UN Legal Body Reviews ESC Rights in Israel

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UN Legal Body Reviews ESC Rights in Israel
05 December 2011

On Monday, the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published its Concluding Observations, following its critical review of Israel’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In this, its third periodic review of Israel as a State party to the Covenant, the monitoring body had conducted a “constructive dialog” with a high-level delegation of the Israeli government on 16 and 17 November. CESCR’s assessment focused on the positive developments and breaches of the Covenant since Israel’s last review in 2003.

This time, CESCR noted positively Israel’s October 2011 adoption of the Trajtenberg report recommendations to lower the cost of living, ease the financial burden of poorer and middle-class families and increase the supply of affordable housing. However, the Committee noted with concern that most of the issues raised with the State of Israel in 2003—which included gross violations of housing and land rights—remain unaddressed. That previous review concluded with regret that issues raised already in CESCR’s Concluding Observations of 1998 and 2001 also remained outstanding matters of concern, including breaches of the treaty. The recent review—as before—focuses heavily on continuing violations of housing and land rights

In this round, CESCR addressed the consequences of Israel’s Hafrada (apartheid) Wall on Palestinian farmers who are prevented from accessing their lands, as well as the deprivation of Gazan fisherfolk whom Israel prevents from accessing their territorial waters as guaranteed under international law. In this case, the denial of equitable access to land and natural resources has affected the right to work (ICESCR, art. 6). CESCR then urged Israel “to ensure that Palestinians enjoy unimpeded access to their agricultural lands in all their territories” and “to recognize and respect the right of the Palestinian people to the marine resources, including the right to fish in the territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone of the Gaza Strip.”

In Jerusalem, Israel has continued to revoke residency permits of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, resulting in the loss social security and other related rights. CESCR has called on Israel “to put a stop to the revocation of residency permits of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.”

The Committee noted also the high incidence of poverty in highly developed Israel, particular among Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, as well as in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). These findings are expressed with a context of the high rate of privatization of social services, affecting the right to an adequate standard of living (art.11). Thus, CESCR has called on Israel to “establish a comprehensive policy to address the problem of poverty and social exclusion, accompanied by adequate budget allocations and a scaling down of the privatization of social services.” In so doing, the Committee recommended that the State focus its efforts, in particular, on the Arab Israeli population, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families, and disadvantaged and marginalized groups such as older persons, persons with disabilities and asylum seekers.

The Committee has found the lack of social housing units, the limited availability of affordable housing and the lack of regulation of the private rental market in Israel are obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to housing (art.11). The 18 independent Committee members recommended that Israel “take immediate steps to ensure the availability of affordable housing, by adopting a national strategy and a plan of action on adequate housing, by increasing the number of social housing units, and by offering increased rental assistance.” CESCR called on the State also to ensure a proper regulation of the private rental market, and urged Israel “to expeditiously implement the Planning and Construction Procedures for the Acceleration of Construction for Housing Purposes Law 5771–2011.”

Against this housing-shortage backdrop, Israel’s policy and practice of house demolitions and forced eviction again formed a special focus in this review of the State party. CESCR expressed its deep concern about home demolitions and forced evictions in the West Bank, in particular Area C, as well as in East Jerusalem, by Israeli authorities, military personnel and settlers, as such practices breach the State’s obligation to respect the human right to adequate (art.11). CESCR’s issued an urgent recommendation “to stop forthwith home demolitions as reprisals.” In the case of evictions in Area C, the Committee urged Israeli authorities to conform to their “duty (a) to explore all possible alternatives prior to evictions; (b) to consult with the affected persons; and (c) to provide effective remedies to those affected by forced evictions carried out by the State party’s military.” The Committee reminded Israel that, in order to comply with its treaty obligations, it must “ensure that the development of special outline plans and closed military zones are preceded by consultations with affected Palestinian communities.”

More generally, CESCR recommended that Israel “review and reform its housing policy and the issuance of construction permits in East Jerusalem, in order to prevent demolitions and forced evictions and ensure the legality of construction in those areas.” The Committee went on to call upon Israel to “intensify efforts to prevent attacks by settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian property in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed by settlers.”

The CESCR review gave particular attention to the Plan for the Regularization of Bedouin Housing and for the Economic Development of the Bedouin Population in the Negev—a.k.a. the Prawer Plan—which is ostensibly based upon the recommendations of the 2008 Goldberg Committee. The Committee gave notice to Israel that implementing the Plan should not result in forceful eviction. Instead, the Committee advised Israel that, to adhere to its legal obligations, the State would have to ensure that any eviction be based on free, prior and informed consent, and that persons relocated be offered adequate levels of compensation. However, in contradiction to the Prawer Plan evicting over 30,000 Arab citizens and current incremental practice, CESCR advised the State party “to officially regulate the unrecognized villages, cease the demolition of buildings in those villages, and ensure the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing” (art. 11).

As informed by parallel reports submitted by specialized agencies and human rights NGOs, CESCR observed that Palestinians in the oPt lack access to sufficient and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, thus violating their right to water (art.11 and General Comment No. 15). Concerned also about “the continuing destruction of the water infrastructure in Gaza and in the West Bank, including in the Jordan Valley, under military and settler operations since 1967,” the Committee urged Israel “to ensure the availability of sufficient and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation,…including through the facilitation of the entry of necessary materials to rebuild the water and sanitation systems in Gaza. They called on Israel urgently “to facilitate the restoration of the water infrastructure of the West Bank, including in the Jordan Valley, affected by the destruction of the local civilians’ wells, roof water tanks, and other water and irrigation facilities under military and settler operations since 1967.”

Identifying a practical link between the right to housing and health, CESCR observed how Israel’s National Health Insurance Law excludes a large class of vulnerable persons by the government denying them a permanent residency permit. Most affected are Palestinians under “temporary” permits, migrant workers and refugees.

Finally, the Committee also demonstrated the interdependence of rights, as evident in the violation of cultural rights by Israeli measures to delink Bedouin Arab citizens from their villages and relocating them to planned townships. In light of the State of Israel’s treaty obligations to respect the right to culture (art. 15), CESCR noted in a recommendation “that the State party fully respect the rights of the Arab-Bedouin people to their traditional and ancestral lands.”

The treaty body’s observations in this third periodic review of Israel updated the record on breaches of housing and land rights. They also evidenced, once again, the link between and among the various categories of human rights. As noted from the CESCR’s chair in both the opening and closure of the dialog, Israel has remained silent on a range of questions put to the State since its first review in 1998. Those lingering questions address the mechanisms of institutional discrimination planned and practiced by the State of Israel, while CESCR’s 2011 Concluding Observations read as a current catalog of symptoms of a deeper disorder.

Download Concluding Observations

HIC-HLRN parallel report to CESCR

ANNEX: CESCR questions unanswered and recommendations unapplied by the State Party

Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Israel, E/C.12/1/Add.27, 4 December 1998

10. The Committee expresses concern that excessive emphasis upon the State as a Jewish State encourages discrimination and accords a second-class status to its non-Jewish citizens. The Committee notes with concern that the Government of Israel does not accord equal rights to its Arab citizens, although they comprise over 19 per cent of the total population. This discriminatory attitude is apparent in the lower standard of living of Israeli Arabs as a result, inter alia, of lack of access to housing, water, electricity and health care and their lower level of education. The Committee also notes with concern that despite the fact that the Arabic language has official status in law, it is not given equal importance in practice.

11. The Committee notes with grave concern that the Status Law of 1952 authorizes the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National Fund, to control most of the land in Israel, since these institutions are chartered to benefit Jews exclusively. Despite the fact that the institutions are chartered under private law, the State of Israel nevertheless has a decisive influence on their policies and thus remains responsible for their activities. A State party cannot divest itself of its obligations under the Covenant by privatizing governmental functions. The Committee takes the view that large-scale and systematic confiscation of Palestinian land and property by the State and the transfer of that property to these agencies constitute an institutionalized form of discrimination because these agencies by definition would deny the use of these properties to non-Jews. Thus, these practices constitute a breach of Israel`s obligations under the Covenant….

13. The Committee notes with concern that the Law of Return, which allows any Jew from anywhere in the world to immigrate and thereby virtually automatically enjoy residence and obtain citizenship in Israel, discriminates against Palestinians in the diaspora upon whom the Government of Israel has imposed restrictive requirements which make it almost impossible to return to their land of birth….

20. The Committee expresses its concern at the effect of the directive of the Ministry of the Interior, according to which Palestinians may lose their right to live in the city if they cannot prove that East Jerusalem has been their centre of life for the past seven years. The Committee also regrets a serious lack of transparency in the pplication of the directive, as indicated by numerous reports. The Committee notes with concern that this policy is being applied retroactively both to Palestinians who live abroad and to those who live in the West Bank or in nearby Jerusalem suburbs, but not to Israeli Jews or to foreign Jews who are permanent residents of East Jerusalem. This system has resulted in, inter alia, the separation of Arab families and the denial of their right to social services and health care, including maternity care for Arab women, which are privileges linked to residency status in Jerusalem. The Committee is deeply concerned that the implementation of a quota system for the reunification of Palestinian families affected by this residency law involves long delays and does not meet the needs of all divided families. Similarly, the granting of residency status is often a long process and, as a result, many children are separated from at least one of their parents and spouses are not able to live together.

Land use and housing

21. The Committee is deeply concerned about the adverse impact of the growing exclusion faced by Palestinians in East Jerusalem from the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights. The Committee is also concerned over the continued Israeli policies of building settlements to expand the boundaries of East Jerusalem and of transferring Jewish residents into East Jerusalem with the result that they now outnumber the Palestinian residents.

22. The Committee deplores the continuing practices of the Government of Israel of home demolitions, land confiscations and restrictions on family reunification and residency rights, and its adoption of policies which result in substandard housing and living conditions, including extreme overcrowding and lack of services, of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in particular in the old city.

23. The Committee notes with concern the situation of Arab neighbourhoods in mixed cities such as Jaffa and Lod which have deteriorated into virtual slums because of Israel`s excessively restrictive system of granting government permits without which it is illegal to undertake any kind of structural repair or renovation.

24. The Committee notes that despite State party`s obligation under article 11 of the Covenant, the Government of Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian lands and resources for the expansion of Israeli settlements. Thousands of dunams (hectares) of land in the West Bank have recently been confiscated to build 20 new bypass roads which cut West Bank towns off from outlying villages and farmlands. The consequence - if not the motivation - is the fragmentation and isolation of the Palestinian communities and facilitation of the expansion of illegal settlements. The Committee also notes with concern that while the Government annually diverts millions of cubic metres of water from the West Bank`s Eastern Aquifer Basin, the annual per capita consumption allocation for Palestinians is only 125 cubic metres while settlers are allocated 1,000 cubic metres per capita.

25. The Committee expresses its concern over the plight of an estimated 200,000 uprooted present absentees, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel most of whom were forced to leave their villages during the 1948 war on the understanding that they would be allowed by the Government of Israel to return after the war. Although a few have been given back their property, the vast majority continue to be displaced and dispossessed within the State because their lands were confiscated and not returned to them.

Unrecognized villages

26. The Committee notes with deep concern that a significant proportion of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel continue to live in unrecognized villages without access to water, electricity, sanitation and roads. Such an existence has caused extreme difficulties for the villagers in regard to their access to health care, education and employment opportunities. In addition, these villagers are continuously threatened with demolition of their home and confiscation of their land. The Committee regrets the inordinate delay in the provision of essential services to even the few villages that have been recognized. In this connection, the Committee takes note that while Jewish settlements are constructed on a regular basis, no new Arab villages have been built in the Galilee.

27. The Committee regrets that the Regional Master Plan for the Northern District of Israel and the Plan for the Negev have projected a future where there is little place for Arab citizens of Israel whose needs arising from natural demographic growth are largely ignored.

28. The Committee expresses its grave concern about the situation of the Bedouin Palestinians settled in Israel. The number of Bedouins living below the poverty line, their living and housing conditions, their levels of malnutrition, unemployment and infant mortality are all significantly higher than the national averages. They have no access to water, electricity and sanitation and are subjected on a regular basis to land confiscations, house demolitions, fines for building illegally, destruction of agricultural fields and trees, and systematic harassment and persecution by the Green Patrol. The Committee notes in particular that the Government`s policy of settling Bedouins in seven townships has caused high levels of unemployment and loss of livelihood….

E. Suggestions and recommendations…

34. The Committee calls upon the State party to ensure equality of treatment of all Israeli citizens in relation to all Covenant rights.

35. The Committee urges the State party to review the status of its relationship with the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency and its subsidiaries, including the Jewish National Fund, with a view to remedying the problems identified in paragraph 11 above.

36. In order to ensure respect of article 1 (2) of the Covenant and to ensure equality of treatment and non-discrimination, the Committee strongly recommends a review of re-entry policies for Palestinians who wish to re-establish their domicile in their homeland, with a view to bringing such policies level with the Law of Return as applied to Jews….

41. The Committee calls upon the State party to cease the practices of facilitating the building of illegal settlements and constructing bypass roads, expropriating land, water and resources, demolishing houses and arbitrary evictions. The Committee urges the State party immediately to take steps to respect and implement the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Arabs in the mixed cities. The Committee strongly recommends equal access to housing and settlement on State land for the present absentees who are citizens of Israel. The Committee recalls in this connection its General Comment No. 4.

42. The Committee urges the State party to recognize the existing Arab Bedouin villages, the land rights of the inhabitants and their right to basic services, including water….

Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Israel, E/C.12/1/Add.69, 31 August 2001

14. The Committee continues to be concerned that the State party`s Law of Return denies indigenous Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes and properties.

Concluding Observations/Comments of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Israel, E/C.12/1/Add.90, 23 May 2003

14. The Committee…reiterates its concerns raised in 1998 (E/C.12/1/Add.27, paras. 11, 25, 26 and 28) and in 2001 (E/C.12/1/Add.64, para. 14)….

16…The Committee reiterates its concern that the excessive emphasis upon the State as a `Jewish State` encourages discrimination and accords a second-class status to its non-Jewish citizens (ibid., para. 10)….

18. The Committee is particularly concerned about the status of Jewish nationality, which is a ground for exclusive preferential treatment for persons of Jewish nationality under the Israeli Law of Return, granting them automatic citizenship and financial government benefits, thus resulting in practice in discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees. The Committee is also concerned about the practice of restrictive family reunification with regard to Palestinians, which has been adopted for reasons of national security. The Committee reiterates its concern in this regard (ibid., para. 13 and E/C.12/1/Add.69, para. 14)….

24. The Committee is particularly concerned about information received concerning the construction of a security fence around the occupied territories, which allegedly would infringe upon the surface area of the occupied territories and which would limit or even impede access by Palestinian individuals and communities to land and water resources. The Committee regrets the fact that the delegation did not respond to questions by the Committee concerning the security fence or wall during the dialogue….

42. Reiterating its earlier recommendation (ibid., para. 41), the Committee urges the State party to cease the practices of facilitating the building of Israeli settlements, expropriating land, water and resources, demolishing houses and carrying out arbitrary evictions. The Committee also urges the State party to take immediate steps to respect and implement the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing, of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Arabs in cities with mixed populations. The Committee recalls in this connection its general comments No. 4 (the right to adequate housing) and No. 7 (forced evictions). The Committee requests the State party to provide detailed information on this issue in its next periodic report….

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