Who gets to vote in Israel’s democracy?

If we exclude Gaza, one in every 4.5 people living under Israeli rule doesn’t have the right to vote in the coming elections; that one person is (almost) always Palestinian. If Gaza is included, it’s one in three who is not represented.

The Israeli Knesset is the sole sovereign between the sea and the Jordan River, with the possible exception of the Gaza Strip, which exercises a certain degree of independence since the 2005 disengagement. As for the rest of the territory, according to all acceptable parameters of sovereignty and independence – it’s under complete Israeli control. The Israeli government has a monopoly over the use of force in the West Bank, it controls the central bank and the only currency (the shekel), it collects some of the authority’s taxes and it has full control over the borders. Palestinians wishing to travel outside the country need to do so through borders controlled by Israel, and only with special permits issued by the army.

It is therefore useful to think of Israel as one territorial unit, divided into sub-regions with different structures of governance. When we think of democracy and political representation in Israel, we should ask ourselves who under Israeli sovereignty gets to participate in the political system, and who is subject to its decisions but lacks full representation.

Elections to the Israeli Knesset will be held a little less than three months from now, on January 22. The parameters that determine political participation in Israel break down according to ethnic and geographic lines: in the West Bank, for example, Jews can vote while their Palestinian neighbors – regardless of whether they live in “Palestinian” Area A or in “Israeli” Area C – don’t vote. Things are more complicated in Jerusalem.

I referred to demographic data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and the CIA Factbook to sum up the numbers of those who are represented and not represented within the Israeli system. While reading, note that the numbers below represent the total demographic groups, and that there are other requirements for being eligible to vote, such as age and actual presence in Israel. (There is almost no absentee voting under the Israeli system.)

Within the Green Line

5,463,071 Israeli Jews (citizens): have voting rights.
1,361,800 Palestinians (citizens): have voting rights.
318,200 non-Arab Christians, those listed as having no religion, and others (citizens): have voting rights.

East Jerusalem [*]

186,929 Jews (citizens): have voting rights
255,000 Palestinians (residents): no voting rights for Knesset elections (**); can vote in Jerusalem municipal elections.

* East Jerusalem and the surrounding towns were annexed to Israel in 1967, but the local Palestinian population was only given “residency” status; the same situation applies to the roughly 18,000 Druze in the Golan Heights, which was annexed to Israel in 1981.
** Some 3,500 Palestinians from East Jerusalem have received Israeli citizenship in the last decade and can therefore vote. Some 700 Druze received citizenship. 

West Bank 

325,500 Jews (citizens, living in Area C): have voting rights
1,855,115 Palestinians living in areas A, B, C: no voting rights

Gaza [***]

1,710,257 Palestinians: no voting rights.

[**** As I noted, many view Gaza as a separate unit. However, Israel did acknowledge in Oslo the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are one territorial unit]


7,659,000 people living in Israeli territory have voting rights, while 2,128,115 people have no voting rights. Altogether, one in every 4.5 people is denied political representation; this one person is almost always Palestinian. If Gaza is included, the number of unrepresented climbs to 3,820,372, or roughly one in every three people.

Visualizing Occupation: Divide and Conquer