Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

15 October 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 between Israel and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza.

Since 30 March 2018 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 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. At least 40 Israeli soldiers have also been injured.

Since 2014 the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. According to the UN, 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. Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.

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. 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 an already dire flow of electricity to Gaza and resulting in widespread blackouts and interruption of public services.

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 an additional 474 have been demolished so far this year. Half of all demolitions in 2019 have occurred in East Jerusalem.

ANALYSIS:

In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. Increased anti-Semitic and anti-Arab rhetoric has also heightened tensions between communities across Israel and the OPT.

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.

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 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 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.

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 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
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