Widespread human rights violations and abuses, and recurring armed conflict between Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, poses an ongoing threat to civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Decades of recurring armed conflict between Israel and the Hamas de facto administration and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza have been characterized by unlawful attacks on civilians, putting populations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) at risk. Civilians in the OPT have endured numerous threats to their rights and livelihoods as a result of activities by the Israeli government, including the expansion of Israeli settlements and the blockade of Gaza. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.
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, punitively demolishing Palestinian structures and forcing mass displacement. The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the ongoing air, sea and land blockade against Gaza, which has been in place for 13 years and inflicted a humanitarian crisis on 2 million Palestinians.
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 815 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities in 2020. On 5 November over 70 Palestinians were forcibly displaced as Israeli forces conducted the largest demolition in 10 years, destroying the village of Humsa Al Bqai’a. Plans to formally annex parts of the West Bank, originally announced in April, have been temporarily postponed.
Impunity for violations of international law and the failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement has enabled the ongoing risks to 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.
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 in 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 war that led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of 500,000 Palestinians, nor for the excessive and disproportionate use of force in response to protests on the Gaza border from 2018-2019, which killed 200 Palestinians.
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 constitute a violation of international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009.
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.
When Israel announced plans for annexation of the West Bank, the UN Secretary-General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and numerous heads of state have all voiced their opposition.
Israel must lift the blockade on Gaza, cease illegal settlement-related activity as well as the collective punishment of the Palestinians, and halt annexation plans. 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 preliminary examination 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.
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Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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