Israel’s occupation is unlawful under international law, a new report by a UN Commission of Inquiry has found. The commission reached this conclusion because of the occupation’s permanence and the Israeli government’s de facto annexation policies; the occupation of foreign territory is permitted under international humanitarian law only as a temporary situation. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has not only become entrenched and probably irreversible, but it has also become a permanent reality.
The commission reviewed the policies and actions employed by successive governments of Israel to maintain the occupation, and annex parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The review was based on interviews with experts and stakeholders, and submissions received following a call for them on 22 September last year.
The 28-page report focuses on the maintenance and advancement of the settlement enterprise, as well as statements made by Israeli officials indicating their intent to maintain permanent control over the land in violation of international law. By continuing to occupy the territory by force, concluded the commission, Israel incurs international responsibilities and remains accountable for violations of the rights of the Palestinians individually and as a people.
“By ignoring international law in establishing or facilitating the establishment of settlements, and directly or indirectly transferring Israeli civilians into these settlements, successive Israel governments have set facts on the ground to ensure permanent Israeli control in the West Bank,” said Navi Pillay, Chair of the Commission.
In exposing the permanent status of the occupation the report also points to Israeli government policies which have had a serious and multi-faceted impact on all areas of Palestinian life, including access to clean and affordable water. This has had a serious effect on the entire Palestinian agricultural sector, limiting opportunities for livelihoods and, in particular, affecting women.
“There is so much ‘silent harm’ and psychological trauma that may not be immediately apparent, resulting from the erosion of economic, social and cultural rights,” said Commissioner Miloon Kothari. “These debilitating processes have severe short and long-term consequences and must be urgently addressed.”
Earlier this month, 143 UN member states, including Israel, voted in favour of a General Assembly resolution reaffirming that any attempt at unilateral annexation of a state’s territory by another state is a violation of international law.
The Commission of Inquiry dedicated a significant part of its report to reviewing the impact of Israel’s occupation and de facto annexation policies on Palestinian human rights, noting the coercive environment intended to force Palestinians to leave their homes and alter the demographic composition of certain areas.
On 27 May 2021, the Human Rights Council agreed to establish an ongoing, independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021. The commission has published several reports since its formation.