Israel’s policies violate right to housing and need urgent revision – UN independent rights expert

13 February 2012
(issued as received) JERUSALEM / GENEVA (13 February 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, warned that 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.”
“Israel’s housing policies require urgent revision as shown by the massive protests last summer,” Ms. Rolnik said at the end* of a two-week visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. “The Israeli authorities have had an impressive record of providing adequate housing for waves of Jewish immigrants and refugees, but today these policies have failed to respond to the needs of minorities and the socially disadvantaged.”
Palestinian minorities living inside Israel (also known as “Israeli Arabs”) and Palestinians living under military occupation are affected by on-going threats against their right to housing, according to the independent expert. “In very different legal and geographical contexts, from the Galilee and the Negev to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities promote a territorial development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities, particularly affecting Palestinian communities.”
The Special Rapporteur noted that 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.”
“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,” Ms. Rolnik said.
In her view, the right to housing is further denied in the occupied Palestinian territory. 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.” At the same time, Ms. Rolnik noted that settlements, built in violation of international law, have led to a decrease in the amount of land and resources available to Palestinians.
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 met persons who were living in substandard conditions and families who had had their homes demolished by Israeli military operations. I urge Israel to end the blockade in order to ensure that the minimum needs of the population living in Gaza are met.”
“Israel’s spatial strategy has been heavily shaped by security concerns, given the belligerent, conflictive nature of Israel-Palestine relations, with waves of violence and terror. But certainly the non-democratic and discriminatory elements in Israeli spatial planning and urban development strategies appear to contribute to deepening of the conflict, instead of promoting peace,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
Ms. Rolnik is an independent expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. During her visit she met with officials and representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, international agencies as well as non-governmental organizations both in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
A report detailing all findings of her mission will be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2013.