Mr. Chairperson and members of the Committee, at the previous two sessions this august UN body has sought it appropriate to consider the record of the state of Israel in complying with its obligations under article 11 and 12 of the Covenant. The Committee has taken action, in the form of two strong letters from its Chairperson, based on information brought to the notice of the Committee by NGO campaigns based in Israel and in East Jerusalem.
These Campaigns, the Palestinian Housing Rights Movement and the Arab Co-ordinating Committee on Housing Rights In Israel are both local affiliates of Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and have requested us to address and urge the Committee to continue to take steps to hold the Israeli government accountable to its obligations under the Covenant.
Since the 15th session of this Committee (November/December 1996), HIC was invited to address the first International Conference on Equality convened by the Joint Arab Forum and the National Committee of Arab Mayors in Nazareth. The Keynote address was delivered by the South African Minister of Justice, Dr. Dullah Omar. The Conference gave us the opportunity to visit the area once again and to observe at first hand the state of housing, living conditions and the impact of continued house demolitions and evictions on the Palestinian people both within Israel and in the Occupied parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Information and eyewitness accounts gathered by us during our December 1996 visit and information received by us since then confirms that the situation has continued to worsen.
Within the 1948 cease-fire line, that now constitutes the State of Israel, one million Arab Palestinians continue to live in deprivation of their most fundamental economic, social and cultural rights.
The oppression faced by the Bedouins in the Negev in the south of Israel, in the form of house and village demolitions and land confiscations, is particularly severe. The constant persecution of the Bedouins and of their distinct identity knows no limits. Just a few weeks ago even the modest signs that the Bedouins had recently erected to mark their so-called ‘unrecognised villages’, such in the village of Abu Kaf, were destroyed by the Israeli authorities using the excuse that the signs were ‘environmental blight’. Many of these villages are on lands that belonged to the Bedouins long before the formation of the state of Israel.
Out of the hundreds of such Palestinians villages across Israel eight in the Galilee had received recognition during the term of the late Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin. These villages are now, since the coming to power of Benyamin Netanyahu, constantly threatened with removal of their recently acquired status. The villagers, therefore, have been unable to gain their housing and land rights – including the right to security of tenure and the right to civic services (such as potable water, electricity and sanitation). The letter dated 25 April, 1997, from the Arab Coordinating Committee on Housing Rights, that you have before you gives an up to date account of the continued denial of the human rights of the Arab Palestinians citizens of Israel.
The situation in East Jerusalem is well known and has been a lead international story since the decision by Benyamin Netanyahu to begin construction of the exclusively jewish “Har Homa” settlement. What is less well known and indeed much more insidious in terms of the removal of possibilities for the Palestinians to exercise their housing rights, is that there are many more areas in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank where Israel continues to confiscate land and expand existing settlements and build new settlements in complete contravention of numerous international instruments and in blatant disregard of the provisions of the Oslo Declaration of Peace.
To give some pertinent examples, according to information received from the Palestine Housing Rights Movement, the blatant theft by Israel of land belonging to Palestinians continues. The Israeli authorities have begun work to expand the existing settlement of Efrat on to the lands of the Palestinian villages of Artas and el-Khader. The lands are being confiscated under the guise of there being so-called “state land” even though no such category for the acquisition of private lands exists in the Occupied Territories.
To give another example, in the south of Bethlehem construction work for a new jewish settlement, Givat Hazayit, has started. This settlement is just one of several settlements to be constructed in the area which will lead to the further strangulation of Bethlehem and will deprive Palestinians in the area agricultural and grazing lands.
All these acts and the continued use of subversive strategies such as the demarcating of zones as “green areas” that are later turned into areas for “public purpose” and then into jewish settlements are depriving Palestinians of whatever little land there is where they can build. This has happened again recently where, according to recently released master zoning plans by the Israeli authorities, 50% of the lands of the villagers of Umm Touba and Sour Baher is to be designated as a “green zone” that will deny the right of these villages to natural expansion on their own lands.
There is no need to give more examples, the intent of Israel is clear: to create a ring of jewish settlements that will not only cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank but to remove all possibilities for expansion of Palestinian housing within east jerusalem thereby forcing Palestinian to leave and achieving the long held Israeli dream of a united Jerusalem largely free of Palestinians. It is now the third session where we are bringing to the notice of the Committee information sent to us by our local affiliates and witnessed by us during frequent visits. We believe it is due to the pressure brought to bear by such information presented to this Committee that Israel is finally preparing its overdue report. We urge the Israeli government to consult local civil society organisations, both Palestinian and Jewish, in the process of the preparation of this report.
The Declaration from the equality conference mentioned before called upon the state of Israel to change its character from a Jewish state to a state for all its citizens. A first step would be to for the state of Israel to recognise its Arab Palestinian citizens as a distinct minority with the full human rights that the Israeli Jews enjoy.
In the Occupied Territories, at the very least, construction on all settlements must stop because as stated by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its concluding observations on Israeli in 1994: “The Committee regards the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as not only illegal under international law but also as obstacles to peace and to the enjoyment of human rights …..”.
Only when these steps are taken will there be a possibility that Palestinians can say that they may one day live in a world where to quote the South African Minister of Justice when he addressed the equality conference in December 1996 in Nazareth “there is social justice, economic justice, dignity and equality for all people”. We hope that the Committee will continue to act and to do everything in its power to ensure that violations of the human rights of Palestinians, by the state of Israel, inside Israel and in the occupied territories, do not continue.
We live Mr. Chairperson and members of the Committee, in a world where, more and more, the fate of the lives of millions of people are decided by the sleight of hand of political expediency, bartered away at global trade exchanges and sold to the most politically well connected amongst the worlds parasitical transnational corporations. This much and more, tragically, was evident for all to see at the recently concluded session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Faced by such a climate of mendacity, the now habitual disregard for human rights and the blind primacy given to the market and to finance, this Committee and other UN treaty bodies, have a unique task: To use the inherent power vested to the worlds disadvantaged people and communities by the International human rights instruments to send out a message that is loud and clear: that consistent violations of international human rights instruments will not be tolerated. We are particularly concerned about the growth of systematic violations, such as forced evictions, by states like Israel as illustrated in this statement. As a means by which the rampant practice of forced evictions become better known and understood as violations of a range of human rights it is critical that the Committee adopt at this session the general comment on forced evictions.