UN committee: Israel should let Palestinians return to their land

By Yoav Stern

Haaretz

Adar 21, 5767

A United Nations committee has called on Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their property and land in Israel and to ensure that the bodies responsible for distributing property, such as the Jewish National Fund, not discriminate against the Arab population.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination made the recommendation in its concluding observations released Friday, in response to a report Israel submitted on the matter. Representatives of a number of human rights groups appeared before the committee, including Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which presented objections to the official Israeli position.

The report recommends that Israel scrutinize its policy in a number of areas. Among them, it recommends that "the state party ensure that the definition of Israel as a Jewish nation state does not result in any systematic distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on
race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin." The committee also said it "would welcome receiving more information on how [Israel] envisions the development of the national identity of all its citizens."

The committee's deliberations were made in the framework of overseeing the implementation by various countries of the provisions of the UN's International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Israel has been a signatory to the convention since the late 1970s, and should submit a report every two years. However, it has not done so for nine years.

The appearence before the committee of the human rights organizations, which also included B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) and Ittijah (the Union of Arab Community Based Organizations in Israel), is part of an increasing
trend to fight Israeli policies in international forums. Adalah said some of the information provided to the committee came from its international advocacy department assigned to UN committees.

The committee also noted a number of positive developments, among them the ministerial appointment of Raleb Majadele and the High Court decision on the petition of the Ka'adans, an Israeli Arab couple, to buy land in the community of Katzir.