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Human Rights Watch: Israel has denied residency to thousands of Palestinians

12:00 Feb 5 2012 West Bank and Gaza

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BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli policies have arbitrarily denied thousands of Palestinians the right to live in or travel to and from the West Bank and Gaza, an international rights group said Sunday.

“Israel’s control over the population registry has significantly reduced the registered Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, probably by hundreds of thousands of people,” the report by Human Rights Watch said.

“This reduction has occurred while Israel has simultaneously increased the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, in violation of international humanitarian law on transferring one’s population to occupied territory.”

Israel’s 1967 census of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza census excluded at least 270,000 Palestinians who were not present in the aftermath of the war in which Israel seized the territories, the group said.

Israel later removed from the registry Palestinians who traveled abroad for significant periods, including some 130,000 West Bank Palestinians between 1967 and 1994, the report noted.

Since 2000, Israel stopped processing residency applications by unregistered Palestinians who live or have family and work ties to the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel received an estimated 120,000 such applications that it did not process between 2000 and 2005, the report said.

Meanwhile Palestinians registered in Gaza were forbidden from traveling to the West Bank or changing their registered address despite living in the West Bank.

“Around 35,000 of these ‘Gazans’ had entered and resided in the West Bank using temporary permits that have expired,” Human Rights Watch said.

Around 12,000 unregistered Palestinians live in Gaza, and are forbidden by Egyptian authorities from traveling through its Rafah crossing out of the coastal strip, according to the report.

Citing a political gesture to the Palestinian Authority, Israel processed 33,000 registration applications between 2007 and 2009, and allowed around 2,800 Palestinians registered in Gaza to change their address to the West Bank.

“Israel should allow Palestinians to live in their homes with their families, and to travel freely, not treat its control over where Palestinians can live as a political bargaining chip,” Middle East director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson said.

“These steps have not cleared the backlog,” the report added, noting that the indiscriminate policy towards registration does not screen individuals for security threats.

“Israel has never put forth any concrete security rationale for blanket policies that have made life a nightmare for Palestinians whom it considers unlawful residents in their own homes,” Whitson said.

“The current policies leave families divided and people trapped on the wrong side of the border in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel should revise these policies and process requests for families to reunite, so that Palestinians can live with their families where they want.”
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