Blog post by Andrea Maria Pelliconi (University of Nottingham) and Victor Kattan (University of Nottingham)

In a recent landmark decision, the UK’s Home Office granted asylum to ‘Hasan’, a 24-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel. In accepting Hasan’s claim that he feared persecution if he was returned to the State of Israel, the Home Office appears to have endorsed the view claimed by his lawyers that Palestinian citizens of Israel are ‘governed by an apartheid regime that engages in systematic and pervasive discrimination, persecution and violence touching on all aspects of Palestinian life’. 

Given this claim, and its apparent acceptance by the Home Office, as explained below, the decision may open the door for other Palestinians and even anti-Zionist Jewish Israelis to be recognised as refugees amid Israel’s institutionalised regime of apartheid and policies and practices of demographic engineering.  

The case of ‘Hasan’

Palestinian citizens of Israel are those Palestinians who were not displaced during the Nakba (the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the first Arab-Israeli conflict) in 1948 and subsequently acquired Israeli citizenship, and their descendants. Some of them are now part of the Palestinian diaspora. Hasan (whose real identity remains confidential for safety reasons) has lived in the UK for most of his life, except for one year as a minor when he lived in Israel. He is unable to speak Arabic or Hebrew to any viable level. He returned to the UK while still a minor and filed an asylum application in 2019 after turning 18. 

In documents filed with the immigration tribunal in Nottingham (on file with the authors), Hasan’s lawyers claimed that he faced the risk of persecution under the Refugee Convention in Israel on the basis of his Palestinian race, his Muslim faith, and his anti-Zionist, anti-apartheid and pro-Palestinian political opinion. 

The claim was also based on the risk of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of Israeli authorities. Reports of arbitrary detention, torture, and harsh treatment of Palestinians when they are interrogated on their return to Israel underscored the real and immediate threat to Hasan’s physical and psychological well-being. Furthermore, Hasan provided expert evidence that there is a real risk of suicide if he were removed from the UK to Israel.

Hasan’s lawyers argued that his subjective fear of persecution was substantiated by objective evidence, including reports by Amnesty International, Palestinian NGO Al Haq, a report by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), among others, that clearly documented the Israeli government’s aim of maintaining a Jewish demographic majority by pursuing a policy of apartheid. This persecution and pervasive discrimination not only targets Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel.  

Hasan’s lawyers described this discrimination, persecution and violence facing all aspects of Palestinian life in detail in a 35-page annex to their argument. The summarised evidence ran to thousands of pages. Yet, in 2022, the Home Office rejected Hasan’s claim, denying that he faced a risk of persecution in Israel upon his return.

In December 2023, following the events of 7 October 2023, Hasan’s legal team submitted fresh evidence showing that Palestinians living in Israel face increased persecution and systematic discrimination. This new evidence demonstrated that Palestinians living in Israel experience increased segregation, surveillance and racial profiling. They are subject to investigation and arrest for social media activity and face police brutality, persecution and expulsion from Israeli universities for speaking against the conflict in Gaza. Then there was the statement by Israel police chief Kobi Shabtai who threatened to deport Palestinian citizens of Israel to Gaza if they expressed support for the people there. It was this new evidence that led the Home Office to reconsider its decision.

Israel, ‘apartheid’ and ‘demographic engineering’ 

In February, more than 50 states made submissions to the International Court of Justice in response to the UN General Assembly’s request for an advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Of these submissions, more than 20 states made direct reference to ‘apartheid’ or ‘discrimination’ in their descriptions of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Furthermore, thirty-three states as well as the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the African Union referred to the illegality of Israel’s measures aimed at altering the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Apartheid is a term most commonly associated with the system of racial segregation, institutionalised discrimination and domination that was used to describe the policies and practices of the government of South Africa from 1948 to 1994. In 1973, the term ‘apartheid’ was codified into a crime with global application, including in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Following the end of apartheid in South Africa, the crime of apartheid was included as a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which the State of Palestine became a party to in 2015.  

The inhuman acts that constitute the crime against humanity of apartheid include policies aimed at altering population demographics. This includes the expulsion or forced relocation of specific population groups from their homes or territories and the establishment of colonial settlements by a dominant group in territory inhabited by another group. 

These policies and practices aim to achieve demographic homogeneity or create or maintain a demographic majority in order to assert the dominant group’s control over contested areas, and are known as ‘demographic engineering’. In Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the Israeli government has been accused of a range of policies designed to marginalise Palestinians in favour of a more homogenised Jewish homeland. Over the years these have included policies that encourage Jewish families to have more children and incentives for non-Israeli Jews to relocate to Israel through the Law of Return that gives Jews, people with one or more Jewish grandparent, and their spouses the right to relocate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship. This right is granted exclusively to Jews, while being expressly denied to the indigenous Palestinian Arab population of Israel and their families, as well as Palestinians subject to Israeli military control in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, there are documented restrictions on the movement of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, fortified by a permit regime, the construction of walls, border fences, buffer zones, and Jewish-only settlements. At the same time, Palestinian families and communities are regularly evicted from the homes they have occupied for generations. These measures all aim to fragment the territorial integrity and continuity of Palestinian lands and establish Israel’s de facto sovereignty by creating a permanent demographic presence of Jewish settlers, with the ultimate aim of annexation


Apartheid and demographic engineering provide the overall framework in which the Israeli government enforces a discriminatory political regime aimed at maintaining Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It is this context that informed the claim made by Hasan’s lawyers that he would be persecuted were he returned to Israel — a claim that appears to have been accepted by the Home Office in granting asylum to Hasan. 

The fact that the Home Office changed its mind before the hearing and chose not to defend their position before the tribunal is significant. They may have feared that losing the appeal would set a precedent, especially if the case made its way into the appeal courts. Even without a judicial precedent, the decision by the British executive to grant refugee status is important. 

This is because Hasan’s individual circumstances have not changed since the submission of the original asylum application. What has changed is the broader political situation inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and a growing international recognition of Israeli apartheid. The Home Office’s decision to grant asylum, therefore, is not based in a change of Hasan’s individual circumstances but rather in a reconsideration of the general context of persecution in Israel. 

As a result, it seems likely that other Palestinians, as well as anti-Zionist Jewish Israelis, may be entitled to asylum, given their fear of systematic persecution within the State of Israel due to its policies and practices of demographic engineering and apartheid.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Refugee Law Initiative. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below and see here for contribution guidelines.