THE CURRENT ARMED CONFLICT BETWEEN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL: EXPLORING AREAS OF CONTENTION

  1. INTRODUCTION

The current armed conflict between Palestinians and Israel is a complex and long-standing struggle over land, identity, and security. It has its roots in the late nineteenth century, when the Zionist movement emerged as a response to the persecution of Jews in Europe and sought to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then under Ottoman rule. The conflict intensified after World War I, when Britain took control of Palestine and issued the Balfour Declaration, promising to support the creation of a Jewish national home there. This angered the Arab population, who saw Palestine as their ancestral land and feared being displaced by Jewish immigration[1].

The conflict escalated after World War II, when the United Nations proposed a partition plan that would divide Palestine into two states: one for Jews and one for Arabs. The plan was rejected by the Arab states and Palestinian leaders, who launched a war against the newly declared state of Israel in 1948. The war resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who became refugees in neighboring countries or within Israel. Israel also captured more territory than the UN plan had allotted, including West Jerusalem, which it made its capital[2].

The conflict continued in subsequent wars and uprisings, such as the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights; the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria tried to regain their lost territories; the 1987-1993 First Intifada, when Palestinians rose up against Israeli military rule; the 1993 Oslo Accords, when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed to a framework for peace negotiations; the 2000-2005 Second Intifada, when a new wave of violence erupted after a failed summit; the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which was followed by Hamas’s takeover of the coastal enclave in 2006; the 2006 Lebanon War, when Hezbollah fought Israel in response to its attacks on Gaza; the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, when Israel launched a massive assault on Gaza to stop rocket fire; the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, when Israel again targeted Gaza after an escalation of cross-border attacks; the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, when Israel waged a 50-day war on Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis; and the 2021 May War, when Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel and Israel bombed more than 1,500 targets in Gaza, killing more than 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis[3].

The conflict has also been marked by various forms of resistance and violence by both sides, such as suicide bombings, rocket attacks, knife stabbings, car rammings, shootings, stone throwing, arson balloons, settler violence, home demolitions, evictions, arrests, detentions, torture, checkpoints, walls, fences, blockades, sanctions, boycotts, divestments, sanctions (BDS), diplomatic isolation, and international condemnation. The conflict has also involved regional and international actors who have supported or opposed either side or tried to mediate or intervene in various ways.

The main issues of contention between Palestinians and Israelis include[4]:

  • The status of Jerusalem: Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital and holy city. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after 1967 and considers it part of its undivided sovereignty. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and demand access to their holy sites. The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation and considers Jerusalem a final-status issue to be resolved through negotiations.
  • The borders of a Palestinian state: Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip based on the pre-1967 borders with minor land swaps. Israel wants to retain control over major settlement blocs and strategic areas in the West Bank and rejects any return to the pre-1967 lines. The international community supports a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps.
  • The fate of Palestinian refugees: Palestinians demand that Israel recognize its responsibility for creating the refugee problem and allow them to return to their homes or receive compensation. Israel rejects any mass return of refugees as a threat to its Jewish character and security. The international community supports a just and agreed solution that respects both sides’ rights and interests.
  • The security arrangements: Palestinians demand that Israel end its occupation and military presence in their territories and respect their sovereignty and dignity. Israel insists on maintaining its security control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip until it is satisfied that Palestinians can ensure its security from external and internal threats. The international community supports an end to occupation and violence and guarantees for both sides’ security.
  • The recognition of each other’s rights: Palestinians demand that Israel recognize their right to self-determination and statehood as well as their historical and national ties to the land. Israel demands that Palestinians recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state as well as its historical and national ties to the land. The international community supports mutual recognition and coexistence between two states for two peoples.
  1. BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE TWO STATES[H1] [PM2] 

The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is a complex issue with deep historical roots. Here is a brief overview[5];

The region, once called Palestine, witnessed the rise and fall of many empires, from ancient Egyptians to Romans. By the Middle Ages, most people were Arab Muslims, but there were also Christians and Jews. The conflict began in the late 1800s when Zionists wanted a Jewish homeland in Ottoman Palestine. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, by Britain, supported this idea, and more Jews came to the region. After World War II and the Holocaust, the world supported a Jewish state in Palestine, and Israel was created in 1948. This made hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees. In 1967, Israel took over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and Golan Heights in the Six-Day War. The Palestinians resisted Israeli rule in two uprisings: the First Intifada (1987-1993) and the Second Intifada (2000-2005). In 2005, Israel left Gaza, which was then taken over by Hamas in 2006. There have been many wars since then, such as Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Operation Protective Edge (2014), and the May War (2021). The main problems are: who controls Jerusalem, what are the borders of a Palestinian state, what happens to the Palestinian refugees, how to ensure security, and how to respect each other’s rights.

  1. WHAT HAS ESCALATED THE CURRENT SITUATION?

The current escalation in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is due to a series of events[6];

Within the month of October 2023, Hamas and Islamic Jihad initiated an unprecedented offensive from Gaza. They launched thousands of rockets and armed militants breached the high-tech barriers to infiltrate Israel, leading to shootings and hostage situations. This represented a significant intelligence failure for Israel.

In retaliation, Israel executed a series of airstrikes on Gaza, targeting numerous buildings in Gaza City’s center, including the 11-storey Palestine Tower that accommodates Hamas radio stations. Israel also hinted at the possibility of a ground invasion.

The Israeli offensive resulted in the death of at least 1,900 individuals in Gaza, including hundreds of children, and displaced at least 423,000 people.

Prior to Israel’s intense bombardment of Gaza, there were protests concerning the eviction of Palestinian families and Israeli incursions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Tensions escalated since the previous spring when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) initiated Operation Breakwater, one of its most comprehensive campaigns outside of wartime, in response to an increase in Palestinian knife and gun attacks.

  1. CLASSIFICATION OF THE ARMED CONFLICT

The classification of the armed conflict between Palestinians and Israel can be viewed in two ways[7]; From the perspective of a Non-International Armed Conflict, the conflict is seen as a struggle between an armed group, Hamas, and a State, Israel. From the perspective of an International Armed Conflict, the conflict is viewed as an international dispute due to the ongoing occupation in the Palestinian territories since the Six-Day War of 1967.

The conflict involves Israel and Palestine, with two primary political factions – Fatah and Hamas – and several armed groups. These groups can typically be classified as affiliated with Hamas, Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or Salafist Groups.

It’s crucial to understand that these classifications are not universally accepted and can differ based on various interpretations of international law and the specific conditions of the conflict. The classification can significantly impact the application of international humanitarian law and human rights law[H3] [PM4] .

  1. RESPECT FOR RELEVANT LAWS

The question of whether the parties have respected the relevant laws in regard to the current armed conflict between Palestinians and Israel is a complex and contested one. Here are some possible points to consider;

The applicable laws in this context include International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which regulates the conduct of warfare, and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), which safeguards individual rights and freedoms.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is recognized as an ongoing armed conflict under international humanitarian law. The current hostilities and military attacks between Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups are governed by the standards of conduct of hostilities, which are rooted in international humanitarian law. This law comprises international treaty law, notably Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and customary international humanitarian law applicable in non-international armed conflicts, as reflected in the Additional Protocols of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions. These rules pertain to the methods and means of warfare and provide fundamental protections for civilians and combatants who are no longer participating in hostilities[8].

A key rule of international humanitarian law is that combatants and civilians must always be distinguished by parties to a conflict. Civilians must never be targeted. All feasible precautions must be taken by warring parties to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects, such as homes, shops, schools, and medical facilities. Only combatants and military objectives may be targeted. Attacks that target civilians or fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or that would cause disproportionate harm to the civilian population compared to the anticipated military gain, are prohibited[9].

Furthermore, Common Article 3 offers several fundamental protections for civilians and individuals who are no longer participating in hostilities, such as captured combatants, those who have surrendered or become incapacitated. It prohibits violence against such individuals – especially murder, cruel treatment, and torture – as well as outrages against their personal dignity and degrading or humiliating treatment, including hostage-taking[10].

International human rights law protects people’s rights at all times, whether in peace or in war. Israel and Palestine have signed treaties that guarantee basic rights, such as the right to life and the right to be free from torture. These rights cannot be violated, even in situations of emergency or conflict[11].

Some violations of the laws of war are so serious that they are considered war crimes. War crimes include actions that harm civilians, such as killing them, taking them hostage, or using them as human shields. Anyone who commits, plans, or helps war crimes can be punished by law[12].

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a court that can investigate and prosecute war crimes committed in Palestine since 2014. The ICC has the power to deal with war crimes that happen in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It does not matter who committed the war crimes. The ICC is a way to seek justice and accountability for the victims[13].

In the ongoing armed conflict between Palestinians and Israel, several key principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) have reportedly been violated. These include[14];

Indiscriminate Attacks: These are attacks that fail to distinguish between military objectives and civilians or civilian objects, or that result in disproportionate civilian harm relative to the anticipated military advantage. Accusations have been made against both Israel and Palestinian armed groups of launching such attacks, including rockets, airstrikes, and artillery shells, leading to civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.

Attacks on Civilians and Civilian Objects: These are attacks on targets that are not legitimate military objectives. Both parties in the conflict have been accused of intentionally or recklessly targeting civilians and civilian objects, including homes, schools, hospitals, media outlets, and cultural sites.

Attacks on Medical Personnel, Facilities, and Transports: These entities are protected by the emblem of the red cross or red crescent. Both Israel and Palestinian armed groups have been accused of actions that interfere with or endanger medical personnel, facilities, and transports, such as shelling, bombing, blocking access, or confiscating equipment.

Collective Punishment: This refers to measures imposed on a group of persons for acts they did not personally commit. Israel has been accused of imposing collective punishment on the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank through actions such as imposing a blockade, restricting movement, demolishing homes, evicting families, revoking residency rights, cutting off electricity and water supplies, and withholding tax revenues.

  1. INVOLVEMENT OF OTHER STATES

The involvement of other states in the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is multifaceted and complex. Here are some key points;

United States: The U.S. stands as a crucial ally to Israel, extending substantial military assistance and diplomatic backing. Yet, it has also endeavored to broker peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians[15].

Arab States: Traditionally, numerous Arab states have offered political, financial, and military support to the Palestinians. However, recent times have witnessed several Arab states normalizing their relations with Israel[16].

Iran: Iran emerges as a significant backer of Palestinian militant factions, especially Hamas. It equips these groups with funding, weaponry, and training[17].

European Union: The EU has participated in peace initiatives and furnishes considerable financial aid to the Palestinians. It advocates for a two-state resolution to the dispute.

United Nations: The UN has enacted multiple resolutions concerning the conflict, set up aid schemes for Palestinian refugees, and strived to mediate peace negotiations.

Russia and China: In recent years, both Russia and China have assumed more conspicuous roles. They have leveraged their seats on the UN Security Council to shape the global reaction to the conflict.

  1. SOLUTION

Finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict remains a significant challenge. The two-state solution, which envisions an independent Palestine alongside Israel, is widely supported internationally. However, achieving this solution requires addressing core issues such as borders, settlements, security, Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Diplomatic efforts, negotiations, and promoting dialogue between the two parties remain vital for any potential resolution.

Here are some potential solutions that have been proposed;

Two-State Solution: This solution, which is the most frequently suggested, proposes the creation of two states for two groups: Israel for the Jewish population and Palestine for the Palestinian population. This structure was officially embraced by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Oslo Accords of 1993[18].

Negotiations: Tor Wennesland, the UN Middle East envoy, has underscored the necessity for both parties to re-engage in negotiations. He cautioned against maintaining the status quo and stressed that only through negotiations that terminate the occupation and establish a viable two-state solution, based on UN resolutions, international law, and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, can we aspire to definitively end these futile and expensive cycles of violence[19].

International Intervention: There have been appeals for more efficient monitoring and accountability mechanisms at both national and international levels. An example is the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has initiated an investigation into the situation in Palestine[20].

Addressing Core Issues: Any enduring solution would need to tackle key points of dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. These include the status of Jerusalem, boundaries of a Palestinian state, destiny of Palestinian refugees, security provisions, and acknowledgment of each other’s rights[21].

  1. CONCLUSION

The current armed conflict between Palestinians and Israel is a deeply complex issue, influenced by a long history of contentious events and unresolved disputes. The prolonged conflict has resulted in significant human suffering, loss of life, and ongoing regional instability. While finding a solution remains challenging, continued international engagement, diplomacy, and a commitment to respecting international law are crucial for addressing the core issues and achieving a durable peace in the region.

REFERENCES


[1] Berry, M., & Philo, G. (2006). Israel and Palestine: Competing histories. Pluto Press.

[2] Ibid n1

[3] Ibid n1

[4] ACLED. (2023). Fact Sheet: Israel and Palestine Conflict. ACLED.On What are the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict? | Israel-Hamas war | The Guardian    

[5] Leiden University Libraries. (2021). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a reading list. https://www.library.universiteitleiden.nl/news/2021/06/the-israeli-palestinian-conflict—a-reading-list

[6] Al Jazeera. (2023). Israel-Hamas war updates: Death toll rises as Israeli jets pound Gaza. Al Jazeera.On What does Israel’s declaration of war mean for Palestinians in Gaza? | Gaza News | Al Jazeera

[7] Where does international law fit into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict .On https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/where-does-international-law-fit-into-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/articleshow/104438542.cms

[8] Human Rights Watch. (2023). Questions and Answers: October 2023 Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian Armed Groups. On https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/10/09/questions-and-answers-october-2023-hostilities-between-israel-and-palestinian-armed

[9] Ibid n8

[10] Geneva Convention (1949) ,Article 3.

[11] Rodenhäuser, T., & D’Cunha, S. (2023). Foghorns of war: IHL and information operations during armed conflict. ICRC Law and Policy Blog. On https://blogs.icrc.org/law-and-policy/2023/10/12/foghorns-of-war-ihl-and-information-operations-during-armed-conflict/

[12] Ibid n12

[13] International Committee of the Red Cross. (2017). When does IHL apply? The ICRC in Israel, Golan, West Bank, Gaza. On https://blogs.icrc.org/ilot/2017/08/13/when-does-ihl-apply/ 

[14] Ibid n8

[15] Dennis Ross, (2004), ‘The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace’

[16] Israel-Palestine Conflict: On the Brink of a Full-Scale War

[17] Ibid n16

[18] Encyclopedia Britannica. (2021). Two-state solution. On https://www.britannica.com/topic/two-state-solution

[19] U.S. Institute of Peace. (2020). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2020: What are the possible paths ahead?

[20] International Criminal Court. (2021). Situation in the State of Palestine

[21] Landman, S. (2019). Barriers to Peace: Protected Values in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. KAS Israel – Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung


Author

Patrick Muema Mumo

Patrick Holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree and an LLM in Public International Law from Kampala International University. He is an Advocate of the High Court in Rwanda and Kenya. He is also the Head of the Leadership and Governance Unit at Firdaous Initiative for Academic Excellence.

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