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In-Focus: Israel Palestine Saga


A brief Explainer on the Israel Palestine Saga and the implications of October 7 Attacks under International Law

15 Oct 2023

In a recent turn of events, Israel woke up to one of the deadliest attacks by the Hamas group on 7th October 2023 leading to retaliation by the former and rapid escalation of events between Israel and Palestine. The Prime Minister of Israel issued a declaration that the act by the militant Islamist group wouldn’t be taken lightly, and would be considered as ‘war’. The Israeli cabinet issued a declaration of war against Hamas.  Before we delve into the current issue and the international laws violated in this regard, it is important to delve into the historical context of the conflict. This understanding would help the readers understand the grave nature of the situation.

Part I: Israel and Palestine before October 7 Attacks

  • Subsequent to the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Britain came to be in control of Palestine and began to undertake the task of the creation of a Jewish land within Palestine as a part of the 1917 Balfour declaration leading to the rise in tensions between Jewish minority and the Arab minority. There was a large-scale immigration of Jews in the 1930s owing to the Nazi persecution. The British faced repeated resistance by Arabs and terrorist attacks leading to the turning of problem solving from Britain to the United Nations.

  • Through the Resolution 181 (II) of 1947, the United Nations sought to divide Palestine into 2 independent States. One of the proposed States proclaimed its independence as ‘Israel’ and expanded to the mandated Palestine including the larger part of Jerusalem. The remaining Arab State was controlled by Jordan and Egypt. This land was taken over and occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. The West Bank and Gaza strip was included in this land.

  • Occupation by Israel resulted in an exodus of about half a million Palestinians. The UN Security Council issued Resolution 242 formulating the withdrawal of Israel from the territories, a just settlement of the refugee problem. There were continued hostilities and the Security Council issued another resolution calling for peace and, the General Assembly reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinians to self-determine in 1974. Further, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established and the General Assembly granted the status of observer to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (“PLO”).

  • In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon seeking to eliminate the PLO leading to a ceasefire and the International Conference on the Question of Palestine in 1983. In 1987, the world witnessed a mass uprising against the occupation by Israel which eventually led to massive loss of life in the civilian population of Palestine. In 1988, the State of Palestine was proclaimed to be established by the Palestine National Council Meeting.

  • The decade of the 1990s was an attempt to achieve a peaceful settlement between the parties to the conflict. In 1993, the Oslo Accord or the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self Government Arrangements was signed between Israel and the PLO. In 2002, the Security Council laid down the vision of Israel and Palestine and the Arab League issued the Arab Peace Initiative. In 2005, Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza strip and retained control over its borders, seashore and airspace.

  • In 2007, Hamas ensured an armed takeover of Gaza leading to a blockade by Israel and the Annapolis process fell a step short of ensuring a permanent status agreement. There was yet again an escalation with the “Cast Lead” operation by Israel in Gaza and the Security Council adopted resolution 1860 and investigated the violations of international law under the Goldstone Report. In 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application of Palestine for UN membership and the UNESCO extended membership to Palestine. In 2012, there were talks held between Israel and Palestine with no avail as there was another escalation of violence at the end of the same year which ended with a cease-fire mediated by Egypt.

  • In the same year, there was another consequential event with Palestine being admitted to the UN as a non-member observer State. The year of 2014 was declared as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people. In 2014, the Palestinian national consensus Government was announced and there was another round of fighting between Israel and Gaza in the later part of the year.  The Security Council adopted Resolution 2334. In 2020, the Abraham Accords was mediated by the US to normalise relations between Israel and various other nations.  The United Nations Human Rights Council sought the investigation of violation of International Humanitarian law and abuse of human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The 3 member United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry largely found Israeli occupation as unlawful under International law.

  • In 2023, there again have been fights between Israel and Hamas. The Hamas gained popularity due to its armed resistance to Israel. The organization is an Islamist militant movement governing millions of Palestinian in the Gaza strip. It is one of the parties in Palestine with the other being the Fatah which has repeatedly renounced violence. The Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the European Union and the UK. The Hamas has fought with Israel with the aim to remove it and establish an Islamic State. Since 2007, citing security, Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip which is a 41 km territory between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

Part II- Israel and Palestine after October 7 Attacks

  • On the 7th of October 2023, the militant organisation Hamas launched a brutal attack on the State of Israel. There were multiple invasions on the Israeli towns and military posts. Within 24 hours of the attack, the numbers were estimated to be 700 deaths and left 2,500 injured. Unlike the other attacks, the current attacks have raised deep concerns as the victims are civilians and further the Hamas group has explicitly stated the taking of hostages of civilians. 

  • The world expressed a deep shock at the barbarous attacks by the Hamas group on Israel on October 7th, 2023. The United States while condemning the acts of Hamas, has guaranteed support to the Israel government. The Biden Administration stressed upon the right of Israel to defend itself. Russia called for an immediate ceasefire from both sides to avoid a “vicious circle of violence”. China too followed sleuth to express concern over the violence and called for an immediate end to hostilities. Saudi Arabia embarked on a different path by blaming the “continued occupation” by Israel and further sought for peace. The same idea was echoed by Jordan and Indonesia. On the other end, the Hamas’ attack was welcomed by Iran.Nations like the United Arab Emirates and Egypt called for an exercise of maximum restraint and protection of civilians. South Africa and the African Union expressed concern over the violence and found the root cause between Israel-Palestine tensions to be the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people. The Indian Prime minister expressed “shock” over the terrorist attacks and expressed solidarity with Israel on the issue. However, there has been no call for restraint by the Indian Prime Minister. The United Nations Security Council met behind doors with the Israel and Palestine ambassadors in attendance regarding the conflict but it didn’t result in any solid results. It is to be noted that this article doesn’t aim to take sides between the two ends and the author aims to analyse the attacks and the possible international violations resulting from the same.

  • The attack by Hamas leading to a retaliatory attack by Israel is said to be a violation of International humanitarian and human rights law.With the issue at hand, the acts of Hamas and Israel are to be considered under the ambit of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Fourth Hague Convention and the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention.

Attack on Civilians

  • The ICRC study on customary international humanitarian law under Rule 05 defines civilians as “persons who are not members of the armed forces. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians” and Rule 06 protects civilians from attack. The Fourth Geneva Convention specifically protects civilian population. Article 13 of the Convention provides that civilians must not be the target for any fighting or attacks. Additional Protocol I and Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Convention provided protection to civilians in international and non-international armed conflicts respectively. Article 51.2 of Additional Protocol I provide that the object of attacks must not be the civilian population. Article 13 of Additional Protocol II provides that civilians shouldn’t be the aim of any attacks or threats of violence.

  • Hostage taking under International Law - The act of taking hostages is a prohibited act under the definition of hostage-taking under Article 1 of the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages and Article8 (2) (a) (viii) and (c) (iii) of the Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court. Hamas has kidnapped the civilian population of Israel and issued threats of killing or inflicting injury in order to pressurise Israel. Further, there has been a demand for release of convicted terrorists under the threats of killing the hostages. Hostage taking is prohibited under Article 34 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is considered as a grave breach under Article 147 of the same. Further, the International Criminal Court deems the act of Hostage taking as a War Crime. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has two Resolutions (1998/73 and 2001/38) which state that hostage taking undermines human rights.

In conclusion, there have been a lot of casualties due to the ongoing escalation of issues between Israel and Hamas and further threats of war between the two ends leads the looming possibility of further violations. There is a need for consideration of human rights from both the ends in order to avoid widespread casualties to human life and property.

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