Widespread human rights violations and abuses, as well as recurring armed conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, poses an ongoing threat to civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem have been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. Since then, civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have endured widespread and systematic threats to their human rights and livelihoods as a consequence of activities by the Israeli government, including the expansion of settlements and the blockade of Gaza. Recurring armed conflict between Israel and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has also resulted in unlawful attacks on civilians by both the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian armed groups.
On 12 January 2021 Israel’s largest human rights organization, B’Tselem, described the government of Israel as an “apartheid regime” that was implementing laws, practices and policies to entrench the supremacy of its Jewish populations over Palestinians. The Israeli government rejected the characterization.
Illegal Israeli settlements continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. According to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 230 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities since January. A total of 849 structures were demolished or seized in 2020. On 5 November over 70 Palestinians were forcibly displaced as Israeli forces conducted the largest demolition in ten years, destroying the village of Humsa Al Bqai’a. Israeli government plans to formally annex parts of the West Bank, originally announced in April 2020, have been postponed.
During July 2020 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT, Michael Lynk, highlighted that the Israeli government inflicts collective punishment on the Palestinian population by obstructing critical civilian supplies, demolishing Palestinian structures and causing mass displacement. Israel’s ongoing air, sea and land blockade of Gaza has been in place for 13 years and has inflicted a humanitarian crisis and collective punishment on 2 million Palestinians. Hamas security forces have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.
Impunity for violations of international law and the failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement poses an ongoing threat to the safety and security of populations in Israel and the OPT. The systematic nature of human rights violations in the OPT may amount to crimes against humanity, while the collective punishment of Palestinians as a coercive measure of population control, may amount to war crimes under international law.
Annexation of occupied territory violates the Geneva Conventions and the Charter of the UN, and also amounts to a crime of aggression under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. Formal annexation of the Occupied West Bank would violate various UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and unravel previous security arrangements, recklessly endangering the lives of civilians in both Israel and the OPT.
Previous attacks on civilian populations in both Gaza and Israel violate international humanitarian and human rights law and may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. There has been no accountability for attacks committed during the 2014 Gaza war between Hamas and Israel, nor for the disproportionate and deadly use of force in response to protests along the Gaza border from 2018-2019. Intermittent attacks, including rocket attacks and airstrikes, continue to threaten civilians in both Israel and Gaza.
Despite ongoing political conflict over sovereignty and the OPT’s future, Israel, the Hamas de-facto administration and the Palestinian Authority are all obligated to uphold their responsibility to protect.
On 23 December 2016 the UNSC adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT violate international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009.
When Israel announced plans for annexation of the West Bank in April 2020, the UN Secretary-General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and numerous heads of state all voiced their opposition.
During May 2018 the Palestinian Authority referred the situation in Gaza to the ICC. On 20 December 2019 the Chief Prosecutor concluded that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine. On 5 February 2021 the Pre-Trial Chamber confirmed that ICC jurisdiction rightfully extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and on 4 March the Office of the Prosecutor officially opened investigations.
Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cancel annexation plans and cease illegal settlement-related activity as well as the collective punishment of Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority must help end indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians and 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 cooperate fully with the investigation of the ICC.
All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must work towards a sustainable political solution consistent with international law and various UNSC resolutions. States with strong political and economic ties to Israel, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas should push for a lasting political solution to the conflict, accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT, regardless of ethnicity or religion.