This Is What A War Crime Looks Like: Life Inside Occupied Palestine

Published September 3, 2015
Updated September 12, 2018
Occupied Palestine Boy Corpses

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:

Occupied Palestine Gaza Strip
Occupied Palestine Woman Rubble
Occupied Palestine Shujayea Wreckage
Occupied Palestine Medic Child
This Is What A War Crime Looks Like: Life Inside Occupied Palestine
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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.

Israel Palestine Land Map

Image Source:

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 Looks At The Israeli Settlement Har Homa In The West Bank

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:

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Savannah Cox
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.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "This Is What A War Crime Looks Like: Life Inside Occupied Palestine.", September 3, 2015, Accessed May 27, 2024.