Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

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 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 28 December 2018 at least 183 Palestinians were killed and over 23,491 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. One Israeli was killed and 40 injured during the demonstrations.

Between August and November Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds towards Israel, including over 400 rockets and mortars on 12 November. In retaliation Israel carried out airstrikes on targets within Gaza, killing several Palestinians. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The last conflict escalated during 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. According to the UN's 2019 humanitarian needs overview, 1.7 million people in the OPT are food insecure, including 68 percent of households in Gaza. Negotiations between Israel and Palestinian representatives regarding a lasting peace agreement have been suspended since April 2014, although the UN and Egypt are currently mediating discussions between Israel and Hamas.

Illegal Israeli settlements, prohibited under international law, also continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 460 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities during 2018. Violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers also escalated during December, with three Israelis and five Palestinians killed in clashes across the West Bank.

ANALYSIS:

In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. Frequent exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas in recent months threatens to escalate into another war in Gaza. 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. Recent shortages in funding for UN humanitarian operations and tightened restrictions on movement of goods into Gaza have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation.

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 has heightened 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 2018 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 violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law that may amount to war crimes. On 18 May 2018 the HRC decided to establish an independent, international CoI to investigate all such violations in the context of large-scale civilian protests on the Gaza border.

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 13 June 2018 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. On 6 December the General Assembly failed to adopt a resolution condemning attacks by Hamas on Israel, with 87 votes in favor and 57 against, falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

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 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. 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: 15 January 2019

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.