Report accuses Israeli government of crimes against humanity

Two Palestinian women and a girl walk down a city street in the city of Hebron. Two Palestinian women and a girl walk down a city street in the city of Hebron. © Photo by Joel Carillet on iStock.

This article is a presentation of a report published by Human Rights Watch examining Israel’s treatment of Palestinians living in occupied territory

Against the backdrop of rising tensions and fighting in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, a report by the leading human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Israeli authorities of crimes against humanity in its occupation of Palestinian land and people. The situation in Palestine has long been described as tantamount to apartheid and persecution, with several past Israeli leaders warning of the risk posed since Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. Drawing on years of research and documentation, a detailed study of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians has confirmed the systematic discrimination being carried out against Palestinian people living in Israel and across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).

Palestinian land is currently split into three separate and non-contiguous areas, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, with travel between them entirely controlled by the Israeli authorities. In the decades that followed the 1967 occupation, the OPT was gradually further divided up and restrictions to movement, residency and land ownership became progressively stricter. The West Bank was further divided into 165 small, non-contiguous ‘islands’ of land scattered across the territory following the Oslo Accords of 1993, with the Israeli authorities installing checkpoints along the borders and de facto retaining control over the entirety of the West Bank. The Gaza Strip was later also blockaded in and further divided into three more areas and is now desperately dependent on international aid after Gaza’s economic collapse in 2018. Palestinian movement within the occupied territories was being restricted, with roadblocks, checkpoints and even physical landmarks, disrupting the daily lives of all residents. To this day, there are severe restrictions on travel in and out of Gaza, and on the import and export of goods; Israel also prohibits the construction of a seaport and the rebuilding of Gaza’s airport, which was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2001. 80% of the population rely on humanitarian aid, and 60% suffer food insecurity. 95% of water pumped locally is contaminated and undrinkable, and residents only have access to electricity for a few hours a day, impacting public services such as water, sewage facilities, and medical services, which struggle to meet the needs of the Palestinian people.

The Israeli government, as the primary sovereign ruling over the citizens of this region, retains control over borders, airspace, movement of goods and people in the occupied territories, and has severely eroded the human rights of Palestinian residents through openly discriminatory policies and practices. On the basis of its research, Human Rights Watch concluded that the Israeli government’s policies were implemented to carry out its intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT. In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, those practices also engendered the systematic oppression of Palestinians and the inhumane acts committed against them. These elements together amount to the crime of apartheid.

The Israeli government is also accused of the crime of persecution. This allegation is based on the discriminatory intent behind Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the grave abuses carried out in the OPT. These policies include the widespread repossession of privately owned land (as we have seen recently in Sheikh Jarrah), the prohibition on building or living in many areas, the denial of residency rights, and the decades-long restrictions on freedom of movement and basic civil liberties. The HRW determined that such policies and practices intentionally and severely deprive millions of Palestinian citizens of key fundamental rights, including rights to residency, private property, and access to land, services, and resources, based solely on their identity as Palestinians.

Tensions and fighting in the Gaza Strip have dramatically escalated in recent weeks, and the international community has been once again trying to broker a peace deal to no avail. Israel has never been held accountable for its actions during its decades-long occupation of Palestinian land and people, especially due to the United States’ unconditional military aid and veto powers at the UN Security Council. The HRW’s allegations should urge the international community to reconsider its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hold the Israeli government accountable for the protection of Palestinian rights. 


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Author: Giulia Ferrara; Editor: Xavier Atkins

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