UN Human rights expert slams Israel on violations of the right to housing

Ruins of the house of ‘Adbul Karim Abu Mustafa which was destroyed by Israeli occupying forces during an incursion into Khan Yunis refugee camp (Photo: PCHR, 2003)

The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Miloon Kothari, has expressed concern over the sharp rise in the destruction of property and land in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) since the build-up to the war in Iraq.

In a report submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of Israel, Mr. Kothari writes that the war against Iraq and current Israeli methods of occupation demonstrate a disturbing pattern of military conduct that targets civilian infrastructure as if it was a legitimate military objective.

The right to adequate housing, including access to civic services and infrastructure, has emerged as a common casualty of this abhorrent conduct, the report says.

The human rights situation over the past years in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) has deteriorated substantially. The international community has repeatedly condemned  Israel’s illegal collective punishment against the Palestinian people in the OPT, its policy  of demolition of Palestinian houses and civilian property, massive confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land, deprivation of livelihoods (through closures and curfews), killing of Palestinian civilians, and the deteriorating condition of the Palestinian infrastructure and economy.

These Israeli actions breach international human rights and humanitarian law, the human rights instruments Israel has ratified, the Geneva Conventions and Hague Resolutions as well as various binding UN resolutions. However, Israel has completely ignored the position of the international community and its laws concerning the behavior of States. The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing of the Commission on Human Rights is particularly concerned that these acts have left thousands of residents homeless and harmed the livelihood of thousands more.

In his reports (see E/CN.4/2003/5/Add.1) and statements (most recently at the Commission on Human Rights on 4 April, 2003),  the Special Rapporteur has consistently reiterated the need for the international community strongly to condemn and seek remedy for these crimes in this region of the world. The latest resolutions passed by the Commission on Human Rights on 15 April 2005, also strongly condemned these Israeli actions (see Commission resolutions 2003/6 and 2003/7). To assist the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its consideration of the second periodic report of Israel by the, the Special Rapporteur also submitted a report.

The Special Rapporteur has previously emphasized the tremendous difficulties being faced by the Palestinian population, including the women, children and elderly. Israeli targeting and demolishing of Palestinian homes and other civic infrastructure, including PNA buildings, medical facilities, schools, mosques, factories and workshops, farms, water channels and sanitation facilities, and electricity and communication networks, illegal implantation and expansion of settler colonies, and parallel incursions into Palestinian areas and imposition of curfews and closures and obstruction of humanitarian and development assistance have not only an immediate impact on the Palestinians, but also a severe long-term impact – physical, material, economic as well as psychological.

During the past few months when the international community’s attention had been diverted to the build-up to the war in Iraq, there had been repeated fears from various quarters that the state of Israel would use the opportunity to further perpetrate and escalate its international law and human rights violations in the OPT. Unfortunately, the fears have been proved only too right, as the Israeli activities increased exponentially during the build-up to, as well as during the forced war on Iraq.

The focus on the unnecessary war and consequences in Iraq has diverted donor attention away from the Palestine at a time when UNRWA has issued its most dire call for humanitarian assistance to date, the Special Rapporteur says.

Citing numbers by NGO sources the Special Rapporteur points to the clear extent of escalation of Israeli destructive activities. Until the middle of March 2003, Israel had destroyed about 886 homes, 176 commercial and industrial facilities, damaged thousands of other houses and buildings, and razed about 1,458.5 dunums of agricultural land, and arrested hundreds of people. In Gaza, UNRWA reports that the Israeli army damaged 1,483 homes in 2002, of which 694 were refugee shelters. The total of Palestinian homes damaged there at end-2002 was at least 2,424. The number of Gaza homes that the army completely destroyed in 2002 totaled 704, leaving 23,122 people homeless, including a majority of children.

In the Northern Gaza governorate alone, the destructive pattern over the 1st 70 days of 2003 has involved:

  • Homes destroyed in 70 days – 439
  • Homes destroyed in the 1st two years of Intifada – 339
  • Commercial stores destroyed in 70 days – 13
  • Commercial stores destroyed in the 1st two years of Intifada –21
  • Industrial facilities destroyed in 70 days – 8
  • Industrial facilities destroyed in the1st two years of Intifada –21
  • Land razed in 70 days – 1200 dunums
  • Land razed in the 1st two years of Intifada – 6131 dunums

    This represents a sharp 1,140% increase over the 2001–02 rate of destruction.

    The most recent available figures on house demolitions and land confiscations confirm this sharp raise in violations. From 1 April to 7 May a total of 70 homes, 635 dunums of planted agricultural landed in the West Bank and the Gaza strip were destroyed.

    The Special Rapporteur once again strongly condemns this long escalation of violations against the Palestinian people and reiterates his position that Israel has used the current crisis of the war against Iraq and its aftermath to consolidate its occupation of the OPT. The Special Rapporteur calls for an immediate cessation of the Israeli violations, as well as strongly posits the need for an end to the occupation and for the immediate deployment of an international protection force in the region. In the present era when the international community is striving to move toward a more just, civilized, orderly and peaceful world, it will be impossible to make progress toward this goal unless the Israeli occupation ends and all States behave responsibly under law.

    Related Links:

  • E/CN.4/2003/5/Add.1 (PDF) Report of visit to the occupied Palestinian territories (advance edited copy)

    For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing and copies of available reports:

  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or contact Cecilia Möller, Focal point on housing rights, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland.