestinians' citizenship rights by the state, it demanded that they adhere to their obligation to protest this violation within the narrow limits of the law. This article's key question is: could the Commission, by viewing the behavior of the Palestinian protestors as legitimate civil disobedience, have encouraged the evolution of Israel from an ethnic to a liberal democracy?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-105
Number of pages17
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005


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