Unlawful Killings & War Crimes
Israeli troops killed well over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the last three Gaza conflicts (2008-09, 2012, 2014) alone. Many of these attacks amount to violations of international humanitarian law due to a failure to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians. Some amount to war crimes, including the targeting of apparent civilian structures.
In the West Bank, Israeli security forces have routinely used excessive force in policing situations, killing or grievously wounding thousands of demonstrators, rock-throwers, suspected assailants, and others with live ammunition when lesser means could have averted a threat or maintained order.
Armed Palestinian groups also committed war crimes during these conflicts and at other times, including rocket attacks targeting Israeli population centers. Between the start of the first Intifada in December 1987 and the end of February 2017, attacks by Palestinians killed at least 1,079 Israeli civilians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
Israeli official investigations into alleged security force abuses during the Gaza conflicts and in policing situations failed to hold the abusers accountable, with rare exceptions. Palestinian authorities have also failed to investigate violations and hold those responsible to account.
Israeli authorities have since 1967 facilitated the transfer of its civilians to the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In 1967, Israel established two settlements in the West Bank: Kfar Etzion and East Talpiot; by 2017, Israel had established 237 settlements there, housing approximately 580,000 settlers. Israel applies Israeli civil law to settlers, affording them legal protections, rights, and benefits that are not extended to Palestinians living in the same territory who are subjected to Israeli military law. Israel provides settlers with infrastructure, services, and subsidies that it denies to Palestinians, creating and sustaining a separate and unequal system of law, rules, and services.
Israeli authorities have expropriated thousands of acres of Palestinian land for settlements and their supporting infrastructure. Discriminatory burdens, including making it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in East Jerusalem and in the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C), have effectively forced Palestinians to leave their homes or to build at the risk of seeing their “unauthorized” structures bulldozed. For decades, Israeli authorities have demolished homes on the grounds that they lacked permits, even though the law of occupation prohibits destruction of property except for military necessity, or punitively as collective punishment against families of Palestinians suspected of attacking Israelis.
For the last 25 years, Israel has tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip in ways that far exceed any conceivable requirement of Israeli security. These restrictions affect nearly every aspect of everyday life, separating families, restricting access to medical care and educational and economic opportunities, and perpetuating unemployment and poverty. As of last year, Gaza’s GDP was 23 percent lower than in 1994. Seventy percent of Gaza’s 1.9 million people rely on humanitarian assistance.
Israeli authorities have incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians since 1967, the majority after trials in military courts, which have a near-100 percent conviction rate. In addition, on average, hundreds every year have been placed in administrative detention based on secret evidence without charge or trial. Some were detained or imprisoned for engaging in nonviolent activism. Israel also jails West Bank and Gaza Palestinian detainees inside Israel, creating onerous restrictions on family visits and violating international law requiring that they be held within the occupied territory. Many detainees, including children, face harsh conditions and mistreatment.
However, in a prolonged occupation in which occupiers have the opportunity to develop more narrowly tailored responses to security threats, exemptions to rights protections should be reduced and the balance shifted toward respecting, protecting, and fulfilling all fundamental rights of the population. In addition, the occupier’s obligation to restore normal civilian life for the local population increases with the passage of time, as do its obligations to progressively realize the social, economic, and cultural rights of residents of the occupied territory.