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UN human rights expert calls for urgent revision of Israeli housing policies

13 February 2012 – An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on Israel to revise its housing policies, saying they have failed to respond to the needs of minorities and the socially disadvantaged.

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 Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.

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.

The expert – who just concluded a two-week visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory – said that Israeli Arabs as well as Palestinians living under military occupation are also affected by ongoing threats against their right to housing.

“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 Ms. 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 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.”

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 urge Israel to end the blockade in order to ensure that the minimum needs of the population living in Gaza are met,” she stated.

Ms. Rolnik 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.

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