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Home > News & Analysis > Fact Sheets
Are the Palestinian Territories Occupied?
IMEU, Jul 13, 2012

Are the Palestinian Territories Occupied?

  • In November 1967, following Israel's conquest of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem the previous June, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242, which has been the foundation of international efforts to make peace in the region ever since. The pre-amble of Resolution 242 stresses "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war," while the text calls for the "Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict."

  • In July 2004, while ruling that the wall Israel is building in the West Bank is illegal, the International Court of Justice also deemed Israel's settlement enterprise to be in contravention of international law, and the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to be under Israeli military occupation.

  • In 2005, Israel's own Supreme Court also judged the West Bank to be under "belligerent occupation" by Israel.

  • In 2003, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, known as a political hardliner and godfather of the settlement movement, stated "You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation - to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians."

  • In addition, the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, consider the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem (and Syrian Golan Heights) to be territories militarily occupied by Israel. According to a 2001 statement:

    '[The ICRC] has always affirmed the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories occupied since 1967 by the State of Israel, including East Jerusalem... As an Occupying Power, Israel is also bound by other customary rules relating to occupation, expressed in the Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 18 October 1907.'

  • Implicitly acknowledging that the recently conquered territories were militarily occupied by Israel, in September 1967 the legal counsel to Israel's Foreign Ministry, Theodor Meron, advised the government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that "civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

  • Israel withdrew its soldiers and 8000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, however Gaza remains under Israeli occupation according to international law as Israel continues to control all entry in and out of the territory, as well as its coastline and airspace.

  • Although Israeli authorities radically expanded the municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem and then annexed it shortly after the occupation began in June 1967, the international community does not recognize Israel's claim to the eastern half of the city. In legal terms, East Jerusalem is no different than the rest of the West Bank or Gaza, which is why no major country - including the United States - has its Israel embassy in Jerusalem.

Implications of the Levy Committee Report:
Formalizing Apartheid in the Holy Land?

"Every attempt to keep hold of [Israel and the occupied territories] as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don't vote it is an apartheid state." - Former Israeli prime minister and current defense minister Ehud Barak in 1999.

Since the findings of the Levy Committee were made public, critics have been asking, if the Palestinian territories are not under Israeli occupation, what is the proper way to describe a regime that grants full political and civil rights to one group of people, while denying them to another, based solely on their religious and ethnic origin? In recent years, a growing number of observers have described this situation as a form of apartheid. Detractors of the apartheid analogy have asserted that the system of control Israel has implemented in the territories is not permanent, and therefore cannot be considered apartheid. If adopted, the Levy Committee report would formalize and make this regime permanent.

Over the entirety of its 64-year existence, there has been a period of only about one year (1966-67) that Israel has not ruled over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights simply because they are not Jewish. Prior to the start of the occupation in 1967, Palestinians who remained inside what became Israel in 1948 were ruled by martial law for all but one year, not unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories have been for the past 45 years.

  • The United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them."

  • According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report entitled "Separate and Unequal: Israel's Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories":
    'Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits... While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp - not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.'

  • One of the first people to use the word "apartheid" in relation to Israel was Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who warned following the 1967 War of Israel becoming an "apartheid state" if it retained control of the occupied territories.

  • In 2010, Ehud Barak repeated his apartheid comparison, saying: "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic... If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

  • Many veterans of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa also consider Israel's treatment of Palestinians to be a form of apartheid. One of the most outspoken voices has been that of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the heroes of the struggle against South African apartheid, who has repeatedly made the comparison. In 2012, Archbishop Tutu wrote that Israel's version of apartheid is actually worse than South Africa's, stating: "Not only is this group of people [Palestinians] being oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa, their very identity and history are being denied and obfuscated."

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