This Is What A War Crime Looks Like: Life Inside Occupied Palestine
By Savannah Cox | Edited By John Kuroski
Published September 3, 2015
Updated September 12, 2018
A boy stands at a funeral ceremony held for Palestinian Abu Jamei, who died after an Israeli aircraft hit his house in Khan Yunis, Gaza on July 21, 2014. Image Source: Ezz Al-Zanoun/Getty Images
“You can’t have occupation and human rights.”
That’s what public intellectual and essayist Christopher Hitchens had to say about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, one of the most contentious components of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This conflict came to a head once again last summer, when Israel launched a seven-week military campaign in the Gaza Strip region of Palestine that resulted in about 2,200 deaths (1,500 of them civilian). This campaign is just the latest in a long line of fighting in Gaza (and beyond), so much so that the United Nations just reported that within five years, Gaza could be uninhabitable. See what some of the more recent conflict in occupied Palestinian territory looks like below:
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An Israeli strike hits Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. According to the AP, "Israeli warplanes, gunboats and artillery units blasted more than 40 Hamas targets, including weapons storage facilities, training centers and leaders' homes before soldiers invaded the territory."Adel Hana/Associated Press
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A Palestinian woman walks past the rubble of a residential building, which police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 22, 2014.Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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A Palestinian woman stands before the destruction in Shujayea, Gaza.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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A Palestinian medic carries the body of a child, who was killed in an explosion in a public playground on the beachfront of the Al-Shati refugee camp on July 28, 2014. Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
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Husband and wife Wael al-Namlah and Asraah watch as their three-year-old, Sharif, crawls at home in Rafa, Gaza. All lost limbs during an Israeli rocket strike.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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A boy stands at a funeral ceremony held for Palestinian Abu Jamei, who died after an Israeli aircraft hit his house in Khan Yunis, Gaza on July 21, 2014.Ezz Al-Zanoun/Getty Images
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Israeli air strikes damage several rooms of the Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza Strip.REX
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Doctors at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City treat a Palestinian child, who was injured during an Israeli attack on July 20, 2014.Ali Hassan/Getty Images
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Families pray by the bodies of Amir, Mustafa Arief and Mohammed in July 2014 in Sajeria, Gaza. According to reports, the brothers died together near home, following an Israeli drone strike.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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Women mourn at a funeral for boys killed by an Israeli naval bombardment at a Gaza port.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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Palestinians pray over the bodies of Hamas members killed in an Israeli air strike in Beit Lahiya, Gaza.Fadi Adwan/Associated Press
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Moments before the expiration of a ceasefire in August 2014, Occupied Palestine reports that Israel broke the cessation of military violence, which resulted in the injury of the little girl seen above.
19-year-old Mustafa Mejadeah is carried by his friend Mohammed to a rehabilitation session in Gaza City. Mejadeah lost his legs after a bomb exploded outside his home in Khan Younis, Gaza.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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A Palestinian baby is taken to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on July 18, 2014.Ezz Al-Zanoun/Getty Images
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The morning after an Israeli military strike, Palestinian children inspect a destroyed mosque.Said Khatib/AFP
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A man mourns following the loss of two relatives during an Israeli attack.Suhaib Salem/Reuters
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A Palestinian boy sleeps as at a UN school in Gaza City, July 14, 2014.Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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Displaced Palestinian children from Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip stand behind the window of a UN classroom on July 23, 2014. The school is found within a refugee camp of Jabalia, where displaced families have taken refuge after fleeing heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip.Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
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Dozens of displaced families, including the men above, from Gaza Strip's northern Beit Hanoun district take refuge at a UN girl's preparatory school on July 23, 2014.Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
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A Palestinian flag flies before a Jewish settlement known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim.Ammar Awad/Reuters
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Approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers live in occupied Palestinian territory.Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
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A shopper in Karnei Shomron, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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Jewish men stay fit inside a gym at Karnei Shomrom.Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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In July 2014, a masked Palestinian man cuts an electricity pole to stop power from flowing to the Jewish settlement of Dolev, in protest against Israel's military campaign in Gaza Strip, near the West Bank city of Ramallah.APA Images
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Jewish settlements continue to proliferate in occupied Palestinian territory, and are largely constructed by Palestinian laborers. Here, a Palestinian man prays on a site in Tekoa, south of Bethlehem.Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
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An Israeli mobile artillery piece fires toward targets in the southern Gaza Strip in January 2009.Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press
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Israeli strikes in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood turn an otherwise obsidian sky orange.Associated Press
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A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones toward Israeli troops during clashes at a protest against a 2014 Israeli offensive in Gaza.Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
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In Hebron, West Bank, Palestinians celebrate the news that an Israeli soldier has been kidnapped in Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014.Mamoun Wazwaz
An Israeli tank just outside the northern Gaza Strip. In this instance, Israel was responding to hostilities from Hamas, which according to Reuters was "angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the occupied West Bank."Reuters
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Protesters climb the border fence near the village of Majdal Shams, Golan Heights. Israeli troops fired on the protesters, killing four.Jalaa Marey/Reuters
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Members of Hamas in Gaza, June 2014. The organization, which was founded in 1988 to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation, is deemed a terrorist organization by the European Union, Canada, Israel, Egypt, Japan and the United States.
Hamas has resorted to suicide bombings and attacks against civilians in its "liberation" process, both of which have been condemned as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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In the early 2000s, The New York Times noted that Hamas' largest financial backer was Saudi Arabia, which contributed to over half of the organization's funds. For a time, Iran was reported as a significant Hamas donor, but economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic made funding the group more difficult.
Many look to Hamas when attempting to explain why brokering a peace deal is so precarious, as its Holocaust denial, readiness to use violence against civilians and political allies make a Hamas-led Palestine a less predictable space, and one which perpetuates—not reduces—violence. www.vosizneias.com
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Hamas' Executive Force members keep watch over Gaza City.TIME.com
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After a Hamas training session, recruits relax.TIME.com
In Gaza, a Palestinian walks among the ruins of the Al Aqsa Martyrs mosque, which was destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike.
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In August 2014, 50-year-old Mousa Sweidan explores the rooms of his father's damaged home in Shejaia, Gaza.
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21-year-old Hadil Amar takes a photo of herself amid her damaged home in Tel al-Hawa, central Gaza. The house was first hit with a warning rocket from an Israeli drone before being targeted by Israeli warplanes.
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A Palestinian boy recovers a mattress and cushion from his family's apartment, which was damaged due to a series of Israeli air strikes.
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A Palestinian girl walks past a UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) vehicle near a mosque partially destroyed during an overnight Israeli military strike.
As of July 2014, UNRWA had provided over 5 million Palestinian refugees with relief services. The agency, which was established in 1949 and is the only UN body focused on aiding refugees in a specific region, is supported by Israeli officials, and criticized by others for creating refugee dependency, rather than resettling them.
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Smoke plumes hover above Gaza City.
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Palestinians pray outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque after Israeli police barred certain Muslim worshipers from entering the site on July 20, 2014.
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A medic helps a Palestinian man in the Shejaia neighborhood. Israel heavily shelled the area during fighting in Gaza City on July 20, 2014.
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In Ramallah, West Bank, Palestinians burn tires and throw stones during clashes with Israeli police at the Qalandiya checkpoint, May 15, 2011. According to TIME, "the unrest came as the Palestinians marked Nakba, or "the catastrophe"—the term they use to describe the uprooting they suffered upon Israel's founding on May 15, 1948."
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In July 2014, Palestinian men run while waving a white flag in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaia, which was hit badly by Israel during fighting.Heidi Levine/SIPA
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In July 2014, Palestinian protesters in the West Bank show solidarity with Gaza.
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Aircraft flares illuminate the sky following an Israeli airstrike over the al-Suaciye district of Gaza City on July 18, 2014.
This Is What A War Crime Looks Like: Life Inside Occupied Palestine
Occupied Palestine In Context: Why Words Matter
While the above photos make clear that things within the region have gotten especially bad as of late, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on since at least the beginning of the 20th century, when Zionists in Palestine set up an armed group to protect their property from what The Economist described as "Arab marauders."
Since then, battles between Arabs and Jews in Palestine have extended to cultural, economic, and political domains, with both sides—aided by the political and financial support of foreign governments—using violence, rhetoric, and the law to legitimate their claims while denying the other's.
Israel has asserted its authority in the region in an additional way: through territorial control. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli armed forces entered the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, much of the Golan Heights as well as the Sinai Peninsula, where many Israelis stayed—and in which hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlements proliferated—following the war's end.
After the war, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 referred to the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," and called for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Depending on who you ask, the latter hasn't happened. It is true that Israeli forces exited the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, but the Israeli government's claim that its forces disengaged from Gaza in 2005 and that the West Bank is "disputed territory" remains heavily contested.
As recently as this year, the United Nations has called Gaza an "occupied territory," with Israel being the "occupying power." The European Union, International Court of Justice, and the United Nations consider Israel to be occupying the West Bank, with the United Nations Security Council deeming Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as "null and void."
A Palestinian stands on his property overlooking the Israeli settlement Har Homa, West Bank, February 18, 2011. As of 2013, over 350,000 settlers live in the West Bank. Image Source: i24news
Why does Israel's status as an occupier matter? Put simply, it means that Israel is subject to a lot more legal obligations regarding its treatment of Palestinian civilians, many of whose rights critics say Israel has violated. For example, the Geneva Conventions—which Israel ratified, in part—deem civilians in an occupied territory such as Palestine "protected persons" whose rights must be protected by the occupying power.
The Geneva Conventions further stipulate that it is unlawful for an occupying power to transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies. In other words, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other occupied territories are, according to the Geneva Conventions, illegal.
Historically, Israel has said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the occupied Palestinian territories, as these territories were not technically sovereign when Israeli forces entered in 1967. Conveniently, this means that its expansion of settlements in these territories as well as the violence Israeli forces have inflicted upon civilians do not constitute war crimes. Many parts of the world, however, disagree.
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This AJ+ documentary captures some of the fighting of the summer of 2014 through the lens of three Palestinians in various professions:
For a brief (and animated) history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, this video is for you:
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.