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.
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 2018 and 11 February 2019 at least 189 Palestinians were killed – including 35 children – and over 25,252 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 were also injured during the demonstrations. On 28 February the 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 civilian 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. Although hostilities have since deescalated, Palestinian armed groups have continued to intermittently fire rockets towards Israel, including 18 between 22 January and 20 February. 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 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, 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 and a further 67 have been demolished so far this year. 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 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 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.

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 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.

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. 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 incitement to violence 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 March 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.