Populations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory endure recurring war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid.
On 7 October Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched a deadly assault into Israel. Militants attacked civilian areas and perpetrated flagrant violations of international law, including capturing and forcibly taking hundreds of civilians as hostages. At least 1,200 Israelis were killed and over 5,400 injured, including many children. Hamas and other armed groups also continuously fired indiscriminate rockets toward Israel.
Following the attacks, Israel launched relentless bombardments across the Gaza Strip, targeting and destroying civilian objects. Since 7 October at least 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 6,150 children, according to the Government Media Office in Gaza. The collapse of services and communications at hospitals in the north have prevented updated casualty figures. Israeli air raids have targeted civilian objects protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including residential buildings, hospitals, mosques, water and sanitation facilities, telecommunications towers, bakeries, schools and refugee and displacement camps. Approximately 50 percent of all housing units in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged. Several hospitals have been raided by the Israeli military and reportedly forcefully evacuated. On 28 October Israeli forces began major ground operations in the Gaza Strip, encircling and attacking Gaza City with tanks and armored vehicles.
On 9 October Israel imposed a complete siege of Gaza, resulting in acute shortages of water, food and medicines that threatened the survival of 2.3 million Palestinians and created a dire humanitarian crisis. On 11 October Israel cut off the electricity supply to Gaza, resulting in an ongoing blackout contributing to the collapse of hospitals and water and sanitation services. Israel has issued multiple evacuation orders for northern Gaza, including to hospitals providing care, and Israeli forces have effectively severed areas north of Wadi Gaza from the south since the start of their ground invasion. Over 1.1 million people lived in northern Gaza before the start of hostilities, and at least 1.8 million are currently internally displaced. Palestinians remain trapped in Gaza as Israeli authorities closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings while transit through the Rafah Crossing from Egypt remains heavily restricted.
Palestinian territory – encompassing the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem – has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Various UN officials and investigative mechanisms have reaffirmed that Israel’s permanent occupation of Palestinian territory has no legal validity and has resulted in de facto annexation, which may amount to a war crime. The occupation has been characterized by the perpetual expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory with the aim of altering its ethnic demographics. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 948 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities in 2023 so far, forcibly displacing over 1,676 Palestinians. The Israeli government has established a two-tiered legal and political system that provides comprehensive rights for Jewish Israeli settlers while imposing military rule and control on Palestinians without any basic protections or rights under international law. In March 2022 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) reported that this system satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the crime of apartheid, a crime against humanity.
There have been successive cycles of deadly hostilities between Israel and Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups over the past two decades, during which both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups have perpetrated serious violations and abuses of international law that likely amount to war crimes. There has been no effective accountability for these crimes.
The Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on the OPT concluded in June 2022 that continued occupation and discrimination against Palestinians are key causes of recurrent instability and protraction of conflict in the region. The Israeli government has also engaged in a regular practice of inhumane acts, as well as extrajudicial killings, torture, denial of fundamental human rights, arbitrary detention and collective punishment.
Palestinians are regularly subjected to violence by Israeli settlers, including physical attacks, shooting with live ammunition, torching of fields and livestock, theft and vandalization of property. Israeli security forces also perpetrate widespread attacks against Palestinians, particularly in occupied territory. According to OCHA, escalating tensions have resulted in 2023 being the deadliest year in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the UN began documenting casualties in 2005, with over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis killed between January and September. Since 7 October Israeli forces have employed violent military tactics during search-and-arrest operations, raids and in response to demonstrations. Israeli forces have killed over 225 Palestinians, injured over 3,101 others and arrested thousands. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has received credible reports of ill-treatment in detention, possibly amounting to torture. Settler violence has also escalated, with Palestinians facing an average of six attacks per day. Israeli settlers have killed eight Palestinians and injured 74, while over 1,000 have been displaced. Three Israelis have also been killed in attacks by armed Palestinians.
The following section reflects the most up to date assessment of the situation as of 30 November 2023.
A temporary humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas began on 24 November and has since been extended until 1 December. The pause facilitated the release of dozens of Israeli and foreign hostages that had been held captive in Gaza since 7 October, as well as the release of dozens of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. The pause in fighting also allowed humanitarian actors to accelerate the delivery of live-saving aid across the Gaza Strip, while hospitals, water and sanitation facilities and displacement shelters received much-needed fuel to enable their vital operations.
A group of UN Special Procedures have issued multiple warnings regarding a risk of genocide against the Palestinian people in light of dehumanizing statements made by Israeli officials and the accompanying bombardments and imposition of a total siege, while the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT warned on 14 October that Palestinians in Gaza are in grave danger of ethnic cleansing.
Since 16 October four draft resolutions failed to pass in the UN Security Council (UNSC) either due to insufficient votes or vetoes cast by Permanent Members, including the United States and Russia. On 15 November the UNSC passed a resolution with 12 votes in favor, calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses. During an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly on 27 October, 121 member states voted in favor of a resolution that called for an immediate “humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.”
During their attack on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups perpetrated likely war crimes, as well as potential crimes against humanity. Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks are also in violation of international law. Israel’s disproportionate attacks on civilians and civilian objects likely amount to war crimes, while the mass displacement of Palestinians in Gaza likely amounts to the war crime and crime against humanity of forcible transfer. Ground operations pose increased risks to civilians. Recent proposals to create unilateral “safe zones” in Gaza would produce immense risks to civilians, including large-scale loss of life and increased chances of targeted attacks.
The imposition of sieges that deprive civilians of goods essential to their survival as a punitive measure may amount to collective punishment, a violation of IHL. While Israel has imposed an air, sea and land blockade of Gaza since 2007, the latest siege likely amounts to intentional starvation of civilians as a method of warfare – a war crime – and may amount to a crime against humanity. Recent steps taken to address the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza remain exceedingly insufficient to address the scale of human suffering.
Since its formation in 1987, Hamas has consistently refused to recognize the State of Israel and has at times proliferated inflammatory and hateful rhetoric against Israelis and Jews. Hamas’ security forces have committed grave abuses against Palestinians in Gaza, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture. Any use of human shields by Hamas in the context of the current hostilities may amount to a war crime.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory, also known as “settler implantation.” Settlement expansion effectively guarantees that the occupied territory will remain under Israeli control in perpetuity leading to de facto annexation. Seizures and demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin land and property leave communities at risk of forced evictions, arbitrary displacement and forcible transfer. Israel’s permanent occupation endangers the cultural existence of the Palestinian people and violates their right to self-determination.
All likely war crimes and crimes against humanity must halt immediately. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups must safely and unconditionally release all individuals taken hostage. Israel should immediately lift the siege of Gaza to allow the flow of critical supplies and ensure safe and unimpeded access for the delivery of humanitarian aid. A permanent ceasefire must be urgently reached and monitored by an independent, international body. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic, anti-Arab and Islamophobic hate speech and leaders must refrain from spreading and engaging in dehumanizing rhetoric and actions.
The international community should impose accountability measures for all previous and ongoing violations of international law in Israel and the OPT to end the cycle of impunity. The International Criminal Court (ICC) should accelerate its investigation into likely war crimes and crimes against humanity under its jurisdiction both before and during the latest hostilities. Israel should ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC and cooperate with all UN-mandated investigative mechanisms.
Root causes of cycles of violence and atrocities must also be addressed. Israel must lift its blockade on Gaza and cease illegal settlement-related activity and apartheid policies. It should also end the occupation of Palestinian territory and collective punishment of Palestinians. All parties should work toward a sustainable political solution consistent with international law and various UNSC resolutions.