By: Roman Kubovič and Ramez Sharaiha

On 29 November 2018, the United Nations (UN) will once again observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, in accordance with General Assembly mandates contained in resolutions no. 32/40 B of 2 December 1977, 34/65 D of 12 December 1979, and subsequent resolutions adopted under agenda item ‘Question of Palestine’. This day is extremely meaningful and significant to the Palestinian people. On the very same day in 1947, the General Assembly adopted resolution no. 181 (II), commonly referred to as the ‘Partition Resolution’ which provided for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘Jewish State’ and an ‘Arab State’, with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum under a special international regime. Of the two States to be created under this resolution, only one, Israel, has so far come into being while the other, Palestine, still awaits its historical moment.

The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People traditionally provides an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine remains unresolved and that the Palestinians have yet to attain their inalienable rights as defined by the General Assembly in its resolutions, namely, the right to self-determination without external interference, the right to national independence and sovereignty, and the right to return to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced.

On this day, various activities are carried out by Governments and civil society, including the issuance of special messages of solidarity with the Palestinian people, the organization of meetings, the dissemination of publications and other information material, exhibitions and cultural events, and the screening of films. The United Nations organises different events in its offices around the globe, including in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. At the UN Headquarters in New York, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People each year holds a special meeting to observe the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Among the speakers are the UN Secretary-General, the President of the UN General Assembly, the President of the UN Security Council, and representatives of relevant United Nations bodies, intergovernmental organizations and Palestine. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are invited to attend.


Historical background

In the late 19th century the land of Palestine, at the time under the reign of the Ottoman Empire, consisted of ca. 86% Muslims, 9% Christians and 5% Jews, according to the 1878 census. The communities at that time lived together in relative peace and without conflict. As the notion of nationalism was developing in Europe, the idea that the Jewish population should establish their own national state in the Holy Land of Israel, known as ‘zionism’, came about. It is noteworthy to mention that at the time it was not absolutely clear where this land was situated, and thus, whether this land was in the territory of Palestine or elsewhere. The First Zionist Congress took place in Basel in 1897 and it adopted the Basel Programme which called for, among others, the promotion by appropriate means of the settlement in Israel of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.  

At the end of WWI, in order to gain support of the Jewish people, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, which viewed with favour ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’

After the WWI ended, the League of Nations entrusted the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the Mandate for Palestine. During the period of the British rule over the entrusted territory, in particular between the years 1920 and 1939, the Government facilitated Jewish immigration to Palestine. As a result of this policy, the Jewish population in Palestine increased by ca. 320,000 people, which by th year 1938 corresponded to nearly 30% of its overall population. Tensions amongst various members of the society increased together with growing Palestinian nationalism. Following a revolt against the British rule, the Government issued the 1939 White Paper limiting the Jewish immigration and aiming at the establishment of a dual state in 10 years’ time.

After the WWI ended, the League of Nations entrusted the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the Mandate for Palestine. During the period of the British rule over the entrusted territory, in particular between the years 1920 and 1939, the Government facilitated Jewish immigration to Palestine. As a result of this policy, the Jewish population in Palestine increased by ca. 320,000 people, which by th year 1938 corresponded to nearly 30% of its overall population. Tensions amongst various members of the society increased together with growing Palestinian nationalism. Following a revolt against the British rule, the Government issued the 1939 White Paper limiting the Jewish immigration and aiming at the establishment of a dual state in 10 years’ time.

On 14 May 1948, the Jewish People’s Council gathered in Tel Aviv, declared independence and the State of Israel was proclaimed. It was subsequently recognised by the United States on the same day and by the USSR three days later. Following the declaration of independence, the inhabitants of Palestine asked for the support of the surrounding Arab nations as they did not know how to oppose the actions of Israel. It must be noted that this was in the aftermath of permanent struggle for self-determination of the Palestinians and of increasing tensions between them and the Jewish settlers. As a result of the Palestinian call for help, five Arab nations interfered upon the request, invaded the territory and the war of 1948-1949 broke out. Israel won the war and gained extra 30% of the Palestinian territory while the Gaza Strip remained under the control of Egypt, and the West Bank and Jerusalem under the control of Jordan.

As a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948-1949, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled the territory and sought refuge in neighbouring countries. These events have come to be known as al-Nakba, the catastrophe, during which a lot of Palestinians were expelled, displaced, lost their homes and became stateless. They had come under attacks in their homes and villages which had been levelled to the ground. Materially, the 1948 al-Nakba shattered Palestinian socio-economic structures: the Arab economy in Palestine was virtually destroyed, and hundreds of villages were emptied of their inhabitants as over one-half of the country’s Arabs were uprooted as refugees. After Israel refused to allow the refugees to return, they were forced to reconstitute their lives in exile as best they could while a complete spatial transformation of Palestine’s geography took place that destroyed their villages and all but wiped out the Arab character of the land itself.  

Another war broke out on 5 June 1967 by the launching of a series of airstrikes by Israel against a number of Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and lasted only six days. Israel won again and gained control of the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. The Arab countries’ losses in the conflict were disastrous, including 11,000 casualties for Egypt, 6,000 casualties for Jordan and 1,000 casualties for Syria. Israel lost 700 men. The Six-Day War also marked the start of a new phase in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, since the conflict created hundreds of thousands of refugees and brought more than one million Palestinians in the occupied territories under Israeli rule. UN resolution no. 242 was adopted on 22 November 1967 by which Israel was requested to withdraw from the acquired territories.


Most recent developments

Demolitions, relocation and Israeli settlements

Israel has a longstanding policy of demolishing entire villages and towns in the occupied territory of the West Bank, forcefully evicting and relocating its Palestinian inhabitants. Most recent cases concern three small Bedouin villages located in the South Hebron Hills: Um Al-Khair, Susiya and Khan Al Ahmar.

Palestinian herding communities inhabiting Area C, the 60% of occupied Palestine under total control of Israel in terms of security and land-related civil issues (land allocation, planning and construction, infrastructure), face particularly perilous living conditions. In most cases, these communities have already been displaced several times and resettled into areas which do not meet their basic needs. Due to the lack of agricultural land and water resources they have been forced to abandon their traditional nomad lifestyle. Moreover, most of these communities face severe restrictions on access to natural resources and water, are not connected to permanent electrical sources and are not provided with social services.

The villagers of the area can only pursue their traditional farming and herding activities with great difficulty and under considerable danger of settler and military violence. Encircled by settlements and ‘military zones’, shepherds cannot graze their flocks freely as they are prohibited from entering vast areas of their land, which are rarely delineated. If they cross Israeli-designated areas of their own land, they can face arrest and heavy fines. Soldiers often observe or interfere with the shepherding, ordering Palestinians to leave under the threat of arrest or heavy fines. The Israeli government has also declared certain plants, traditionally used as herbs for tea and foodstuff, ‘endangered species’, thereby prohibiting Palestinians from collecting them. Settlers often directly target Palestinian livestock and natural resources, for instance by poisoning animals, water sources, and crops.

As the local villages are rarely issued construction permits, their houses, tents, water services, including traditional cistern-based water infrastructure or solar panels, as well as schools and health clinics, can receive demolition orders at any time, thereby depriving them of all aspects central to an adequate standard of living. Socioeconomic indicators in health, water, and education  are thus exceedingly low. Especially Bedouin women suffer from a lack of employment, health care, education and access to land. Many Bedouin communities are therefore compelled to relocate to urban townships, in which they have to forsake their nomadic and agricultural way of live and lose their primary means of subsistence.

Some of the Israeli laws that have facilitated demolitions and establishment of Israeli settlements are: Demolition orders against unauthorized structures 1539-2003, Law for the Regulation of Settlements 5777-2017, Order concerning the Removal of New Structures 1797-2018 and Administrative Affaires Courts Law 5768-2018. During a discussion in the Knesset on 27 June 2017, the director of the Civil Administration Supervision Unit said that there are 500 movable structures in the administration’s warehouses confiscated from Palestinians. He stated that all it requires to dismantle and confiscate a movable structure is a formal statement by one of the supervision unit’s employees. There is no other administrative or legal procedure needed.

The Law for the Regulation of Settlements in Judea and Samaria, 5777-2017, legalizing unauthorized Israeli settlements and giving settlers the right to remain in them, was passed on 6 February 2017. Furthermore, the Order concerning the Removal of New Structures, 1797-2018, allows the Israeli army’s ‘Civil Administration’ to target and demolish Palestinian structures in area C within 96 hours, whatever may be the status of the land or the issuing of building permits. The new order aims at preventing international aid from supporting any legal action against future Israeli orders, which has proven quite successful in preventing or delaying illegal demolitions in the past. Finally, the Administrative Affairs Courts Law, 5768 – 2018, prevents human rights organizations from flooding the Israeli court system with petitions against the demolition of buildings.

Geneva International Centre for Justice has lodged several appeals with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur for Palestine, the UN Secretary-General and all other concerned UN bodies to oppose these actions by Israel. Forced relocation of populations in areas under occupation, such as the West Bank, is a war crime under international law. And relocations are often followed by the construction or expansion of an illegal settlement. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People’s position is that the presence and construction of Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, contravenes Israel’s obligations under the Road Map and constitutes a serious obstacle to the peace process. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention strictly prohibits such colonization, stipulating that ‘The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies’. This position was reaffirmed in Security Council resolution no. 465 (1980), which determined that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, constituted a flagrant violation of the Convention.


Blockade of the Gaza Strip and violent suppression of demonstrations

Since the occupation began in 1967, the Palestinian people have lived in four so-called ‘domains.’ The first one comprises Palestinians who live ac citizens of Israel, governed by Israeli civil laws with special restrictions. The second one concerns the Palestinians living in the city of Jerusalem, governed by permanent residence laws. The third one relates to those Palestinians who live under conditions of belligerent occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including those in refugee camps, and are governed by military laws. And finally, the last domain implies the policy to preclude the return of Palestinians, whether refugees or exiles, living outside the territory under Israel’s control.

The blockade of the Gaza Strip is a humanitarian crisis. Israel's restrictions on entry prevent the repairing of Gaza's sole power plant, as well as of houses destroyed during Israeli offensives in the area. Israel continues to control entry to and exit from the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air, and has been subjecting Palestinians to a suffocating blockade, which constitutes an unprecedented form of collective punishment in stark violation of international humanitarian law.

Since the beginning of the blockade, the Gaza Strip’s economy has effectively been in recession with the private sector receiving the largest share of losses due to the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of businessmen and traders, as well as many companies and private enterprises – which make up the only source of income for a large portion of Gaza population – being targeted. The access to water and sanitation, sewage, healthcare, and education are severely and adversely affected. For hospitals in Gaza, constant instability of power supply only deteriorated the quality of the healthcare services available, with the high cost of running a generator forcing small businesses, especially start-ups, to close within a short period of time.

A series of peaceful civilian protests, the aim of which was to demand an end to the 12 years of blockade and to enforce resolution no. 194 (the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their home), started on 30 March 2018 and was scheduled for six weeks, until 15 May 2018, the Nakba Day. The campaign was given the name ‘Great March of Return’. Israel’s reaction to these protests has been force, excessive force. The soldiers have used live and explosive bullets, as well as toxic gas against the protesters.

According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights almost 200 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since 30 March 2018, around 140 of them being victims of the demonstrations, including 28 children, one woman, two journalists, three paramedics and three differently abled people. Another 9,970 were injured, including 1,815 children, 419 women, 114 paramedics, and 105 journalists. Of those injured, 5,645 were hit by live fire, including 919 children and 113 women. Targeting civilians, and moreover, medical personnel and journalist, constitute violations not only of human rights law but also of international humanitarian law.


Discrimination against the Palestinian population

On 19 July 2018, the government of Israel has further deepened the concerns of the international community regarding its institutionalized discrimination against national minorities, notably Palestinian and Arab populations within its territory, by adopting a new divisive nation-state law. The New Basic Law includes 11 discriminatory provisions such as recognizing the land of Israel as the “historical homeland” of all Jewish people who are entitled to enjoy their natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination”. Another provision declares Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, complete and united. It also defines the state symbols, memorials and independence days based exclusively on Jewish heritage (the Star of David in the flag, the Hatikvah as the national anthem, the seven-branched menorah as its emblem, Hebrew calendar along with the Gregorian one as official calendars). Furthermore, the law gives the Arabic language a special status leaving Hebrew as the only official language. Additionally, it promotes the establishment and consolidation of Jewish settlements, insisting that it is a national value. By nature, this bill automatically excludes and discriminates against Palestinians and other minorities.

GICJ Position

On this occasion GICJ urges the Security Council as the main promoter and protector of peace to take initiatives along with the General Assembly and other relevant bodies to remedy this decades-long tragedy by condemning the discriminatory measures taken by Israel. Furthermore, GICJ calls upon all the relevant bodies to hold accountable those responsible for enacting discriminatory laws such as the Nation-State law that would translate into another apartheid and suggested that the UN exert all efforts for the revocation of the Nation-State Law that explicitly mentions Jewish national rights but fails to do the same for minorities.

GICJ calls on the international community to put pressure on the occupying power to abide by international laws and norms. GICJ further believes that accountability and an end to the occupation is the best solution toward ensuring the protection and rights of the Palestinian people.

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International Days of Remembrance articles by GICJ:

Universal Children's Day International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances
Nelson Mandela International Day
World Refugee Day

GICJ Side-event on Palestine during the 38th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

"Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Systemic Violations with Impunity"

Urgent Appeals on Palestine by GICJ:

Khan Al Ahmar: A Village on the Verge of Destruction by Israel

Eviction of Firing Zone 918

Forcible eviction of Ein Hijleh

House Demolitions in Um Al-Khair Village

Scar(r)ed for Life: Everyday Violations around Israel’s Illegal Settlements

GICJ Activities on the Human Rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories

GICJ Urgent Appeals on Palestine:

      GICJ Side-Events and oral statements on Palestine:

      Human Rights Council - 30th regular session (14 September - 2 October 2015)

      Human Rights Council - 29th regular session (15 June - 3 July 2015)

      Human Rights Council - 21st special session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (23 July 2014)

      Human Rights Council - 26th regular session (10 - 27 June 2014):

      Human Rights Council - 25th regular session (3 - 28 March 2014):

      Human Rights Council - 24th regular session (9 - 27 September 2013):

      Human Rights Council - 23rd regular session (27 May - 14 June 2013):

      GICJ Newsletter