Israel must stop demolishing Bedouin homes and appoint a commission to look into charges its land and housing policies discriminate against the minority Arab group, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Israel had demolished thousands of Negev Bedouin homes since the 1970s and more than 200 in 2007, often leaving families with nothing more than a tent, the group said.
HRW issued a 130-page report examining the impact of Israel's land policies in the Negev desert region on tens of thousands of Bedouin, once desert nomads who now live in informal shanty towns that are not recognized as legal villages.
The report says Israel stops Bedouin from building legally by refusing to recognize their settlements, and frequently demolishes existing homes. At the same time, the state is building new homes in the Negev region for Jewish families.
"Israel is willing and able to build new Negev towns for Jewish Israelis seeking a rural way of life, but not for the people who have lived and worked this land for generations," HRW Middle East Director Joe Stork said. "This is grossly unfair."
An Israeli Housing Ministry spokesman could not be reached on Monday and a Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could not comment on the report.
Israel forced some Bedouin off their ancestral lands and into ramshackle villages in the 1950s to make way for military bases while others have lived in their villages for generations, HRW said. Neither type of community was formally recognized.
Israel argues Bedouin homes in informal shantytowns can be demolished because they have no permits and says Bedouin families can move to government-planned townships -- which HRW says are crime-ridden, poor and overcrowded.
At the same time, HRW said the government was turning a blind eye to unlawful construction by Jewish citizens and was unfairly spending money on homes for Jewish families.
HRW called for a moratorium on Bedouin house demolitions and said an independent commission should look into the problem of the unrecognized villages and into what it called discriminatory land and housing policies.
Applicants for new homes and communities in the arid Negev region are screened, and Bedouin systematically excluded, the report said.
About 170,000 Bedouin Arabs live in Israel, according to the Foreign Ministry Web site. The majority of them live in the Negev.