The Mosaic Institute and Human Rights Watch Host Event on Housing Rights in the West Bank

On June 17th, the Mosaic Institute and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Canada partnered for the first time to co-present a morning information session on housing rights in Area C of the West Bank. Bill Van Esveld, a Canadian based in Jerusalem and HRW’s Senior Researcher for Israel and Palestine since 2009, was interviewed by The Globe and Mail’s Sonia Verma. It was an informal “family-style” conversation that involved students, supporters, and friends of the Mosaic Institute and HRW Canada.

Mr. Van Esveld began with a brief introduction to the three areas of the West Bank.  As he described it, Area A is where the main Palestinian cities are situated. This area accounts for approximately 18% of the West Bank’s territory and is governed by the Palestinian authority. Area B constitutes roughly 20% of the West Bank. In this area, housing is the responsibility of the Palestinian authority while the Israeli Army is in charge of security. Area C accounts for the largest landmass of the West Bank and is home to about 300,000 Palestinians and 325-350,000 Israeli settlers. The Israeli Army controls both housing and security in Area C.

Most of Mr. Van Esveld’s presentation focused on housing issues in Area C. He explained that there is no Palestinian representation in the committees that are in charge of housing in Area C, and that the majority of Palestinians in this part of the West Bank face many difficulties obtaining housing permits. Many of the Palestinian homes, which are often made of corrugated tin and lack any plumbing or electricity, are considered illegal by the Israeli authorities.  Demolitions of Palestinian houses in Area C are widespread and ongoing, while some 10,000 tenders for the construction of Israeli settlements have been approved since the start of peace talks last year. Mr. Van Esveld pointed out that almost all of the Palestinian families affected by these situations do not have the means necessary to move elsewhere, and must rely on largely European aid.

According to Mr. Van Esveld, many NGOs both within and outside Israel are working to raise awareness about this issue. B’Tselem’s Camera Distribution Project, for example, is focused on filming the demolitions and related events and making them available for the general public.

Overall, our guests engaged in a productive dialogue despite the sensitive nature of the topic. We hope to have the opportunity to work again with HRW Canada to present similarly constructive discussions on international human rights issues in various regions of interest to Canada’s diaspora communities and the work of the Mosaic Institute.

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