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UN: Gross violations by Israel of housing rights in Palestine

Geneva, 4 Apr 2002 (Chakravarthi Raghavan) - There has been a cumulative damage to Palestinian homes and land under Israeli occupation, and the occupying power bears legal responsibility, the Special Rapporteur on housing has said in a report that appears to be bottled up and blocked from publication and presentation at the UN Human Rights Commission now in session here.

A group of NGOs at the session have charged that the Western group of governments at the Commission over the last two weeks have prevented the publication of the independent human rights report by the Special Rapporteur, Mr Miloon Kothari.

The NGOs, in a press release, underscored that at its special session in 2000, the Commission had requested all thematic Rapporteurs to carry out missions to the occupied Palestine territories, and the report by the Special Rapporteur on housing, was being suppressed because of its indictment of the Israeli practices of administrative punishment by destroying Palestinian homes and seizing them for settlements.

Commission sources confirmed the charge, and said that the issue has been before the bureau of the Commission, and that within the bureau, Canada and Guatemala, acting for Israel and the United States have been blocking publication, on the ground that the Special Rapporteur had been to Israel and the occupied territories and studied the conditions there, without an official invitation from Israel.

According to the NGOs, and several of the Commission sources, in pursuance of the Commission mandate, in December 2000, Mr. Kothari had sought an invitation (and a visa for the visit) from the Israeli government, which refused to cooperate with the mission. While other Special Rapporteurs, who did not need a visa, visited the area as ‘tourists’, Kothari as an Indian citizen needed one.

Subsequently, in January this year, the Special Rapporteur visited Israel and the occupied territories from 5-10 January, at the invitation of the Ben Gurion University and the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and used the opportunity to meet with a group of NGOs including some Israeli NGOs, UN and inter-governmental agencies and Palestinian authorities to collect information.

Prior to the visit, explained several human rights NGOs who have been raising this question in their own meetings, Kothari had informed the Israeli permanent representative in Geneva of his intention to use the opportunity of his visit to prepare a report as requested by the Commission.

At a press briefing Thursday, the NGOs made public parts of the report that has been suppressed. The report itself, though not public, has been in the hands of Commission members, and several of them have referred to it in their intervention over the Palestinian issue and comments on Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson’s report earlier this week.

Several Commission members have confirmed the NGO view of what is in the report.  The NGO complaint has also been aired in an NGO publication (Human Rights Features) distributed at the Commission meetings. Some members noted that the Western media which so ardently chases such matters, have been as ‘politically selective’, and silent on the issue, as the NGOs charge the Western powers are at the HRC.

The Special Rapporteur, in this as in other reports about adequacy of housing as a part of his mandate, has interpreted it to include water, and several other congruent rights needed to enjoy adequate housing.

“The unprecedented suppression of an official UN document has magnified the image of the Commission’s political selectivity and demonstrated how a few unchallenged powers can dictate their will over the agenda, even violating resolutions adopted by a vote,” the NGOs charged at the briefing held in the UN Correspondents library. Several of the Western media, active in reporting on human rights, were conspicuous by their absence.

The Habitat International Coalition of Housing and Land Rights Network and the International Organization against Torture, in their press release on the issue said the US and Israel have been the most adamant parties opposing the report’s admissibility, while Commission members Guatemala and Canada have served as “conspicuous messengers,” and the Western powers blocking publication through the political common denominator of adhering to consensus.

The report, the two NGOs underscored, had catalogued a wide range of violations, covering refugee rights, land rights, the banning of Palestinian construction, administrative house demolitions, military destruction of housing, the implantation of settlements and settlers, violence against Palestinian residential communities, general housing conditions, the effects of closure on housing, misuse and hoarding of water resources and environmental racism.

In the report, the Special Rapporteur, has said that since the massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Noble Sanctuary and the emergent wave of Palestinian resistance in September 2000, the Israeli military forces have targeted Palestinian homes with unprecedented use of destructive force. The escalating tactic of social control and counter-insurgency has rained destruction and chaos on densely populated civilian areas throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

During the visit of the Special Rapporteur, the Israeli forces carried out a night attack on the refugee camp at Rafah (Gaza strip), destroying the houses of Palestinians whom Israel has once again dispossessed. The serial destruction of Palestinian households, property and patrimony is a continuous process that has culminated dramatically in the current phase of the conflict over Palestine. In a part of the report relating to military destruction of buildings, the Special Rapporteur has cited data from the Israeli Housing Ministry - a total of 5,440 buildings destroyed, including 4,994 residential housing over one year from September 2000 to 2001. Israeli military shelling has also heavily damaged and/or destroyed some 7,571 homes.

The number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israeli military and administrative acts climbs almost daily, the Rapporteur points out, and the totals cited in the report would become an under-statement by the time the Commission meets.

“Often, the patter of (military destruction of housing) shows no military objective, rather the fulfilment of settler colony designs, and attempts to expand and establish contiguity of various settler colonies by eliminating the indigenous population and their land tenure.”

There is a well-organized, highly ideologised and consistent State behaviour at two levels - the continuum of dispossession of Palestinian homes by administrative means as a constant feature of occupation in the current crisis, and the upsurge of Israeli military action against Palestinian civilian housing and habitat. This has been the principal motivation of the HRC in commissioning the present report, but the Commission would be disserved if it is not reminded of Israel’s long record of depopulation and demographic manipulation by way of expulsion, destruction of home and villages, and implantation of settlers prior to and since its establishment as a State.

There is no comparable practice on the part of Palestinian resistance to confiscate Israeli property or demolish homes, though the current resistance has targeted Jewish settler colonies that effectively form part of the occupation.  The pattern of breaches of laws of war and humanitarian law has become alarmingly commonplace, and the assault on the Palestinian family home and their link to the land are hallmarks of Israel’s raison d’etat.

Dealing with land rights, the Special Rapporteur cites the settlement campaign launched in the period leading to the Oslo process when Ariel Sharon was the Housing Minister, and the announcement, during the Oslo occupation phase, by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Allen (on the same day as the signing of the Sharm al-Sheikh Agreements) that their Military government had newly confiscated 250,000 dunums of Palestinian land. The Wye river negotiations, extracted a Palestinian non-contestation of Israel’s construction of bypass roads serving settler colonies, and a further confiscation of West Bank land.

The proportion of land confiscated by Israel is now estimated at more than 70% of the West Bank and 33% of Gaza strip, at least 32.5 sq km of land confiscated from Palestinians or about 33% of Palestinian land area in Jerusalem, and closing all but 7-8% of the area to Palestinian construction, according to the suppressed report.

The report cites legally invalid and discriminatory planning regulations preventing Palestinian construction of homes, the punitive and violent demolitions of Palestinian homes carried by administrative orders for lack of license - with average yearly demolitions over the period 1995-1999 rising every year, even as the area of number of Palestinians living under direct Israeli civil control gets smaller.

The report also cites various military destruction of housing (before the current Israeli military assault), and the resort to livestock rustling belonging to rural Palestinians by Israeli settlers.

In what he describes as an under-stated conclusion, the Special Rapporteur says that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are an obstacle to peace, and prima facie are a violation of basic principles of international human rights law and of human rights norms, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.

The report also cites several examples of violence against Palestinian residential communities, and the general housing conditions of Palestinians, the closure of occupied Palestinian territories which has remained the standard of the Oslo Phase of Occupation since 1993, and the economic depression and housing imposed on the area.

While access to safe and sufficient water, including drinking water, is an essential element of adequate housing, the patterns of land use and consumption indicate severe discrimination against Palestinians throughout the occupied territories, with a number of institutionalised violations of the people’s right to water including: destruction by military and paramilitary settlers of Palestinian water sources, non-provision of water infrastructure and facilities for local solutions, lack of maintenance of existing infrastructure, outright prevention of Palestinians from drilling and constructing water-delivery facilities in areas of Jewish settler colonies, discriminatory distribution and insufficient water supply to Palestinians, pollution and contamination of Palestinian aquifer through the combined dumping of lethal waste, hazardous use of chemical fertilisers and over-pumping leading to salinisation.

The cumulative damages presented in the report to Palestinian land and home, the Special Rapporteur says in his conclusions and recommendations, “validates the assessment of the international community, including the Commission on Human Rights and the UN treaty bodies, that Israeli occupation has had a devastating impact on living conditions and that the occupying power bears legal responsibility. It is ironic, although not surprising, he comments that the methods used to consolidate Occupation have accelerated under the guise of the Oslo Peace Accords. However, since the massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Noble Sanctuary in September 2000, and the resultant Palestinian resistance marked by the second Intifada, the violence of occupation has assumed unprecedented proportions. A particularly destructive strategy has involved use of missiles, tanks and unconscionable practice of ‘walking through the walls’ used to damage and demolish homes.”

This state of affairs has demonstrated beyond doubt that Israel has failed to fulfill its obligations under international covenants, has been manipulating the ethnic character of the West Bank including Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, and impeded development activities.

In the face of these, the international community remains duty bound to intervene and protect the Palestinian community. Among others, the Special Rapporteur has called for international cooperation “to curtail operations of financial networks and axis of State-sponsored support for Israeli occupation, settlements, acquisition and misuse of weapons of mass destruction and practices of demographic manipulation and population transfers, and an assessment of UN operations in occupied territories to provide local capacity in legal and military affairs.”  - SUNS5093

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