Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Violence on the Gaza border and recurring armed conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups poses an ongoing threat to civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
BACKGROUND:
Impunity for past violations of international law and the failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement has contributed to recurring armed conflict between Israel and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza.

Between 30 March and 13 June at least 135 Palestinians were killed and over 14,605 wounded by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) along the border between Gaza and Israel during a series of mass demonstrations. The demonstrations were initially organized in the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel and the Palestinian "Nakba" (Catastrophe) on 14 and 15 May, respectively. Fifty-seven Palestinians were shot dead and 1,700 wounded on 14 May alone.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The last conflict escalated on 7 July 2014 when the IDF launched an offensive to halt indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. The 50-day conflict led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of approximately 500,000 Palestinians.

Since 2014 the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. Illegal Israeli settlements, prohibited under international law, also continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. On 4 July the Israeli authorities proceeded with plans to demolish and expel the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar in the West Bank in order to prepare for another potential Israeli settlement. An Israeli court has temporarily blocked the demolition.

Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture of Palestinian civilians. Between 13-15 July Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired over 200 rockets and mortar shells towards Israel. In retaliation Israel carried out its heaviest airstrikes on Gaza since the 2014 war.

Negotiations between Israel and Palestinian representatives regarding a lasting peace agreement have been suspended since April 2014. On 12 October 2017 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal which would see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed Palestinian unity government, but negotiations have since stalled.

ANALYSIS:
In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. Previous attacks on civilians in Gaza and Israel violate International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and may constitute war crimes. No Israeli or Hamas officials have been held accountable for unlawful attacks committed during the 2014 war.

The systematic nature of human rights violations in the OPT may amount to possible crimes against humanity. Israel's military blockade of Gaza, in force since 2007, is also a potentially illegal form of collective punishment of Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. Illegal Israeli settlements have contributed to the volatile situation in the West Bank. Increased anti-Semitic and anti-Arab rhetoric is also exacerbating tensions between communities across Israel and the OPT.

Despite ongoing political conflict over sovereignty and the OPT's future, Israel, the Hamas de-facto administration and the Palestinian Authority are obligated to uphold their Responsibility to Protect.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
Following Palestine's accession to the Rome Statute in January 2015, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine. On 22 May the Palestinian Authority referred the situation in Gaza to the ICC.

On 24 June 2015 the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the Gaza conflict reported on violations of IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) that may amount to war crimes. On 18 May the HRC decided to establish an independent, international CoI to investigate all such violations in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the OPT.

On 23 December 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT constitute a violation of international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009. On 1 June the UNSC failed to adopt two draft resolutions on Palestine, one due to a veto by the United States and the other because it received only one vote in favor.

On 13 June the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the use of excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the IDF against Palestinian civilians, by a vote of 120 in favor to 8 against.

NECESSARY ACTION:
All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must work towards a sustainable political solution. Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cease illegal settlement-related activity, and immediately end the use of disproportionate and deadly force against Palestinian protesters. The Palestinian Authority must help end indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians and rigorously prosecute those responsible. The Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza must permanently halt indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel.

It is essential for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the culture of impunity and ensure that all those responsible for violations of IHL and IHRL are held accountable. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Arab hate speech and incitement to violence, and cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the ICC.

States with strong political and economic ties with Israel, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas should push for a lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, strict adherence to IHL, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT regardless of ethnicity or religion.


Last Updated: 16 July 2018

The most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. The situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was previously featured in the R2P Monitor in May and July 2016.