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Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territory

In the course of the armed conflict that erupted in the Middle East in June 1967, the Israeli military occupied the remainder of Mandated Palestine: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control, and the Gaza Strip, which was under Egyptian administration. The lines of these areas were defined as such by the 1949 Armistice Agreements that were concluded between Israel and Jordan and Egypt respectively. The Israeli military also occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel, thus, became a belligerent occupant of those territories.

Following the war, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967, which emphasized the international law principle of "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and which affirmed that peace in the Middle East should be based on the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

This resolution, along with the principle of returning the land in exchange for peace (land for peace) which was embodied in it, became the basis for the Middle East peace process.

What is The Israeli Occupation?

Based on the fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and relevant UN resolutions, the entire international community considers the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, along with the other Arab territories occupied by Israel in 1967, to be "occupied territories" subject to the 4th Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War. The United Nations, in a multitude of resolutions, has affirmed the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem and has called for an end to the occupation. The UN has also repeatedly affirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the need for the realization of those rights.

At the start of the occupation, Israel, the occupying Power, immediately began imposing scores of repressive measures against the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These measures, entailing grave violations of human rights, have inflicted enormous suffering and harm on the Palestinian civilian population. At the same time, the occupying Power attempted to change the status of the occupied territory or parts of it and to change the demographic composition of the territory through the illegal transfer of Israeli civilians. The occupying Power attempted to justify many of these measures by citing its security considerations or military needs. In reality, however, the occupying Power has been driven by an expansionist vision or ideology and, in the course of implementing such a vision, has used its enormous military capabilities and a complex system of economic, legal and administrative policies and practices. Another fundamental aim of the occupying Power has been to prevent the realization of Palestinian national rights. The result of these measures has been a gradual change in the situation in the Palestinian territory from that under foreign occupation to that under active colonization.

Israel, the occupying Power, has continued with its policies and practices of occupation for almost 32 years. These policies and practices represent grave breeches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of all the principles and laws of human rights. Israel has also carried out these policies in total disregard for the position of the international community and in total violation of the Charter of the U.N. and of relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as resolutions of other U.N. organs.

The following is an outline of the policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

Violence Against and ill-Treatment of the Civilian Population

Numerous forms of physical violence and ill treatment have been routinely and systematically used against the civilian population. These include summary executions by special undercover units and indiscriminate shootings with live ammunition or rubber-coated bullets by the Israeli army and by the armed Jewish settlers, which has resulted in scores of injuries and death. There have been numerous cases whereby the shootings by soldiers and settlers have resulted in massacres of Palestinian civilians, such as the massacre at Al-Haram Al-Sharif on 8 October 1990 and the massacre of 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron on 25 February 1994 by a settler.

Another notable form of Israeli violence against the civilian population is the use of torture in prisons for both repressive and interrogative purposes. Israel is the only nation in the world that has codified and legalized the use of torture in interrogation.

The violence perpetrated against the Palestinian population also includes random and/or excessive beatings, physical harassment and the use of tear gas in confined places. Arbitrary arrests, humiliation, delays and even the obstruction and outright denial of access to medical treatment have been daily occurrences at the checkpoints.

Collective Punishment

Forms of collective punishment against all or parts of the population have included, inter alia, the imposition of curfews and sieges on entire villages or urban centers, often for prolonged periods of time, raids, home demolitions, blanket closures of schools and universities, and the destruction of property, including agricultural and private land and the uprooting of trees and crops.

Another form of collective punishment is the severe restriction on the freedom of movement of persons and goods within the Occupied Palestinian Territory, between the West Bank and Gaza and between the occupied territory and the outside world. Generally, all Palestinians are required to carry Israeli-issued identity cards and to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem and to travel abroad. For the past several years, East Jerusalem has been placed off limits to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, despite the city’s economic, social and religious importance to the Palestinian population.

Arbitrary Detention

Israel, the occupying Power, allows for the arbitrary detention of any Palestinian civilian for up to 6 months without trial and the detention orders can be extended indefinitely for additional 6-month periods. In practice, however, many have been detained for much longer periods, some up to or over 7 years. There is no minimum age for arrest or detention and thousands of Palestinians, including children, have been illegally detained. More than 600,000 Palestinian civilians have been arrested since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. As of November 1997, there were approximately 3000 Palestinians being held by Israel in detention and prison facilties. Moreover, the occupying Power has moved the detainees to detention camps or centers outside of the occupied territory and into Israel itself.

Deportation of Civilians

Israel, the occupying Power, has pursued a policy of deportation of Palestinian civilians from their homeland. It has attempted to justify these military orders by citing the British Mandatory Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 (These regulations, however, were revoked in May 1948 by the British government and cannot, in any case, justify deportation). The deportations are usually carried out through extra-judicial administrative orders taken by military commanders and not by any judicial authority and are not pursuant to any legal procedure.

The permanent expulsions totaled over 1,156 in just the first decade of the occupation, later reaching 2,500 persons. Deportees included professors, students, trade union leaders, journalists and even elected mayors. Typically, the deportees have been expelled over the border to either Jordan or Lebanon, against the will of those countries. In 1992, Israel carried out an unprecedented mass deportation, expelling 418 Palestinian civilians at one time to Southern Lebanon.

Illegal Acquisition of Land

After the occupation, Israel, the occupying Power, immediately proceeded to take control of as much of the Palestinian land as possible. In the process, Israel applied complex measures for illegal land acquisition, ranging from the control of all state and communal lands, the application of the British Mandatory Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 and of the absentee property procedures, the change of laws related to the expropriation of land, to the direct confiscation of privately owned land. The illegally acquired land could become either "closed areas," "security zones," "green areas," "nature reserves," or could be used for the building of settlements. More than 50% of the land of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is now under Israeli control and approximately 7% of the Occupied Territory, including more than 1/3 of East Jerusalem, has been used for settlement building.

Exploitation of Natural Resources

The Israeli occupation involves both the theft and exploitation of the natural resources of the territories, primarily land and water. Israel has taken the entire Palestinian share of the water resources of the Jordan River and has diverted the resources from three major West Bank water aquifers to meet demands in Israel and in the settlements. Of the 600 million cubic meters of water produced annually in the West Bank, Israel, the occupying Power, draws 490 million cubic meters while the Palestinians receive only 110 million cubic meters. More than 40 deep-bore wells were also drilled in the West Bank for consumption by Israel. Towards the end of the 1970s, the occupying Power transferred responsibility over water resources from the military government to the Israeli national water company (Mekkorot).

The result has been a severe water shortage for the Palestinian population and a decline in agricultural output because Palestinian farmers have been forced to abandon their farmlands in order to find alternative means of livelihood. The dramatic fall in the proportion of the GNP and employment accounted for by agriculture is also a result of the enormous amount of agricultural land lost to the occupation authorities through confiscation.

Substitution of the Occupying Power’s Laws for those Previously in Force

With the beginning of the occupation, Israel, the occupying Power, established a military government in the Occupied Palestinian Territory which exterts absolute control over the Palestinian population. The two area commanders of the West Bank and Gaza have exclusive formal authority over the area. The commander is the legislator, the head of the Executive, and is in charge of appointing all local officials and judges. The military commanders have introduced over 1100 military orders in the West Bank and over 835 in the Gaza Strip. These orders have changed, amended or repealed virtually every law in the Palestinian territory. The occupying Power effected structural changes in the court system and established military tribunals which were responsible for dealing with security related matters, the scope of which has gradually broadened. In November 1981, through a military order, a civilian administration was established for the military government.

At the same time, Israel, the occupying Power, has created a dual system of law in the Occupied Territory. Israel has extended some of its laws extraterritorially to the Occupied Territory, applying them only to Jewish settlers and it has established local and regional Jewish councils.

Transfer of Israeli Population

With the onset of the occupation, Israel, the Occupying Power, began to transfer parts of its own population to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. These Israelis were settled on illegally acquired Palestinian land in what came to be known as Israeli settlements. Such population transfers are explicitly forbidden under the 4th Geneva Convention specifically to prevent colonization and annexation.

In the initial stage of this process, Israel claimed that the settlements were being built for "security" based reasons. At a later stage, however, more ideological reasons were given to justify this illegal expansionist policy. To date, Israel has transferred more than 350,000 settlers into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including an estimated 180,000 who live in nine settlements in the illegally expanded boundaries of East Jerusalem. The Israeli government provides considerable financial incentives and other forms of assistance to the settlers to encourage them to move to the Occupied Territory. Most of the settlers are armed and, as evidenced by the many incidents of violence perpetrated by them, have been a real and serious threat to the safety of Palestinian civilians.

The transfer of population, coupled with the illegal acquisition of land, the abuse of natural resources and the establishment of a dual system of law, has created a clear situation of colonization in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Destruction of the Economic Structure

Israel, the occupying Power, has undertaken a variety of broad measures, effectively causing the destruction of the Palestinian economy. These measures include the following: strict financial regulations on all activities related to industry; closure or takeover of banks; imposition of taxes, levies & fines (in many cases tax assessments run higher than the annual revenues of a business); withdrawal of operating licenses and closure of farms and businesses; destruction of crops, industrial equipment and other property; stringent measures against agriculture and fishing, including the bulldozing of farmland, the uprooting of trees, and bans on fishing off the Gaza coast; restrictions on the movement of labor; tight controls on export and trade of Palestinian goods; regular and systematic closures of the Occupied Territory to both Israel and the outside world.

The West Bank and Gaza have been effectively transformed into "captive markets" for Israel, whereby Israeli products enter unencumbered by tariffs and customs and free from local or international competition. Local businesses are compelled to buy everything from Israel. The occupation also transformed Palestinian civilians into a pool of cheap labor for Israel and within a few years, a large segment of the Palestinian population became dependent on Israel for employment, mainly in menial labor and construction.

At the same time, the occupying Power, while placing heavy taxes upon the population, did not improve or maintain the infrastructure of the territories in return. The infrastructure was left to deteriorate and minimal municipal, social and health services were provided.

Destruction of the Social Structure

The occupation thoroughly destroyed much of the Palestinian social structure and stifled any potential social development. In addition to the direct physical and psychological trauma inflicted on a large segment of the population, other harsh measures were also imposed. Communication with the outside world was severely restricted and the health situation deteriorated as a result of the constraints placed on the medical and public health sectors. The education system was brought under enormous pressure, including the closure of schools and universities for prolonged periods. The return of Palestinian displaced persons (those who fled during the 1967 war) has also been prevented by the occupying Power, as have most cases of family reunification.

All forms of civil liberties were forbidden and violations were severely punished under the occupation. Freedom of expression and assembly were banned and all media and press were censored. Forms of political expression, such as the printing of any document containing any political substance, were forbidden.

Additional Measures in Jerusalem

Immediately following its occupation of the city, Israel, the occupying Power, took numerous measures to consolidate its control over East Jerusalem and judaize it. The Israeli government expanded the municipal borders of Jerusalem and extended its laws, jurisdiction and administration to East Jerusalem. On 30 July 1980, the Israeli Knesset adopted a law illegally annexing the city. Palestinian Jerusalemites were thus placed in a precarious legal situation, whereby they were issued different Israeli identity cards from other Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Although they did not become citizens, they became subject to Israeli law.

Israel, the occupying Power, has taken various measures to force Palestinians to leave Jerusalem, including land confiscation, restrictions on building, and the refusal to grant family reunifications. Most notable in the past several years has been Israel’s campaign of evicting Palestinian Jerusalemites from the city. The policy, described as "quiet deportation," involves, inter alia, the widespread confiscation of Palestinian identity cards and has escalated to the point that it is contributing to an additional change in the city’s demographic composition. Since 1967, more than 5,000 Palestinians have been stripped of their Jerusalem residency and forced to leave their homes. Of these, approximately 1,400 have been revoked since 1995, over 788 in 1998 alone.

Gradually, through the imposition of a permanent closure and numerous restrictions on entry, Jerusalem has become almost impossible to reach by the rest of the Palestinian population. The city has become off-limits in the last several years, a situation, which has created enormous social, economic, health and educational problems for the entire Palestinian population.

Given Jerusalem’s religious status, the closures have affected the freedom of religion of the civilian population as well. The closure of Jerusalem has prevented Christian and Muslim residents of the West Bank and Gaza from praying at their respective holy places, even during major holidays. Jerusalem’s holy places, moreover, have been constant targets by Israelis for desecration, destruction and transformation. The foundations of many Islamic holy sites have been threatened by Israeli archaeological excavations and the Temple Mount has been the site of numerous violent incidents that resulted in the loss of lives of many Muslim worshippers. The Al-Aqsa Mosque itself has been a target of attacks, such as the 21 August 1969 arson attack that caused extensive damage and destruction. In Al-Khalil, part of Al-Ibrahimi Mosque was transformed into an area for Jewish prayer and Palestinian worshippers have been restricted from praying at the site. 

The above-mentioned systematic Israeli policies and measures have been continuously applied by the occupying Power against the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Territory, including Jerusalem, since 1967. The priorities given by Israel, the occupying Power, to those policies and practices and the efforts it took to carry them out have varied according to the different situations on the ground as well as to the overall political environment. For instance, illegal acquisition of land and or the transfer of Israeli population have not taken place with the same intensity throughout the whole period of the occupation.

Violence against civilians, collective punishments and deportation of civilians, while always common, dramatically intensified during the 7-year period of the Intifada, which started in December 1987. This intensification of highly repressive measures, labeled Israel’s "Iron Fist Policy," was aimed at crushing the uprising as quickly as possible and breaking the will of the people. The figures for this period include the following: over 1100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, of which approximately 276 were children under the age of seventeen; over 80,000 Palestinians were seriously injured in the first two years alone; 23,000-29,000 children were seriously injured; 10,000 children under the age of 18 were imprisoned for prolonged periods of time; over 18,000 administrative detention orders were issued against Palestinian civilians; more than 75,000 civilians were detained; over 14,000 were placed under administrative detention (at one point, there were approximately 13, 000 Palestinians held in custody at one time); more than 2000 homes were demolished.

With the conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, and the partial redeployment of Israeli forces from some areas of the Occupied Territory, some of the above-mentioned direct repressive measures have been reduced, possibly due to the decrease in contact and friction between parts of the civilian population and the occupying army. However, Israel’s policies and measures related to settlement building, destruction of the economic and social structure, and Jerusalem have all increased substantially. The severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, often in the form of general closures, has become an issue of increasing concern during the past several years. All of these measure are also direct violations of the existing Palestinian-Israeli agreements concluded within the Middle East peace process.

Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations

The Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War of 12 August 1949 and the Regulations Annexed to the 4th Hague Convention of 1907 apply to all cases of armed conflict and/or occupation. An international consensus exists among states, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), that the Convention is fully applicable to all the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The U.N. Security Council confirmed the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, in 24 resolutions. Many of those resolutions call upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the provisions of the Convention and to accept its de jure applicability. The General Assembly, along with other bodies of the U.N., has adopted scores of resolutions affirming the same position.

Many Security Council and other UN resolutions have dealt with specific Israeli grave breaches of the Convention and other acts contrary to its provisions, such as settlements, measures related to Jerusalem, deportations, indiscriminate shooting of civilians and collective punishment. The resolutions all condemn such illegal Israeli actions call for their cessation and for full Israeli compliance with the provisions of the Convention and the terms of those resolutions. In several of these resolutions, the Security Council called for measures to provide for the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population and requested the Secretary-General to fulfill certain tasks in this regard.

Israel, in turn, is a signatory to the 4th Geneva Convention and, as such, must respect the Convention under all circumstances. However, Israel is not complying with the provisions of the Convention; it argues that the 4th Geneva Convention is not applicable to the Occupied Territory and it claims compliance with the humanitarian provisions of the Convention! Such a position is obviously illegal and condemnable. Moreover, Israel’s position on the issue has been confusing and wrought with many inconsistencies. For instance, Israeli Military Order #3, issued on 7 June 1967, states that the military court in the West Bank must apply the provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention with respect to judicial procedures and gives the Convention precedence over military orders. Yet, this military order, along with another identical one related to Gaza, were subsequently deleted by other orders in the same year.

The Israeli Supreme Court adopted an ambiguous position on this matter, refraining from dealing with claims based on the Convention on the grounds that treaty law does not become part of the law of the land until the Knesset passes legislation to that effect. However, in another case regarding the Ansar camp in southern Lebanon, the Court in effect held that the 4th Geneva Convention is applicable. On the other hand, with regard to Hague Regulations, the Court found them applicable on the grounds that they reflect customary international law, which is deemed part of Israeli law, in the absence of a conflicting municipal law. Accordingly, the Court found that settlements could be justified as part of Israeli military need.

The international community has resolutely rejected these Israeli positions and the Security Council and other U.N. organizations have adopted, as mentioned above, numerous resolutions in this regard. In 1968, the General Assembly established the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, which, in spite of Israel’s refusal to cooperate, submits periodic reports to the General Assembly throughout each session. Also, in 1993, the Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteaur for the Occupied Territories and again Israel refused to cooperate.

In response to Israel’s continuing illegal policies and measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which have persisted since 1967 in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and U.N. resolutions, the international community has acted to reassert its position. In this regard, on 24 April 1997 the UN General Assembly convened, for the first time in 15 years, the 10th Emergency Special Session (a rare procedure based on UN resolution 377 (V) of 1950 entitled "Uniting for Peace") to consider illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The 10th Session recommended to the High Contracting Parties to convene a conference on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect in accordance with common article 1. This represents the first time in the history of the Convention that such a call for a conference on a specific situation has been made. On 9 February 1999, in its 5th resumption of the 10th session, the Assembly further recommended that a conference be convened on 15 July 1999 at U.N. headquarters at Geneva. The resolutions adopted by the session also affirmed the responsibility of the High Contracting Parties to respect and ensure respect for the Convention.


The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and the policies and practices of the Occupying Power in this regard indeed represent a unique case for several reasons. Primarily, the occupation is unique because of the multiplicity and intensity of Israel’s grave breaches of the 4th Geneva Convention and other acts contrary to its provisions, all of which led to untold suffering by the Palestinian civilian population. Secondly, those grave breaches and other acts have continued for a long period of time, almost 32 years, in total contradiction of the position of the international community and in blatant violation of many Security Council and other U.N. resolutions. Lastly, the Israeli occupation is unique because it effectively transformed the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from one of occupation to one of actual colonization of the Palestinian land and denied the legitimate national rights of a whole people at the end of the 20th century a time when the phenomenon of colonization has long been deceased in other parts of the world. This situation and the accompanying culture of impunity must be brought to an immediate end. In short, the Israeli repressive measures must cease immediately and Israel, the occupying Power, must be held accountable for its record in this regard. The measures of colonization must also be stopped and reversed with all the correlating practical and legal ramifications.

This occupation must end and the Palestinian people must be allowed to realize their inalienable rights, including the right to establish their own state, so that peace can be achieved on the basis of co-existence and international legalities.

"Why should these Palestinians, who have lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, be evicted from their homes so that Jews from Brooklyn can live in them?"...Norman Finkelstein.
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Israeli Occupation