Blog Series: Understanding Israel – Palestine Conflict and its Human Rights Implications

What is the Israel – Palestine Conflict?

One of the most controversial and politically divided topics around the world is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel and Palestine have almost been in a century old conflict, fighting over the holy land of Jerusalem claiming it to be sacred to one group over the other. Therefore, it becomes important to understand the historical context of the events causing and leading up to the current situation in the region.

After being subjected to mass atrocities by Christians and other groups, in the late 1800s the Jewish population witnessed its first large-scale migration in the areas of Palestine heavily surrounded by the Arab World, which formed the part of the Ottoman Empire. They chose the area of Jerusalem as it is considered to be holy for Jews. However, in the 1990’s after the war against the Ottoman Empire, both the British and the French divided the area equally amongst themselves. Out of which Palestine fell under complete control of the British. Simultaneously, Hilter gained political power in Germany and he ordered mass extermination against the Jewish Population, rendering them to seek shelter in the neighboring countries.

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Consequently, the Jewish migration from Germany also started happening in the areas of Palestine which was originally allowed by the British, however, the same was denied after some time giving rise to Zionism, an Israeli Nationalist Movement. On the other hand, in 1940’s the Palestinian Nationalist movement also began in response to Zionism, demanding their own country. Due to which the British decided to pull out of the region, leaving the responsibility to the United Nations (UN) to divide the area between the groups. Thereafter, the UN devises a Partition Plan (Resolution 181) giving approximately 55% area for Jewish State which came to be known as Israel, and 45% to the Arab-Palestine State, while keeping Jerusalem under international control.

Upon disregard of the UN decision, the neighboring Arab Countries declared the Arab-Israel War of 1948, during which Israel captured a major portion of Palestine leading to the 1948 Palestinian Exodux. Thereafter, in 1967 after the second Arab-Israel War, Israel took complete control over the areas of West bank and Gaza strip, originally belonging to Palestine. As a consequence of which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, aimed at taking back Palestine through arm struggles, upon which it is declared to be a terrorist organization by both Israel and the USA.  This organization however, was later recognized by the UN in the year 1974 as the representatives of the Palestinians.

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However, in the year 1992, there was mutual recognition on both sides as the Israel Prime Minister officially recognized PLO, and PLO officially recognized Israel as an official country. Subsequently, leading to the peace talks and amicable division of the two nations during the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993. However, this was not acceptable to the Jewish extremist groups, which led to assasination of the Israeli Prime Minister. On the other hand, the Hamas group which is an Arab extremist group was formed in Palestine against the PLO, and boycotted the government completely. This gave rise to the extremists groups and ideologies to gain popularity in both the countries, wanting to eradicate the other group. They managed to spread grave amenity between the people of both countries to such an extent, that the conflicts and repercussions of the same are still continued today.

How is Israel violating Human Rights Obligations?

The UN Charter and  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) were drafted with the backdrop of upholding and enforcing human rights and freedoms, which now form the fundamentals of international human rights jurisprudence. However, neither have been successful in preventing the resurgence of armed conflicts and human rights abuse.  

Apartheid and Persecution of Palestine Population

Under the UDHR, Article 13 gives absolute freedom of movement which include the freedom of movement within a territory, outside the territory, and finally to be able to return to the original territory. Israeli authorities having major territorial dominance have been discriminating against the Palestinians of the region, while systematically privileging the Israeli population.

After the second Arab-Israel war, the Palestine population was displaced from the West Bank region upon which migration of Israeli nationals commenced into the area. The area of the West Bank was preferred by the Israeli population due to two main factors: Firstly, due to the cheap housing and real estate prices. Secondly, for the ardent religious followers the area was close to holy Jerusalem. Moreover, the migration and settlement of Israel people into the area of West Bank has been supported by the Israeli authorities, and goes against the ideals of Fourth Geneva Convention.

After the peace accords, the area of West Bank was heavily populated by the migrating Israeli population, which led to the authorities building cement walls around the residential areas isolating the Palestinian population further form their rightfully granted area, and pushing them into further poverty. Therefore the West bank area is considered occupied territory under International Law, and Israel is considered to be committing systematic and continues apartheid and minority persecution under fundamentals of the Apartheid Convention, 1973 as well as the Rome Statute, 1998.

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Arbitrary Arrest and Detentions

Each year the Israeli authorities are known to conduct hundreds of raids in the West bank area during the night, resulting in arbitrary arrest of Palestine people and thereafter,  detaining them in Israel prison. The authorities have detained over 4300 palestine people from the Occupied Territory of Palestine (OTP), which includes around 400 administrative authorities in the year 2020. Out of the detainees arrested, there are around 157 Palsetine children which are also interrogated without the consent of their parents. Article 9 of the UDHR and Article 9(1) of the ICCPR, lay the fundamentals that no one can be subjected to arbitrary arrests or detentions without reasonable grounds and procedure established by law. Further, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention casts a duty to not transfer detainees to the territory of occupying power.

Torture and other ill-treatment

According to the report published by the Human Rights Watch titled “Torture and Ill-Treatment: Israel’s Interrogation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories”, it is observed that there are two main Israeli interrogation agencies (General Security Services and Israel Defense Force) which subject detainees from OTP to ill-treatment and torture. The agencies resort to means of painful, rigid, and cooperative psychological and physical torture, while also depriving nearly 4000- 60000 detainees from meeting their legal representative and family members every year.

The main methods adopted by the authorities include prolonged sleep deprivation, sight deprivation using blindfolds, maintenance of body positions that grow increasingly painful, and verbal threats and insults. In combination to this, the detainees are confined to small rooms, extreme temperatures, and forced medical treatments.  Such actions adopted by the authorities are in direct contravention with Article 5 of the UDHR and, Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture, 1984 for expelling the Palestinian population to Israeli jails and resorting to means of torture for the purposes of interrogation.

Unlawful Killings

The Israeli authorities and forces have been using extreme force during policing demonstrations, search and seizures, and law enforcement activities. Whereas, in some instances the means of live ammunition and bombing were adopted against the Palestinians in 2019 killing over 30 people including children, willfully committing war crimes against the population portraying no imminent threat. Recently, in the year 2021 the Israeli airstrike killed about 147 people in Gaza. The actions of the authorities are in contravention with Article 3 of the UDHR extending right to life, liberty, and security of personal to all. Article 8 of the Rome Statute deals with War Crimes committed for the purposes of executing a policy and it includes commission of willful killings, and Article 3 of the Geneva Convention  highlights that the right to be protected in armed conflicts between two states is a non-derogable human rights of civilians, and therefore cannot be violated at any cost.

The Way Forward: Can the Conflict be solved?

It has been over 70 years since the adoption of UDHR and the Charter, and the rights of Palestinian population are continued to be denied. The preamble states that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. However, the Israeli impunity for systematic and widespread violations of human rights, including international crimes have continued to prevail. Therefore, the situation faced by the Israeli-Palestine population has becomes the litmus test to evaluate the effectiveness of International law globally.

Each year as the violence breaks out between the two, the questions of cease-fire or de-escalation agreement are reached, which do not solve the issue in totality. The international community has been trying to solve the conflict since the efforts exerted in the Madrid Conference in 1991, by suggesting a two-state solution which is no longer viable. Some scholars are of the view that the status quo with low intensity outburst of violence, recurring spike in violence and overall deterioration of political options, might require the least amount of energy and capital, however, it is not a long term solution. On the other hand, the problem cannot be solved through military or political power, but rather a moral consideration and persuasion between the two countries.

Israel has reached a point where it is one of the most technologically advanced and powerful countries in the Arab world having no security concerns, which means that it does not need to come to an agreement with Palestine. It is currently ruling over a population of about five million people denying them all social and political rights, subjecting them to demeaning and degrading conditions. Being a democratic liberal nation, the people of Israel believe that the country should not merely embody nationalism but also the ideals of justice and morality. However, this is only possible if both the nations come together for a mutual dialogue and compromise to ensure peace and security for both the nations.

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Author: Sukhman Sandhu is Researcher at Indian Society for Legal Research. She is pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL), Punjab, India.

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