RULAC: Update of our Entry on the Military Occupation of Palestine by Israel

27 November 2023

Following the attacks carried out by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad on October 7, 2023, and Israel’s subsequent operation – still ongoing –, we have updated our entry on our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) online portal that covers the military occupation of Palestine by Israel.

Our main findings include that Israel still occupies the Gaza Strip and that the ongoing fighting between Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel qualifies as an international armed conflict.

Our update also covers a new non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, along with two new international armed conflicts respectively involving Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Syria.

Our Research Fellow Dr Eugénie Duss, in charge of RULAC, answers our questions related to this update.

Can you explain why consider that the Gaza Strip is still occupied by Israel?

The majority view still considers that Israel is the occupying power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Despite the withdrawal of Israeli ground forces from Gaza in 2005, it continues to be recognized as the occupying power due to the level of control it exercises over this territory.

In parallel, there is also the question of the classification of the ongoing fighting between Hamas, the PIJ and Israel, which is more controversial. Some classify it as a non-international conflict, others as an international armed conflict, while the majority refrain from doing so.

Our approach in RULAC is to consider that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, because of their belonging to Palestine, are fighting Israel within the framework of an international armed conflict.

Can you explain why coexisting classifications – as a military occupation and as an international armed conflict – are compatible?

The occurrence and the intensity of military operations and confrontations involving Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel are not inherently incompatible with occupation. This is true as long as the occupying power, in this case Israel, continues to exercise effective control over the territory, which is the case as previously mentioned.

Similarly, in our updated content, we specifically address the interplay between siege and military occupation and conclude that a military occupation is not ruled out by the establishment of a siege.

What are the main points of contention associated with our analysis?

The main controversy we have addressed regarding the ongoing fighting between Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel revolves around considering these actors as belonging to Palestine. Because the Palestinian authorities have never clearly distanced themselves from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it is possible to consider them as belonging to Palestine and, thereby classifying the situation as an international armed conflict – which is what we have done. However, saying that these actors belong to Palestine does not mean that their members would be entitled to prisoner-of-war status in the event of capture. Other conditions must be fulfilled for this purpose.

What are the main legal and protection issues arising from our classification?

Although the rules on the conduct of hostilities are similar whether an armed conflict is classified as an international armed conflict or as a non-international armed conflict, this classification is fundamental to identifying the type of protection afforded to persons in the power of the enemy. In this regard, our classification of the armed violence between Hamas, the PIJ and Israel as an international armed conflict – as opposed to a non-international armed conflict – entails the application of a more protective regime for the persons in the power of the enemy. Similarly, classification as an occupation entails the application of specific protections for inhabitants.

What does our update say about the hostilities with Syria and the Hezbollah

Our assessment indicates the existence of a non-international armed conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah, attributed to the intensity of the fighting and Hezbollah's fulfilment of the organizational criterion.

Furthermore, because of Israel’s use of force against the territories of Lebanon and Syria, two parallel international armed conflicts are ongoing: one between Israel and Lebanon and another one between Israel and Syria.

Given the rapidly evolving situation, how often can we expect updates to this entry?

The frequency of updates will largely depend on the evolving situation. Nevertheless, considering the need for thorough legal analysis and internal discussions among experts, we prefer to adopt a monthly or bi-monthly update schedule.


Donbass, destruction before a building News

Our Experts and Resources on Ukraine

3 March 2024

Discover our resources and what our experts say about the situation in Ukraine, with regular updates to include new events, articles and comments!

Read more

Stavros Pantazopoulos News

Our New Visiting Fellow: Stavros Pantazopoulos

9 February 2024

Dr Stavros-Evdokimos Pantazopoulos will focus, during his fellowship at the Geneva Academy, on the protection of the environment in armed conflict and will notably address the initiative to criminalize conflict-related environmental harm, placing the emphasis on the crime of ecocide. 

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

25 April - 17 May 2024

This online short course discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Computer screen with warning: civilian infrastucture: do not attack Project

The Digitalization of Armed Conflict

Started in September 2020

This project will explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law.

Read more

A session of the UN Human Rights Council Project

IHL Expert Pool

Started in January 2022

The IHL-EP works to strengthen the capacity of human rights mechanisms to incorporate IHL into their work in an efficacious and comprehensive manner. By so doing, it aims to address the normative and practical challenges that human rights bodies encounter when dealing with cases in which IHL applies.

Read more

Cover Page of Research Brief Publication

Environmental Human Rights as a Tool in Early Warning and Conflict Prevention The Role of the Human Rights Council

published on January 2024

Erica Harper, Baïna Ubushieva

Read more

Cover Page of Research Brief Publication

Policy Brief - Environmental Human Rights as a Tool in Early Warning and Conflict Prevention

published on January 2024

Baïna Ubushieva

Read more