Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Wednesday issued a report [text, PDF] urging the Israeli government to stop demolishing Palestinian homes [press release] found to be constructed illegally in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) [UN official profile]. AI cited incidents over the past five years where Israeli forces demolished Palestinian homes and schools, leaving more than 600 Palestinians homeless. The demolitions are carried out on structures found to be built in violation of Israeli law, which requires building permits for all new construction. According to the report, most Palestinians are denied building permits after lengthy application and appeals processes, while Israelis have little difficulty obtaining permits. As a result, Palestinians are forced to build without official permits. According to AI, the demolitions violate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) [text, PDF] that guarantees a right to housing without discrimination and the Fourth Geneva Convention [text] that prohibits destruction of property without military necessity:
The right to adequate housing is an essential component of the right to a decent standard of living. When fulfilled, it can provide a foundation on which other rights are better able to be realized...Violations of the right to adequate housing...are both a symptom of the wider human rights violations to which Palestinians are subject and a barrier to their achievement of other human rights.According to the group, the UN has unsuccessfully called for Israel to put an end to the demolition practice on many occasions and estimates that some 4,800 demolition orders are pending.
Property rights have been an invariable point of contention between Israel and Palestine. In March UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal" [JURIST report]. His statement came two weeks after Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban voiced his support for the proposed plan of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile] to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011 and called for the immediate resumption of peace talks to result in an independent Palestinian state within two years. Earlier that month, the Quartet on the Middle East, a group comprising the US, European Union, UN, and Russia, dedicated to mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, urged the Israeli government to "freeze all settlement activity ... and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [official website] responded stating that construction in East Jerusalem would not be restricted despite international criticism and pressure from the US.