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Israel's apartheid housing policy faces legal challenge 

A picture taken on October 14, 2020 shows Israeli construction cranes at a building site of new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Kochav Yaakov, near the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]
Settlement construction in the West Bank on 14 October 2020 [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Israel has been forced to make concessions to its apartheid housing policy, which for the first time could see Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem enter a lottery for buying rights to government housing.

Jewish citizens of Israel are the only group eligible to enter such lotteries, but a legal challenge by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Beit Safafa neighbourhood could see them also enter the bidding race.

The challenge followed a highly controversial settlement project in the new adjacent neighbourhood of Givat Hamatos. Plans to build 1,250 Jewish only homes for illegal settlers were denounced by the UN as well as the EU. The territory lies beyond Israel's 1967 borders, where the state is currently advancing extensive building plans for Jews only.

The decision to go ahead with the development of the neighbourhood and to invite bids on residential construction came in the final days of the administration of former US President Donald Trump and was seen as an effort to establish "facts on the ground" prior to the Biden administration's taking office.

Once completed, the illegal settlements in Givat Hamatos will completely cut off the large village of Beit Safafa from Palestinian East Jerusalem, surrounding it with Jewish only neighbourhoods. The plan is said to be a red-line for the international community, including the US, as it would be the final death nail for the two-state solution.

READ: Israel's High Court 'rubber stamps' apartheid

Details of the legal challenge reported by Haaretz shows that it was made on behalf of Palestinian residents by Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the Israeli non-profit group Ir Amim, which advocates for what it calls "a more equitable and sustainable city for Israelis and Palestinians" in Jerusalem. He argued that the plan to build Givat Hamatos would discriminate against the Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa.

Ir Amin filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court challenging the policy on behalf of 24 Palestinian residents of the city. The petition argued that limiting participation in the lottery to Jewish Israeli citizens would deny equal rights to permanent residents of East Jerusalem.

After the petition was filed, the Israeli government said it would open the lottery to permanent residents of occupied East Jerusalem.

The ramifications of the decision are still unclear. Some 350,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have the precarious "permanent resident status" which relegates them to second class citizens. Israel's treatment of them is one of the reasons cited by human rights group to highlight its apartheid practices.

The Israeli court's judgement over the bidding process is further indication of the argument made by rights group of how the occupation state applies political and legal sovereignty over the occupied territory without granting equal rights to non-Jews.

IsraelMiddle EastNewsPalestine
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