Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Violence on the Gaza border 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 (OPT).
BACKGROUND:
Impunity for past 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. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. The last conflict escalated on 7 July 2014 when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched an offensive to halt indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. The 50-day conflict led to the death of over 1,500 civilians and the displacement of approximately 500,000 Palestinians.

Following an announcement by President Donald Trump on 6 December 2017 that the United States would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Hamas called for the launch of a third "Intifada," or uprising, against Israel. Between 30 March and 14 May at least 97 Palestinians were killed and over 12,270 wounded by the IDF in a series of mass demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel leading up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel and the Palestinian "Nakba" (Catastrophe), on 14 and 15 May, respectively. Fifty-seven Palestinians were shot dead and 1,700 wounded on 14 May alone.

Since 2014 the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza has been exacerbated by an ongoing air, sea and land blockade by Israel. Illegal Israeli settlements, prohibited under international law, also continue to expand in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Hamas security forces in Gaza have also committed grave human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture of Palestinian civilians. Hamas has indiscriminately fired rockets into Israel and has praised terrorist attacks in which Israeli civilians have been targeted and killed.

Negotiations between Israel and Palestinian representatives regarding a lasting peace agreement have been suspended since April 2014. On 12 October 2017 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal which would see administrative control of the Gaza Strip handed to a Fatah-backed Palestinian unity government, but negotiations between the two Palestinian factions have since stalled.

ANALYSIS:
In the absence of a meaningful peace process, conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups is likely to result in recurring armed hostilities. Previous attacks on civilians in Gaza and Israel violate International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and may constitute war crimes. No Israeli or Hamas officials have been held accountable for unlawful attacks committed during the 2014 war that resulted in civilian deaths.

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. 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. Illegal Israeli settlements have contributed to the volatile situation in the West Bank. Increased anti-Semitic and anti-Arab rhetoric is also exacerbating tensions between communities across Israel and the OPT.

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 on 7 January 2015, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine.

On 24 June 2015 the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza conflict reported on violations of IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) that may amount to war crimes. The HRC adopted a resolution on 3 July 2015 emphasizing the need to ensure that perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable.

On 23 December 2016 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT constitute a flagrant violation of international law. This was the first UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009.

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 immediately end the use of disproportionate and deadly force against 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.

It is essential for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to end the culture of impunity and ensure that all those responsible for violations of IHL and IHRL are held accountable. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Arab hate speech and incitement to violence, and cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the ICC.

States with strong political and economic ties with Israel, the Palestinian Authority or Hamas should push for a lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, strict adherence to IHL, and the protection of human rights for all civilians in Israel and the OPT regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Last Updated: 15 May 2018

The most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. The situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was featured in the R2P Monitor in May and July 2016 and in May 2018.