Populations at Risk
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.
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 2018 and 31 March 2019 at least 199 Palestinians were killed – including 43 children – and over 25,000 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. At least 40 Israeli soldiers have also been injured. On 28 February the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the 2018 Gaza protests reported that Israeli security forces used excessive and disproportionate force in response to the protests, targeted journalists and medical personnel, and used live ammunition against unarmed protesters. The CoI indicated that these violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.
Between August-November Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds towards Israel, including over 400 on 12 November. In retaliation Israel carried out airstrikes on targets within Gaza. Palestinian armed groups have continued to intermittently fire rockets towards Israel, including between 4-6 May when Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups indiscriminately fired more than 600 rockets into Israel. Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza. Four Israelis and 24 Palestinians were killed before Egypt brokered a ceasefire on 6 May.
Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture. On 19 March Palestinian protests against Hamas' 12-year rule over Gaza were met with violent repression and arrests.
On 9 April Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won re-election for a fifth term. During his election campaign Netanyahu vowed to begin annexing significant portions of the West Bank.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The last war broke out 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, 1.7 million people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (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.
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 (OCHA), over 460 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities during 2018 and an additional 172 have been demolished so far this year.
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 IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. No Israeli or Hamas officials have been held accountable for unlawful attacks committed during the 2014 war, perpetuating a climate of impunity.
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 the 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 also 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.
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 CoI on the Gaza conflict reported on violations of IHL and violations and abuses of IHRL that may amount to war crimes. On 18 May 2018 the HRC established a new CoI mandated 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. On 6 December the General Assembly failed to adopt a resolution condemning attacks by Hamas on Israel, falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority.
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. The government of Israel should swiftly and impartially investigate the violations of international law reported by the CoI and hold all perpetrators accountable. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Arab hate speech and cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the ICC.
States with strong political and economic ties to 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 May 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.