This chapter was written by Emmanuel Dror.


The Emergency Regulations, commonly known as security laws, were inherited from British colonial law, where they were initially used by the British Government as a judicial short cut which was necessitated by the Arab rebellion of 1936. Israel incorporated them into its own law on the grounds that it had to deal with a state of perpetual warfare and security problems.

During the last twenty years, the Emergency Regulations and the police mechanism which enforces them have emerged as some of the most striking features of the Israeli political structure. There are, in fact, few states with democratic pretensions that have such laws, and all Zionist legal “justifications” of the Emergency Regulations today stand condemned by a resolution passed on February 7, 1946, by a convention of the Hebrew Lawyers’ Union: “The powers given to the ruling authority in the emergency regulations deny the inhabitants of Palestine their basic human rights. These regulations undermine the foundation of law and justice, they constitute a serious danger to individual freedom, and they institute a regime of arbitrariness without any judicial supervision.” Moreover, these laws contradict the terms of The Hague and Geneva conventions; thus their application in the occupied territory is illegal, since Israel is a party to these conventions. In reality, of course, as the prominent attorney H. Holzman has noted 1, Israel frequently violates these international agreements. Recently, Israel refused to approve the UN Charter of Human Rights on the ground that the UN is unfriendly to Israel.

We will try to show that the Emergency Regulations are a central feature of the Israeli political structure, for they have provided one of the crucial legal tools for the consolidation of the Zionist state since 1948. They have facilitated the expropriation of Arab land, the expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine, the regulation of Arab population movement and, of course, the repression of all moves toward political self-expression by the Arab community in Israel and the occupied territories. Together with the Law of Return they are fundamental, and it is extremely dubious that they could be completely repealed without thereby negating the basic character of the state: its Jewish exclusiveness.

The Emergency Regulations were originally enacted by the crumbling British Empire during the great Arab revolt of 1936-39, which began in Syria and Palestine and then spread throughout the Levant and into Egypt Passed by the English Parliament and implemented by the British Palestine Mandate Government, they were the most important legal tools used in crushing the revolt.

Later, the same laws, somewhat revised, were directed by the British against the Jewish community to control Jewish immigration and restrict the Zionist acquisition of land. This, of course, explains the attack on them by the Jewish lawyers in 1946. At the 1946 lawyers’ conference, D. Yosef stated: “With regard to the security regulations the question is: Will we all be subject to official terrorism?” At the same meeting, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira proclaimed: The regime built in Palestine on the Defense Regulations has no parallel in any civilized nation. Even in Nazi Germany there were no such laws.” 2 However, with typical narrow-minded nationalist hypocrisy; notwithstanding these attacks, the Emergency Regulations were incorporated into the legal system of the newly born “Home of the Jewish People,” supposedly the realization of the prophets’ dream of justice and equality. Thus the Zionist morality succeeded in reconciling “Nazi” methods with the prophets’ dream.

Since the founding of the state, these laws have remained unchanged and, as Holzman pointed out in the interview referred to above, there is no prospect of change. Two basic features of these laws should be mentioned before presenting a more detailed description.

First, the laws authorize a local military governor or officer to order at will specific actions such as arrest, restriction of movement and destruction of homes and other personal property without any kind of trial – without even bringing any formal charges against the victims of these actions. These measures are defined as “non-punitive” precautions. If the individual does not observe the terms of the administrative decrees against him, he can then be tried and sentenced by a military court for the infraction.

Secondly, once the order is issued, there is no way to appeal it. Formally, it is true, Regulation No.119 specifies a procedure of appeal to the supreme military authority, at present Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. Dayan, however, has admitted that he does not and will not entertain any such appeals. If he did, after all, he would have to spend all his time considering these cases and would have no time to issue the orders that give rise to them in the first place. Moreover, higher courts routinely refuse to hear appeals of court-martial convictions for infractions of the security laws. 3

Under the Emergency Regulations, a military commander can, at his discretion and without any sort of judicial review, imprison an individual indefinitely, prohibit travel inside or outside Israel or expel an individual permanently from the country; restrict anyone to his home, locality, village or town; forbid anyone to make use of his own private property; impose police surveillance on any individual and order him to report to a police station several times a day; bar an individual from seeking work or accepting a job. Moreover, all these actions can be taken en masse, without specifying the names of the affected persons, and they can be taken against native-born citizens as well as anyone else. The commander can also confiscate or destroy whatever property he thinks fit. He can declare whole areas “closed” so that it is forbidden to enter or leave them, without even making the declaration public, and he can proclaim an unlimited curfew.

All these regulations are frequently used today, and they have been used since the establishment of the state. Except for their use in labor disputes to break strikes, they have been directed almost exclusively against Arabs. Once more, the hypocrisy and pretense are apparent: “The law says ‘person’; in practice it means ‘Arab’.” This is the Orwellian tax that Israel pays to the concept of democracy.

For example, for many years, Jerusalem and Tiberias were “closed areas.” Thousands of Jews (and tourists) went up and down and “broke the law” with impunity. But if the police saw an Arab face (they are as good at recognizing Arabs as some Nazi policemen were at recognizing Jews in Nazi Europe), they would immediately demand his identification card (to see in black and white that he was an Arab) and arrest him.

Let us now turn to the applications of these laws. What kind of order have they helped to create and maintain? In what ways? Clearly, the role they play reflects the goals and dynamics of the Zionist movement, and the Israeli state which applies them.

The primary goal of Zionism is and has always been the creation, expansion and preservation of an exclusively Jewish state in what is called “the Land of Israel” (referring to the areas in and around Palestine). A major obstacle to the Zionist aim was the simple fact that the Palestinian Arabs already lived in Palestine. After the 1948 war, the Emergency Regulations provided the legal basis for dealing with the Palestinian Arab society under Israel’s control. In fact, they ensured what the founders of Zionism always wanted, namely: “that the Jews will be granted as such those rights and privileges which will enable them to make Palestine as Jewish as England is English.” 4

During the short history of Israel, important developments and changes in the application of these laws occurred. The 1948 war saw the flight or expulsion of most of the Arab population native to territories that came under Zionist control. Immediately following the war the Regulations (together with the nationalization laws) were used to take over and confiscate most Arab land and to expel as many Palestinians across the border as possible.

The border areas especially had to be cleansed of Arabs.

“It is as simple as that: the Arabs were rounded up, taken in trucks to the nearest border, andexpelled. For this reason the military commander does not have to bother with names. He simply expels everybody that he can catch, and this is legal. So the town of Ashkelon was still an Arab village in the summer of 1950 – after the war. One morning the Israeli Army of Defense came, put all the inhabitants on trucks, took them to the border of the Gaza Strip, and said, ‘Uhrub! (Flee!)’ … and some thousands more refugees were added to the Gaza Strip, and the very nice city of Ashkelon could be built without Arabs.” 5

Similar cases occurred all over the place. In March 1.950, the inhabitants of Batat were driven from their homes. In February 1951, the inhabitants of thirteen villages in Wadi Ara were driven across the border. In October 1953, several families of Rechnia were expelled. In October 1956, the northern tribe of El Bakava was expelled across the border into Syria. And so on. Most of these acts were reported in the Israeli press at the time they occurred.

The role of these laws in the great Zionist land grab has been openly admitted by leading Zionist spokesmen. Thus, according to Shimon Peres, “The use of Regulation 125, which served to a great extent as the basis for the military regime, is the direct continuation of the struggle for Jewish settlement and Jewish immigration.” 6 Ben-Gurion has made the point, if necessary, even clearer: “The military regime exists for the defense of the right of Jewish settlement everywhere.” 7

The procedure in these cases is simple. An area is selected for Jewish development or Judaization (Yehud). Under Regulation 125, the area is declared closed. This isolates the area totally from the outside world and, of course, utterly wrecks the economy of the Arab population there. Understandably enough, after a short while the people are willing to leave their homes, shops and farms “voluntarily.” They are then “evacuated,” and the civil authorities begin Jewish settlement and development of the area.

In some cases, like Carmiel, a fertile land was closed and the Arabs who lost their sources of livelihood were employed in the construction of a new city, near their old village. This city was then declared – using the Regulations – closed to Arabs.

In order to erect a wall around the Arab minority, to limit to the utmost its economic and cultural development in Palestine, to rob it of its sources of life – land, village, culture – in short, in order to Judaize Palestine, a whole Army bureaucracy was set up in 1949. This “military regime” resembled the present military occupation of the territories occupied during the June 1967 war.

In this way emerged a network of military governors, police stations, agents, spies, military courts and jails, and, of course, an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Within this framework all aspects of the .day-to-day life of the Arab community were under the direct and arbitrary control of officers assigned by the Minister of Defense.

By the early sixties, the bureaucratic machine of this military regime had deteriorated into a corrupt tool of the Ben-Gurion-Dayan-Peres faction of the ruling Mapai Party. 8 The other factions of Mapai, as well as the other parties, were naturally anxious to neutralize this Ben-Gurion machine. After his fall in November 1963, the military regime was gradually dismantled and replaced by a civilian police apparatus to administer the laws. (The post-June 1967 occupied territories are still administered by the military.) This process was completed by 1966, but there have been no changes in the law – it is the same now as in 1948. What was heralded by Mapam and the Zionist ‘left” as a “major improvement” was only the transfer of the enforcement authority from a special agency of the Army to that of the police force.

The only real change has been a significant relaxation of restrictions on the freedom of movement Because of the severe shortage of unskilled labor power in Israel and the consequent need for cheap Arab labor, severe restrictions on the movements of Arabs became impracticable. As a result, most licenses for Arab workers are now issued for a period of one year or more. However, this relaxation was accompanied by an intensification of the use of the law to stifle political dissent. We will return to this point later.

Thus, the Emergency Regulations have played and continue to play a crucial legal role in carrying out the following major policy toward the Arab minority: First, the Judaization of Palestine. This phrase, used by the Israeli Government (e.g., in Jehud Ha’Galil [Judaization of the Galilee]), does not simply call for Jewish monopoly over Palestine as a whole, but Jewish hegemony in every part and province of the land. Secondly, implicit in this phrase is the creation of Arab ghettos. The Arabs should not be allowed to mingle with the Jewish society; rather, they should be kept at the periphery of the society in the economical, geographical, cultural and political sense.

Zionists, especially those on the left, the labor bureaucracy, understood that in order to maintain a purely Jewish society in the middle of an Arab world rich in culture, tradition and economic potential, no sector of Israeli life could be allowed to become contaminated by Arabs. The nationalization of Arab lands meant further disintegration of the remaining Arab society. Arab agriculture gives employment to no more than 4 per cent of the village dwellers. The only way open to the impoverished Palestinian peasants was to become members of the bottom ranks of the working class, primarily in Jewish cities. They became an important part of the unskilled labor force. Thus the Arab worker had to keep moving; he could not be allowed actually to settle in the Jewish city. 9

The security laws permit the government to restrict the Arabs to their areas because a license is needed for changing one’s residence, which Arabs are not granted as a rule. In fact, very few people in Israel are aware of the fact that not only are Israel’s “socialist islands” – the kibbutzim and co-operative villages (moshavim) – hermetically sealed against the Arabs, but almost all Jewish cities and towns accept Arabs only as day laborers, not residents. In all of Israel there are only six towns (and one or two small villages) with mixed populations: Haifa, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Acre, Ramie and Lod. The policy of segregation is official only in a few cases (Carmiel, Arad, Eilat); mostly it is unofficial policy. Very rarely is the Israeli public allowed to hear of an Arab who is prohibited from buying a house in Tel Aviv, 10 or from establishing a quarry in Carmiel. 11

Thus the life of the Arabs in Israel was brought under the complete control of the Jewish state. Under a normal capitalist-democratic regime this would generate considerable political dissent. Not so in Israel. In fact, the security laws are best known for their power to stifle political dissent, to prevent any land of organization or activity on the part of the Arab community, independent of the Zionist establishment.

Beyond active attempts to buy off, bribe and corrupt the leaders of the Arab community (by offering more economic and educational state help for road and school construction, for example, in exchange for votes for a certain political party in the local election), resistance and political activity are punished very severely. The coercive means are arbitrary and vary from restriction of movement, denial of a work permit and house arrest to wholesale destruction of houses and neighborhoods. Every year curfews are imposed on Arab holy days, and the Arab community is not permitted to mourn the deaths of its leaders or commemorate Israel’s massacres of its members. Even the massacre of Kaffir Kasim 12, which was officially recognized by the Israeli Supreme Court as a crime against humanity, is not allowed to be remembered in public mourning and ceremonies.

Thousands of Arabs – Israeli citizens and inhabitants of the occupied territories alike – are under administrative restriction and arrest without any charge against them or trial. Thousands of homes and entire villages were demolished (using Regulation 119 as the legal basis) for the sole “crime” of not actively collaborating with the Zionist establishment

In 1964, a number of Palestinian intellectuals attempted to found a new party (El Ard) which aimed at becoming an open, legal political expression of the Arab community. It was outlawed. Many of its active members were put under house arrest and forbidden by the Minister of Defense from engaging in any political activity whatsoever. There does not exist today a single independent, legal, exclusively Arab political organization in Israel Even non-political Arab student organizations are under severe restrictions and their leaders are frequently arrested. 13

Of course, there are the small Arab “parties” which are attached to the big, exclusively Jewish labor parties, but they themselves refer to these satellite organizations as “the Arab section.” The Communist Party, while the majority of its members and supporters are Arab, does not regard itself and is not regarded by the Israeli-Arab community as the political expression of its national aspirations. A vote for the CP in Israel is, everyone agrees, most of the time simply a protest vote against the Zionist establishment and its parties.

Many leading Arab intellectuals have been forced to leave Israel “voluntarily”. They are simply not permitted to publish or engage in any kind of group activity. Then they are informed: Rot in jail, remain under house arrest or other restrictions forever, or else leave the country. This was the “choice” offered for example, Abu Sa’id, a founding member of Matzpen, and Sabri Jeris, one of the country’s leading civil liberties lawyers. Both of them “chose” to leave Palestine.

But not all do. Fawzi El-Asmar, a prominent Arab writer and poet, was under administrative arrest for two years (the authorities themselves could not agree on a charge). He was never brought to trial and the only condition offered to him for release was that he leave the land of his ancestors forever. But he vowed never to leave the country and he remains under restriction in Lydda.

Carmiel, Kibbutz-Bar’am, Upper (“New”) Nazareth, Upper Hebron are all examples of exclusively Jewish settlements, which are particularly irritating to the Arabs because of the way they were established: Built on Arab land, many times with Arab labor, even renamed with a Judaized version of the original name, these places receive huge development funds and are hermetically sealed against Arabs by using the Emergency Regulations. Safed, “the Jerusalem of the Galilee,” which has always been a city of many cultures and religions, became exclusively Jewish in 1948; “no Arab need apply for residence.”

The Zionists say, “But we are restoring our presence in Palestine, the Land of Israel, which was stolen from us two thousand years ago!” This farce of restoring ancient times is in reality freezing the colonial rule in Palestine, inherited by the Zionist movement from the Ottomans and the British Empire.

  1. Interview with Holzman by M. Sadeh in Brith-Shalom, Apr. 1970. Cf. also Holzman’s book The Security Laws in the Occupied Territories, Tel Aviv: Sifriat Poalim (Workers’ Library), pp.77-79.
  2. Yosef became Israel’s first Minister of Justice; his judicial adviser was Shapira, today’s Minister of Justice.
  3. Holzman, op. cit., p. 20. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to hear such an appeal. (Ha’aretz, Sept. 4, 1970).
  4. Chaim Weitzman, Jewish Chronicle, May 20, 1921.
  5. Amitay Ben-Yona in a Letter to American Jewry, reprinted in Arab Areas Occupied by Israel in June 1967, Information Papers, No.1 (Sept 1970), Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc., Chicago. Ben-Yona summarized from Sabri Jiryis’ The Arabs in Israel.
  6. Davar, Jan. 26, 1962.
  7. Divray ha Knesset (Parliamentary Record), No.36, p.1217.
  8. Corruption spread rapidly among the Jewish landlords of the newly confiscated Arab land; although the land was supposed to become Judaized, Arabs were hired to work what was once their own land. In a parliamentary debate Uri Avnery revealed: “I’m not going to mention the military governors – some of you here know their names – who finished their work as governors and turned themselves into effendis (landlords) in the area they once controlled … These are cases of unprecedented gravity – persons who exploited their positions to obtain land in these areas where they employ people from the same military governorate and become a new landlord class.” U. Avnery, the Knesset Debate, Oct. 31, 1966, pp.164-65.
  9. See, for example, Dr. H. Rosenfeld, The Moving Arab Worker, Biweekly of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 1970.
  10. A speech by Ezer Weitzman, ex-commander of the Air Force, in Ma’ariv, Feb. 6, 1970.
  11. Yediot Aharonot, Feb. 8, 1971.
  12. This occurred during the Suez crisis when a curfew was imposed and the unsuspecting villagers returned from work in the fields only to be slaughtered.
  13. “Many of the Arab students are under travel restrictions, and two of them are currently under administrative arrest. Almost all the Arab students consider the restrictions to be the result of their objections to government policy. Very few of them can get jobs while studying.” Ha’aretz, Nov. 27, 1970.