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UN Bashes Israel For Biased Housing Policies

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UN Photo | Shareef SarhanBy Bernhard Schell
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

AMMAN (IDN) – The United Nations (UN) has strongly criticised Israeli plans for relocating Bedouins in the desert and semi-desert region of Negev as well as decades of promotion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, finds that Israeli Arabs as well as Palestinians living under military occupation are also affected by ongoing threats against their right to housing. She made these remarks on February 13 just after concluding a two-week visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

"Throughout my visit, I was able to witness a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities in Israel which is being replicated in the occupied territory, affecting Palestinian communities," she stated.

The recent privatization, deregulation and commercialization of public assets in Israel "have resulted in urban and housing policies that made it increasingly difficult for low-income families to obtain affordable accommodation, violating their right to adequate housing," stated Rolnik.

She called on Israeli authorities to urgently revise their housing policies, saying that while they have had an impressive record of providing adequate housing for waves of Jewish immigrants and refugees, today they failed to respond to the needs of minorities and the socially disadvantaged.

"Throughout my visit, I was able to witness a land development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities in Israel which is being replicated in the occupied territory, affecting Palestinian communities," she said.

The plans for relocating Bedouins in the Negev – inside Israel – as well as decades of promotion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – "are the new frontiers of dispossession of traditional inhabitants, and the implementation of a strategy of Judaization and control of the territory," stated Rolnik.

"Throughout my visit I received repeated complaints regarding lack of housing, threats of demolitions and evictions, overcrowding, the disproportional number of demolitions affecting Palestinian communities side by side with the accelerated development of predominantly Jewish settlements," she added.

The right to housing is further denied in the occupied Palestinian territory, according to the UN expert, who noted that in East Jerusalem and the areas of the West Bank under Israeli military control, policies adopted by Israel restrict Palestinians from building legally through various means.

"The number of permits issued is grossly disproportional to housing needs leading many Palestinians to build without obtaining a permit. As a result, numerous Palestinians homes or extensions to these are considered illegal so that the inhabitants are subjected to eviction orders and the demolition of their houses," said Rolnik.

At the same time, she noted that settlements, built in violation of international law, have led to a decrease in the amount of land and resources available to Palestinians.

Situation worse in Gaza

The situation is even worse in Gaza, the rights expert said, noting that the blockade to Gaza Strip constitutes the most extreme expression of separation and restriction to Palestinian communities’ survival and expansion.

“I urge Israel to end the blockade in order to ensure that the minimum needs of the population living in Gaza are met,” said Rolnik who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity. She will submit her full report on her mission to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory next year.

On June 9, 2011 the UN agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees reported that Israeli home demolitions displaced 67 Palestinian children in May 2011, a monthly record for the year.

Figures released by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) show that 304 adults and children have been displaced or affected by demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this year. The previous monthly record for the number of children displaced was 66 in March 2011.

During his visit to the region early February 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited an UNRWA housing project and a girls' school. He also met with children who suffered serious injuries during the conflict, and said he was deeply moved by their stories.

Visiting the Gaza Strip, Ban reiterated his commitment on February 2 to continue working for peace and stability in the Middle East, and voiced his concern about the need to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinians.

Ban emphasized that the UN would continue its work in the region, which ranges from infrastructure projects such as building housing units, schools and water treatment facilities, to humanitarian assistance and longer-term initiatives involving the people of Gaza to stimulate economic and social growth.

Earlier in February, the UN launched an emergency appeal for just over $300 million to assist Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank who are still dealing with the effects of a conflict that ended three years ago, as well as various humanitarian needs.

Against that backdrop, UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser on February 8 called on countries to throw their support behind a UN housing programme for Palestinians, stressing that it will enhance not only their living conditions but also prospects for peace in the region.

The Special Human Settlements Programme, led by UN-Habitat, seeks to improve the human settlements conditions of the Palestinian people while simultaneously contributing to bring peace, security and stability to the region.

The programme has received financial support from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the European Union. In addition, some countries that were involved in the establishment of the programme's advisory board include Israel, Jordan and the United States.

"It is significant that such a wide array of important international actors, including key players on the issue of Palestine, could come together to take this very positive step," Al-Nasser said in his message prepared for the establishment and first meeting of the Advisory Board of programme.

"I hope that this may serve as a seed for similar initiatives in the future, with a view to improving the living conditions of all peoples in the Middle East, and in particular of the Palestinians," he said.

In his remarks, delivered by his Chef de Cabinet Mutlaq M. Al-Qahtani, Al-Nasser encouraged all relevant Palestinian institutions to "work in cooperation with UN-Habitat, to continue to undertake their development plans in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley." [IDN-InDepthNews – February 13, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Photo: UN-funded housing project site for Palestinians in Gaza.

Credit: UN Photo | Shareef Sarhan

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