Human Rights Watch Urges Israel to Grant Palestinian Residency Rights

Israeli government says in response that it has granetd residency to tens of thousands of Palestinians over the years, and accuses HRW of anti-Israel bias.

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An international human rights group has urged Israel to lift what it says are arbitrary restrictions on Palestinian residency in the West Bank and Gaza.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a 90-page report released Sunday that such restrictions have denied thousands of Palestinians living outside the territories the ability to live in them, or to travel to and from them.

Palestinians waiting to cross through the Israeli army's Hawara checkpoint near Nablus.Credit: Nir Kafri

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, and has since then maintained final say over who is a legal resident in those areas.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev responded to the report by saying Israel has granted tens of thousands of Palestinians residency over the years, and accused Human Rights Watch of anti-Israel bias.

The Human Rights Watch recently released its annual report, in late January, citing serious violations in Israel and the Palestinian territories ongoing in 2011. It listed Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank and home demolitions in East Jerusalem.

But it also noted Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza at southern Israeli population centers, and condemned Hamas, the radical Islamist movement ruling Gaza, for carrying out three judicial executions, and for allegedly torturing scores of Palestinian detainees, some of whom died.

The Palestinian Authority was criticized for its part in arbitrarily detaining hundreds of Hamas supporters.

Israel has eased the entry of goods into Gaza, but continued to block exports, hindering the rebuilding of the coastal enclave's devastated economy. Construction materials are still barred because Israel says they can be used by militants and Gaza still had an estimated shortage of some 250 schools and 100,000 homes.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel had demolished (by November 1) some 467 Palestinian homes and other buildings, displacing 869 people, the highest number in five years, the report said.

"Israel usually carries out demolitions on the grounds that the structures were built without permits, but in practice such permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled areas," read the report.

The report also sharply criticized Israel for detaining 164 Palestinian minors. It also mentioned settler violence and vandalism and what it said was lack of action by Israeli authorities against it. The United Nations reported 377 attacks by settlers last year that damaged Palestinian property, including almost 10,000 olive trees.

The annual report also mentioned new legislation passed by the Israeli parliament, including one law making "calls for boycotts of Israeli settlements" as a civil offense, and another which "penalizes cultural, academic, or other institutions or municipalities that commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe)" - the Palestinian term for the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as refugees in the 1948-49 war that broke out after Israel was established.



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