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Supporting the Housing, Land, and Property (HLP) rights of forcibly displaced persons in the Gaza Strip

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)

Supporting the Housing, Land, and Property (HLP) rights of forcibly displaced persons in the Gaza Strip


Technical support for initiatives securing rights to housing, land, and properties for forcibly displaced persons in the Gaza Strip


Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights encompass a range of legal and human rights related to housing, land tenure, and property ownership. Preserving HLP rights is critical for ensuring the well-being, stability, and dignity of individuals and communities, particularly those affected by displacement, conflict, or disaster. According to data that was collected in the aftermaths of the 2014 war, land ownership in the Gaza Strip was mostly privately owned in the two governorates (North Gaza and Gaza) that were most affected in the current war (with the exception of Um An Nasser in North Gaza, which was completely publicly owned), with only small areas of land being public or Waqf lands. Land ownership classification in the other three governorates (Deir Al Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah) varied between publicly and privately owned lands, whereas Waqf lands constituted a very small area of these three governorates (UN-Habitat, Gaza Urban Profile, 2014).

With the ongoing war on Gaza, approximately 1.93 million people in the Gaza Strip (or over 90 per cent of the population) were displaced and forced to flee from the north of Gaza to the south. The densely populated urban areas have experienced a dramatic increase in overcrowding, exceeding twofold south of Wadi Gaza and currently standing at almost 9,000 persons per square kilometer. Additionally, by 12 December 2023, more than 52,000 housing units were completely destroyed, and more than 253,000 housing units were damaged across the 5 governorates, representing over 70 per cent of the housing stock in the Gaza Strip (OCHA, 2023). With this unprecedented level of displacement and destruction, it becomes crucial to safeguard the HLP rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who face many challenges in their current displacement conditions.

Therefore, addressing HLP issues becomes vital in the humanitarian response for the Gaza Strip, as it ensures the protection of individual and collective rights to land and natural resources and facilitates sustainable recovery and rebuilding in a frequently affected area by conflict and displacement. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, as well as other international instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasize the protection of civilians' property and housing rights during armed conflicts.

While there are ongoing efforts to provide temporary shelter solutions to IDPs, they should ideally also have access to more permanent housing, which may include apartments, houses, or community settlements. Often, this involves efforts at reconstruction of damaged properties, and are combined with restitution and compensation for those who have lost their properties.

In line with UNHCR’s Master Plan Approach for Settlement Planning, it's crucial to initiate a long-term phased response to establish a suitable tenure system—comprising rights held either communally or individually, formally or informally along the continuum of land rights—that is mutually agreed upon with the relevant authorities. Furthermore, in line with UNHCR’s approach, it is important to recognize that ownership isn't the sole form of right that could empower displaced individuals. Various schemes, like long-term leases or compensation plans, can be tailored to local contexts and interests.


The following proposed interventions will require collaboration among various stakeholders, including government bodies, NGOs, international organizations, and affected communities, to ensure a comprehensive and just restoration of housing, land, and property rights.

Analysis and documentation of lost HLP rights:

  • Conducting an analysis of the land’s development, use and occupancy history (in a gender disaggregated manner where possible) and status to achieve legal certainty about rights, classification and administration of the lands. This will include an analysis of customary and formal ownership rights.

  • Analysing the issues and understanding the procedures related to property restitution and/or compensation can assist returnees in formalizing their property rights and will help mitigate property conflicts.

Developing capacities to restore HLP rights:

  • Building local capability (working with local government units) to support the sustainable return and reintegration of individuals. This involves the following:

    • Strengthen the capacity of municipal officials in dispute resolution and restitution procedures, focusing specifically on internally displaced persons (IDPs).

    • Develop or enhance mechanisms to address disputes related to HLP rights, utilizing legal aid services or alternative dispute resolution methods tailored to IDPs whose HLP rights have been violated. This will support efforts of competent authorities to provide substitution for civil documentation lost or damaged.

    • Develop programs for reconstructing infrastructure and reinstating essential services while paying particular attention to the unique requirements of women, youth, children, older individuals, and those with disabilities.

    • Establish monitoring systems to track progress in HLP restoration, ensuring effectiveness and addressing emerging issues promptly.

  • Developing a comprehensive housing strategy that provides an incremental approach based on participatory processes to provide a clear trajectory for long-term solutions.

  • Supplying financial, material, or technical aid to improve or create systems that restore housing, land, and/or property and restoring basic infrastructure.

  • Support local government units in kickstarting conflict-sensitive urban planning processes which focus to the sustainable and inclusive restoration of rights within affected communities. Similar efforts were already implemented in the Gaza Strip in a project that was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation between 2015-2019, technical support was provided for developing participatory spatial plans, which included capacity building for local governments on housing, land and property rights. This new approach will focus on the same issues, but with more emphasis on on integrating proactive measures and promoting adaptive strategies to mitigate risks as well as fostering resilience and stability post-conflict.

Advocacy and coordination to protect HLP rights:

  • Engage communities in decision-making processes related to property rights, ensuring inclusivity and fair representation.

  • Maintain dialogue with different stakeholders to ensure that the advocacy reaches out to all citizens, targeting the technical and political level as well for the improvement of HLP rights for all and ensuring better implementation at local, regional, national, and international levels.

  • Carrying out global land and HLP-related knowledge management and advocacy activities to increase awareness on the HLP issues of over 1.93 million displaced people in the Gaza Strip and the avenues to protect their rights.

  • Supporting and participating in protection and HLP coordination mechanisms, including the activation of the Housing, Land and Property Area of Responsibility (HLP AoR) in Palestine and coordinate with the Global Protection Cluster co-lead by UN-Habitat and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).


Commitment to human rights:

Human rights form the bedrock of HLP responses after conflict, ensuring fairness and dignity for affected communities. Firstly, guaranteeing the right to adequate housing involves providing safe and affordable shelter tailored to individual needs. Upholding property rights allows people to reclaim what's rightfully theirs, promoting ownership and stability. Non-discrimination principles are essential, ensuring equal access to HLP support regardless of background (age, sex, religion, etc.). Involving affected communities in decisions empowers them and ensures diverse perspectives are considered.

Legal frameworks protect HLP rights, particularly for vulnerable groups, while accountability and justice mechanisms address violations, fostering trust and fairness. Protecting data and raising awareness about HLP rights further empower individuals. In essence, human rights in HLP responses encompass housing, property, equality, participation, legal protection, accountability, data privacy, and education. Prioritizing these rights ensures that HLP efforts post-conflict uphold fairness and respect for the affected populations' dignity and needs.

Gender sensitivity in HLP response:

Gender sensitivity within HLP responses in conflict contexts involve a nuanced understanding of how conflict affects individuals differently based on gender. This approach acknowledges and addresses the unique challenges faced by women and men concerning their HLP rights. In post-conflict scenarios, disparities emerge between genders regarding property ownership, access, and rights. Women, particularly, often encounter additional hurdles due to cultural norms or legal biases. Recognizing these disparities is the first step towards a more equitable response.

Creating inclusive spaces for women's active participation in decision-making processes is crucial. Their perspectives and needs regarding HLP restitution and rebuilding efforts must be heard and integrated into policies and programs. By providing platforms for women to voice their concerns, the response efforts can effectively consider their lived experiences and requirements. Moreover, offering targeted legal and social support tailored to address gender-specific challenges is imperative. This includes providing assistance to women facing discriminatory practices or laws that obstruct their access to or control over property. Ensuring legal aid that caters to these specific challenges empowers women to navigate the complexities of reclaiming or maintaining their HLP rights effectively.

Capacity building and empowerment initiatives are equally vital. Equipping women with knowledge about their HLP rights not only fosters their confidence in asserting these rights but also strengthens their ability to manage property independently. Economic empowerment measures further ensure their capability to access and utilize property resources effectively. Furthermore, collecting gender-disaggregated data is an essential practice to comprehend the distinct impacts of conflict on women and men concerning HLP rights. Analyzing this data helps tailor interventions and policies that address gender-specific vulnerabilities and needs more accurately.

In essence, a gender-sensitive approach to HLP responses seeks to create equal opportunities and access to HLP rights for both genders. By acknowledging, understanding, and actively addressing the distinct challenges faced by women and men, these responses promote fairness, inclusivity, and empowerment within communities striving to rebuild post-conflict.

Environmental sensitivity:

Environmental sensitivity within HLP responses post-conflict is crucial for sustainable recovery. It involves integrating environmental considerations into rebuilding efforts to minimize ecological harm and promote long-term resilience. One aspect of this approach is designing the housing and infrastructure recovery plans and supporting their implementation in ways that reduce environmental impact. This includes using eco-friendly materials and designs, as well as implementing waste management strategies. Building resilient structures capable aligns with environmental sensitivity as well. This proactive approach safeguards HLP investments against potential future natural disasters, ensuring long-term viability.

Compliance with environmental policies and regulations is fundamental. Ensuring alignment with these standards guides HLP responses toward environmentally responsible practices, averting adverse ecological impacts. Furthermore, data collection and monitoring help assess and mitigate negative environmental effects resulting from HLP efforts. Collaborating with environmental agencies and experts enhances knowledge sharing and supports ecologically sustainable HLP projects. One particular aspect within the context of the Gaza Strip is how to deal with rubbles during the reconstruction phase in an environmentally friendly manner.

Community involvement and education play a significant role. Engaging communities in environmentally conscious planning including climate change challenges instills a sense of ownership and understanding of sustainable practices. This engagement fosters an ongoing commitment to maintaining eco-friendly HLP interventions. By integrating environmental sensitivity into HLP responses, the aim is not just to restore housing and property but to do so in a manner that promotes ecological sustainability, resilience, and harmony within post-conflict communities.

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