Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

14 March 2019
Risk Level: Serious Concern

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 since 2008 between Israel and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza.

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. The 50-day conflict led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of 500,000 Palestinians. Since the 2014 war, intermittent exchanges of rocket fire and airstrikes have continued.

For thirteen years the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. 1.7 million people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are food insecure, including 68 percent of households in Gaza. On 25 August 2019, in response to new rocket attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to cut all fuel transfers to Gaza in half, exacerbating the already dire flow of electricity to Gaza and resulting in widespread blackouts and interruption of public services. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.

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 623 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities during 2019 and an additional 67 have been demolished so far this year.

Between March 2018 and May 2019 at least 309 Palestinians have been killed – including 44 children – and over 32,000 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 2018 in the lead up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel and the Palestinian “Nakba” (Catastrophe) on 14 and 15 May, respectively. On 28 February 2019 the Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the Gaza protests reported that Israeli security forces used excessive and disproportionate force, 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, and called for Israel to immediately investigate every protest-related casualty in accordance with international standards.

On 24 January 2020 the United States (US) government released a “Middle East Peace Plan” proposing a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorsed by the Israeli government. The “plan” contains no right of return for Palestinian refugees, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank, including most of the Jordan Valley. Palestinian leadership and members of the international community condemned the plan as a violation of international law and of previous international agreements.

ANALYSIS

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. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. Illegal Israeli settlements are in flagrant violation of this provision and have contributed to the volatile situation in the West Bank characterized by persistent human rights violations. 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.

In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. The provisions included in the US “plan” are in violation of international law and UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.

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 20 December 2019 the Chief Prosecutor concluded that there is a reasonable basis to proceed an investigation into the situation in Palestine, but has sought clarification from the Pre-Trial Chamber on the territory over which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction. A decision has yet to be announced.

On 23 December 2016 the UNSC adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT constitute a violation of international law. This was the first and only 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.

On 12 February, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report on business enterprises involved in certain activities relating to settlements in the OPT. The report identifies 112 business entities involved in activities in the OPT that bring particular concerns for the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.

NECESSARY ACTION

All parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must work towards a sustainable political solution consistent with international law and previous international agreements, including UNSC resolutions.

Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cease illegal settlement-related activity, and end the use of disproportionate and deadly force against unarmed 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 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, accountability for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, strict adherence to IHL, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT regardless of ethnicity or religion.

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Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
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New York, NY 10016-4309, USA

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