Palestinians in the occupied West Bank lack basic amenities and are effectively being forcibly displaced by discriminatory Israeli policies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Sunday.
The New York-based rights group called on Washington to penalize Israel by withholding from its massive annual aid a sum equal to the amount the Jewish state gives in subsidies to West Bank settlements.
The 166-page report accuses Israel of depriving the Palestinians of services that are offered to Jewish settlers, who live in communities considered illegal under international law because they are built on occupied land.
“Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools and access to roads,” HRW representative Carroll Bogert said. “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 denied the report and accused HRW of bias.
“We must expose the hypocrisy of human rights organizations that turn a blind eye to the most repressive regimes in the world — regimes that stone women and hang gays — and instead target the only liberal, democracy in the Middle East,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev charged “that Human Rights Watch has allowed an anti-Israel agenda to pollute its objectivity.”
He also denied the report’s accusations, saying there had been “unprecedented levels of growth and development on the part of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank” over the past two years.
But Bill Van Esveld, author of the report and a researcher at HRW’s Middle East division, said the study exposed a two-tier system enforced by a network of discriminatory laws and military orders.
He said settlers had easy access to planning committees, whereas Palestinians were not allowed to serve on the same committees and that it had become virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits to build homes.
The policies make life increasingly difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank and in many cases encourages them simply to leave.
“Israeli policies are so harsh in their discrimination against Palestinians that in a number of cases Palestinians have been forced to leave, because they have no access to water, they have no access to electricity,” Esveld said.
The group called on the international community to avoid complicity in Israeli breaches of international law, including by cutting assistance to the country.
“The United States, which provides 2.75 billion [US] dollars in aid to Israel annually, should suspend financing to Israel in an amount equivalent to the costs of Israel’s spending in support of settlements, which a 2003 study estimated at 1.4 billion dollars,” the report said.