Populations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory endure recurring war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid.
Palestinian territory – encompassing the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem – has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967. An institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression has been established through a two-tiered legal and political system, providing comprehensive rights for Jewish Israeli settlers while imposing military rule and control on Palestinians without any basic protections or rights under international law. 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.
According to a March 2022 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Israel’s political system of entrenched rule in the OPT satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of the crime of apartheid. The Special Rapporteur previously determined in July 2021 that Israel’s 55-year occupation has been characterized by settlement expansion that aims to permanently alter the ethnic demographics of East Jerusalem and amounts to a war crime. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and Israel reached similar conclusions in September 2022, reporting that the Israeli government’s policies and actions have led to the permanent occupation and de facto annexation of Palestinian territory, likely constituting crimes under international law, including war crimes. Both the CoI and Special Rapporteur have reported that this ongoing coercive environment has prevented Palestinians from fulfilling their right to self-determination and other fundamental human rights.
The CoI concluded in June 2022 that continued occupation, as well as discrimination against Palestinians, are the key causes of recurrent instability and protraction of conflict in the region. There are close to 300 illegal settlements in Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank with approximately 700,000 Israeli settlers. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 697 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities in 2022 so far, forcibly displacing over 836 Palestinians.
Palestinians are regularly subjected to deadly violence by Israeli settlers. In 2021 violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians reached the highest level ever recorded, with over 490 attacks that included physical violence, shooting with live ammunition, torching of fields and livestock, theft and vandalization of property.
Israeli security forces have also perpetrated widespread abuses and deadly attacks against Palestinians. According to OCHA, 2022 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians residing in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 2006. Over 118 Palestinians, including 26 children, have been killed by Israeli security forces in the Occupied West Bank in 2022. These often follow settler attacks or incursions into Palestinian villages and include search-and-arrest operations and violent confrontations with Palestinians. Over 170 Palestinians were injured and at least 300 detained during large-scale raids by Israeli police from 15-22 April 2022 at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem. Israeli police used disproportionate force, tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to forcefully remove Palestinians. In early August 2022 the Israeli government launched indiscriminate airstrikes in Gaza, killing and injuring nearly 400 Palestinians, including dozens of children.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ongoing air, sea and land blockade of Gaza has been in place for over 15 years and has inflicted collective punishment on 2 million Palestinians, facilitating a humanitarian crisis. Israeli authorities periodically shut down the crossings into Gaza, preventing the flow of people, medical cases and essential commodities, including food. Closures in early August resulted in severe shortages of fuel, forcing the Gaza Power Plant to shut down. Hamas’ security forces have also committed grave abuses against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including arbitrary arrests, summary executions and torture.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also continues to document assaults, intimidation, gender-based violence, harassment, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and censorship of Palestinian journalists and human rights defenders by Israeli security forces throughout Occupied Palestine. These incidents have resulted in the injury or killing of several Palestinian journalists.
The systematic nature of human rights violations and inhumane acts in the OPT likely amounts to crimes against humanity while the collective punishment of Palestinians as a coercive measure of population control may amount to a war crime. Under the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), apartheid is a crime against humanity.
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.” Seizures and demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin land and property leave communities at heightened risk of forced evictions, arbitrary displacement and forcible transfer. Israel’s permanent and illegal occupation endangers the cultural existence of the Palestinian people and violates their right to self-determination.
Israel’s use of force against Palestinians during the April 2022 raids appears to have been widespread and indiscriminate. Impunity for cycles of violence has entrenched a system of structural oppression against Palestinians in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. There has been no effective accountability for past crimes by Israeli forces, Hamas or Palestinian armed groups, including potential war crimes.
Israel, the Hamas de facto administration and the Palestinian Authority are obligated to uphold their responsibility to protect.
On 23 December 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements in the OPT violate international law. This was the first and only UNSC resolution adopted on Israel and the OPT since 2009. Between 10-21 May 2021 the UNSC made three attempts to condemn the violence and call for a ceasefire, but the United States blocked each effort.
Following a May 2018 referral by the Palestinian Authority, on 5 February 2021 the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC confirmed that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. On 4 March 2021 the ICC opened its investigation.
On 27 May 2021 the HRC voted to establish a CoI with an unprecedented open-ended mandate to investigate violations of international law in the OPT and Israel and identify the root causes of recurring conflict.
Israel must lift the 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. Israeli authorities must cooperate with all UN-mandated investigative mechanisms. All parties should condemn anti-Semitic and anti-Arab hate speech and cooperate fully with the investigations of the ICC and CoI.
All parties must work toward 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 potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the protection of human rights for all civilians, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
The international community should impose accountability measures for violations of international law in Israel and the OPT. The UN General Assembly should request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of continued occupation and de-facto annexation of the OPT. The ICC should investigate all potential war crimes or crimes against humanity perpetrated in the OPT, including the crime of apartheid.