JERUSALEM // Expropriating land, unequal access to electricity and basic services and a number of other "discriminatory" Israeli policies are making Palestinian communities "virtually uninhabitable" and forcing residents to flee as a result, according to a report released yesterday by Human Rights Watch.
In its report, the New York-based advocacy group concludes that Palestinians living in areas of the West Bank that fall under Israel's exclusive control face extensive discrimination.
It compares their circumstances to Israel's settlements, whose Jewish residents receive from the Israeli government "generous financial benefits and infrastructure support to promote life in Jewish settlements". Neighbouring Palestinian communities, on the other hand, face a deliberate strategy of punishment that withholds "basic services, punishing growth, and imposing harsh conditions on Palestinian communities".
Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesperson, dismissed the report, citing what he described as Human Rights Watch's historic bias against Israel.
"Unfortunately, over the last few years, there have been a series of documented cases where Human Rights Watch has allowed an anti-Israel agenda to pollute its reporting," he said.
The report says that between 2000 and 2009, roughly 31 per cent of Palestinian residents have been displaced from communities both in East Jerusalem as well as in Area C, Israeli-controlled land that comprises about 60 per cent of the West Bank.
Attracted to subsidised living and other amenities, Jewish settlers, conversely, have been flooding into the areas, growing from roughly 241,500 in 1992 to, at present, as many as half a million.
It is the result of a deliberate Israeli strategy of making these areas "virtually uninhabitable" for Palestinians, concludes the 166-page report, entitled Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
"Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits," said Carroll Bogert, Human Rights Watch's deputy executive director for external relations.
"While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes."
Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war - a move not recognised by the international community.
Settlements have been a major issue of contention in the recently stalled round of direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations. Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank in September, as Palestinians demanded, prompting the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to suspend his participation in the US-mediate talks.
In its report, Human Rights Watch describes the plight of the West Bank village of Jubbet al Dhib. Its 160 residents lack electricity despite requesting connection to Israel's electrical grid. There are no paved roads, and its children must walk several kilometers to school since Jubbet al Dhib lacks one.
Just down the road from the community is Sde Bar, a Jewish-only community whose high school bars Jubbet al Dhib's resident's from attending. Its new, expensive highway, named after Israel's controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, bypasses Palestinian villages on the way to Jerusalem, while the community has ample access to electricity.
The report harshly criticised Israel's arguments that such disparities can be justified by security concerns. It also singled out Israel's security justifications for denying Palestinians permits to build or repair homes, schools, roads and water tanks, saying that no "security or other legitimate rationale can explain the vast scale of differential treatment of Palestinians".
"The world long ago discarded spurious arguments to justify treating one group of people differently from another merely because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin," said Mrs Bogert. "It's time for Israel to end its policies of discrimination and stop treating Palestinians under its control markedly worse than Jews in the same area."