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, resulting in the commission of war crimes.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008, resulting in the death of over 2,800 civilians. The most recent conflict escalated on 7 July 2014 when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge, with the objective of halting sustained 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. IDF bombardment caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities. Eleven UN Relief and Works Agency staff were also killed.
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, continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), throughout 2016 1,593 Palestinians were displaced by the Israeli authorities' seizure or demolition of 1,089 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank. This is the highest number of Palestinians in the West Bank since OCHA began recording the information in 2009.
Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions, child recruitment and torture of Palestinian civilians. Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing of a bus in West Jerusalem on 18 April 2016, which wounded at least 20 Israelis, including 2 children. Renewed armed clashes were reported along the Gaza border on 5 and 26 May. Following an attack by Palestinian gunmen on 8 June 2016, which left 4 Israeli civilians dead, Israel revoked entry permits for 83,000 Palestinians. OHCHR condemned the attack and also noted that the revoking of permits "may amount to prohibited collective punishment."
Negotiations between Israel and Palestinian representatives regarding a lasting peace agreement have been suspended since April 2014.
Following Palestine's accession to the Rome Statute on 7 January 2015, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine. On 26 June 2015 the Palestinian Authority submitted evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes relating to the 2014 Gaza conflict, Israeli settlements and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners.
ANALYSIS:In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities that leave civilians at risk of mass atrocities.
Previous attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Israel violate IHL and may constitute war crimes. Neither side has held officials accountable for unlawful attacks during the 2014 war that resulted in civilian deaths.
The systematic nature of human rights violations in the OPT may amount to possible crimes against humanity. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. 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. Illegal Israeli settlements have contributed to the volatile political situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where cycles of reprisal violence continue.
Increased anti-Semitic and anti-Arab rhetoric is aggravating 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: On 24 July 2014 the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect expressed concern over escalating armed conflict in Gaza, warning that both parties were in violation of IHL and IHRL, and these acts "could constitute atrocity crimes."
On 24 June 2015 the Independent International Commission of Inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the conflict in the Palestinian territories reported on violations of IHL and IHRL that may amount to war crimes. The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 3 July 2015 condemning all human rights abuses and violations of IHL in the OPT and emphasizing the need to ensure that perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable.
On 6 May 2016 the UNSC held an Arria Formula meeting on the protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT.
On 23 December, the UNSC adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted since 2009, and the first UNSC resolution on the legal validity of Israeli settlements since 1979.
NECESSARY ACTION: All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must adhere to IHL and IHRL and work towards a sustainable political solution. Israel should lift the blockade on Gaza and cease illegal settlement-related activity, while the Palestinian Authority must help end indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians and rigorously prosecute those who incite these attacks. 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 past 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 significant political influence and major trade relations with Israel, such as the United States and EU, 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. Major international donors to the Palestinian Authority, and those who support the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza, should similarly advocate for a complete end to indiscriminate attacks on civilians and anti-Semitic hate speech.
Last Updated: 10 March 2017