8 July 2010 - Israel was today accused of serious human rights violations in the area of housing and access to water - including war crimes.
The accusations came as Israel prepares to be examined by the UN Human Rights Committee, a body that scrutinizes government's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee will be quizzing Israel at a hearing in Geneva on 13-14 July.
The claims are contained in a report filed with the UN Committee by two independent human rights organizations - the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international housing rights watchdog based in Geneva, and Al-Haq, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Ramallah, West Bank.
In the report, the organisations say that Israel has violated its commitments under international law by demolishing the homes of Palestinians, forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes, and denying Palestinians access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
It is the first time that the UN Human Rights Committee is looking at access to safe water as a human right.
"The demolition of Palestinian homes is a pervasive feature of Israeli policy and practice - and is in complete contravention of international laws and standards," said Bret Thiele, COHRE's Senior Expert on Litigation and co-author of the report.
According to the report, about 60,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are at risk of "administrative house demolition" - the demolition of their homes due to a lack of proper permits. Israel usually refuses to grant Palestinians such permits as part of an intentional policy aimed at decreasing the number of Palestinians living in the area. In the meantime, Israel has appropriated more than one-third of occupied East Jerusalem to build and enlarge illegal Israeli settlements.
In Gaza, during "Operation Cast Lead," Israel engaged in unprecedented destruction of civilian infrastructure across the Gaza Strip, including hospitals, schools, mosques, civilian homes, water and sanitation facilities, police stations and UN compounds.
More than 100,000 Gaza residents were affected by the destruction.
"The disproportionate house demolitions carried out by Israel in Gaza and the lack of justification for the destruction based on military necessity reflects an intention to punish Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," said Nada Kiswanson, Legal Researcher, Al-Haq.
But it is not just homes that are deliberately destroyed, according to COHRE and Al-Haq.
The organisations also accused Israel of denying Palestinians access to sufficient water and adequate sanitation, in violation of international law.
"Israel's policy and practice in the West Bank since the occupation began has been to expropriate and assert control over Palestinian water resources," said Nada Kiswanson. "While in Gaza, Israeli forces have deliberately targeted water and sewage infrastructure, including by deliberately destroying hundreds of wells."
"Operation Cast Lead" saw massive destruction of water and sewage infrastructure, with Israeli forces deliberately targeting and destroying water networks, tanks and waste facilities.
International humanitarian law strictly prohibits attacks on civilian infrastructure. Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions says that attacking drinking water installations constitutes a crime under the laws of war.
"The current Israeli sanctions and blockade regime has meant that equipment needed to repair and rebuild water and sewage networks and treatment plants has been blocked from entering Gaza," said Bret Thiele.
According to the organisations, this unrepaired damage has led to sewage contamination in Gaza's water networks - leaving residents vulnerable to illness. Israel has prevented the entry of essential water purification chemicals into Gaza, putting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at risk of drinking contaminated water.