Palestine / Human Rights: Discriminatory nature of Israeli policies exposed at UN

Geneva, 20 November 1998/P/K/16220c-is

From news releases of the Habitat International Coalition and other NGO sources

This week, Israel was subjected for the first time to questioning by a UN human rights body about its fundamental laws and institutions that institutionalize discrimination against the indigenous Palestinians inside its 1948 borders, as well as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The UN Committee responsible for monitoring State compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examined Israel's human rights record under that treaty. Independent members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights repeatedly found Israel's responses to their questions unconvincing.

This week's review (16-18 November) featured oral and documentary reports, on November 16, of some 15 Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs, including the Palestine Housing Rights Movement (PHRM) and the Arab Coordinating Committee for Housing Rights in Israel. The review covered such issues as the applicability of the Covenant to the occupied Palestinian territories; the role of Zionist public organisations; house demolitions and land confiscations; the impact of closure; the disparity between Jews and Palestinians in such services as health, education, housing; the contradiction between the binational reality of the State and its claim to be a "Jewish state"; and discrimination in Israeli Basic Laws.

Both the NGO testimony and the Committee questions revealed the fundamental discriminatory nature of Israeli policies. The Committee consensus held that Israel's sustained stranglehold in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, even in areas considered to be under Palestinian National Authority control, carries with it obligations to apply the Covenant to protect the Palestinians' rights in those territories.

All the NGO presentations affirmed a pattern of discrimination in all these areas at the expense of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line (the 1948 Border). They cited systematic violations to numerous articles of the Covenant: Article 1 (the right to self-determination); Article 2 (non-discrimination); Article 11 (housing and living conditions, Food); Article 6 (the right to work); Article 8 (the right to form trade unions); Article 12 (the right to health); Article 13 and 14 (the right to education) and other articles in the Covenant.

The Committee called into question the apparent contradiction between some Basic Laws and the State's commitment to non-discrimination under the Covenant (Article 2). The Committee questioned Israel about the apparent discriminatory nature of such public Zionist institutions, such as the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund. These bodies are linked to the State of Israel by a Basic Law (Status Law 1952) and are committed to serve Jews exclusively, wherever they may be. These institutions manage much of the country's land, water, development budgets and other resources and services, but are dedicated not to benefit non-Jewish citizens. The Committee wondered why Israel's Law of Return does not extend to Palestinians.

The Committee used terms such as "internal colonization" and "ghettoization" to describe the conditions of Palestinians within the "green line." They expressed alarm at the large number of Palestinians that live inside the "green line" without basic services, such as water, electricity, or the right to maintain their homes. The review concentrated on the special case of the "unrecognized villages," where some 60,000 Arab citizens face demolitions and forced removal.

The Committee was particularly concerned about the high levels of unemployment, poverty, poor health and continuous threat of land confiscation and house demolition among the Bedouin Arab citizens living in the Galilee and Naqab regions. These conditions demonstrated to the Committee what one member observed as the creation of "different classes of citizens."

The Committee expressed the view that Jewish settlements including their connecting "by-pass roads," in the occupied territories infringe upon the Palestinians' right to housing. One member observed that the phenomenon of collective punishment through house demolitions, "is not becoming of a State that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East."

Also under review was the Israeli policy of closure, applied in varying degrees since 1993, which inhibits the Palestinians' ability to claim their human rights under the Covenant. Questions focused on the effects of closure on the Palestinians' rights to work, food, health and education.

This review of Israel's economic, social and cultural rights record will be followed by the Committee issuing its conclusions in the form of "concluding observations" on 4 December 1998.

END/PALESTINE/HUMAN RIGHTS/1998-11-20/P/K/16220c-is