Israel discriminates against its own Palestinian citizens, sharply restricting their access to land for housing to accommodate natural population growth, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
"Decades of land confiscations and discriminatory planning policies have confined many Palestinian citizens to densely populated towns and villages that have little room to expand," the New York-based rights group explained. Israeli policies nurture the growth and expansion of neighbouring predominantly Jewish communities, many of which are built on the ruins of Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948.
"Israeli policy on both sides of the Green [1949 Armistice] Line restricts Palestinians to dense population centres while maximising the land available for Jewish communities," said Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East executive director at HRW. "These practices are well-known when it comes to the occupied West Bank, but Israeli authorities are also enforcing discriminatory land practices inside Israel."
According to HRW, Israel directly controls 93 per cent of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. All land there is managed and allocated by the Israel Land Authority (ILA), a government agency with half of its members belonging to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The explicit mandate of the JNF is to develop and lease land for Jews only.
"Israel's land policies treat towns inside its own borders in starkly unequal terms based on whether the inhabitants are Jewish or Palestinian," Goldstein pointed out. "After decades of confiscating Palestinians' land, Israel confines them to crowded towns while enabling neighbouring Jewish towns that exclude them to flourish."
Israel occupied Jerusalem and the whole West Bank following the 1967 Six-Day War and began establishing settlements in the area in the following year. The Palestinians have been seeking to create a full-fledged state comprised of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean coast, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The UN considers both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories. Israeli settlement-building activity in these areas is illegal under international law.