Israeli security forces block Palestinian protesters marching to demand the re-opening of Al-Shuhada Street, a central artery in Hebron that the Israeli army has prohibited Palestinians from using for the past 19 years, on February 23, 2018.

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  1. What does your report recommend?
  2. Why are you calling for Israel to provide Palestinians in the West Bank with rights at least equal to what it provides its own citizens?
  3. Can you give examples of where rights protections for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank differ in practice?
  4. Are the report recommendations applicable to the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem?
  5. Are you calling for the creation of a single state, in which everyone is accorded equal rights, or opposing a two-state solution?
  6. Isn’t it up to the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, to ensure the protection of Palestinian human rights?
  7. Are you saying that Israeli authorities should apply Israeli, rather than international, standards in granting rights to Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank even though they don’t even grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel?
  8. Some of the laws you criticize as violating human rights were in place at the time Israel occupied the West Bank. Are you calling on Israel to apply Israeli law in the West Bank?
  9. Are you saying that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are legitimate so long as Palestinians have equal rights to Israeli settlers?
  10. With all the ongoing political violence, why shouldn’t the law of occupation and armed conflict still apply?
  11. But the law of occupation does not contain any stipulation on its expiration date, so on what basis are you claiming that human rights standards now apply?
  12. Aren’t you dismissing serious security threats that Israel continues to face and that necessitate imposing restrictions on Palestinians to prevent hostile acts?
  13. Granting civil rights is impossible under a military occupation. Why don’t you call on Israel to end the occupation, rather than perpetuate and normalize it?
  14. Is Human Rights Watch applying this legal framework to other occupations elsewhere?
  15. What are you asking third party states to do?

1.What does your report recommend? 

​​This report documents the Israeli army’s continued use in the West Bank today of expansive military orders issued in the early days of the occupation that suspend civil rights for Palestinians: the right to speak out, report news, protest, or be politically active. It calls on Israel to grant Palestinians living in the West Bank full protection of the rights guaranteed to all people under international human rights law, using as a benchmark the rights it grants its own citizens, regardless of the political arrangement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory now or in the future. Israel should also grant Palestinians the protections they are owed under international humanitarian law. 

2.Why are you calling for Israel to provide Palestinians in the West Bank with rights at least equal to what it provides its own citizens?

For 52 years, Israel has ruled the West Bank, but it has failed to respect the rights of its Palestinian inhabitants. While the law of occupation permits occupiers to restrict some civil rights in the early days of an occupation, based on limited security justifications, sweeping restrictions are unjustified and unlawful after five decades. Israel should fulfill its duties as occupier in a way that respects, protects, and fulfills the fundamental rights of Palestinians, consistent with international standards. At a minimum, the right to equal treatment without regard to race, religion, or national identity means that Israel should provide at least the level of protection it provides its own citizens within Israel.

3.Can you give examples of where rights protections for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank differ in practice?

While domestic Israeli law restricts speech that could jeopardize public safety, censorship is permitted only if there is near certainty that publication would seriously jeopardize vital security interests. In contrast, Israeli military law applicable to West Bank Palestinians imposes up to ten years imprisonment for attempts to influence public opinion in a manner which “may” harm public peace or public order. In changing its practices to stop violating the rights of Palestinians, Israel should use the level of protection of free speech it provides its own citizens as a benchmark.

Israeli citizens can hold demonstrations without a permit unless the demonstration involves more than 50 people, takes place outdoors, and involves political speeches. Police, in turn, can deny a permit only if they can prove “near certainty” of harm to public security, public order, or the rights of others. In contrast, in the West Bank, Israeli security forces arrest and prosecute Palestinians for engaging in peaceful demonstrations of the kind that would not even require a permit in Israel. In changing its practices to stop violating the rights of Palestinians, Israel should use the level of protection of freedom of assembly it provides its own citizens as a benchmark.

Israeli military law applicable to Palestinians in the West Bank imposes draconian criminal sanctions for vaguely worded offenses that do not allow a person to reasonably predict whether an action or inaction amounts to a crime. For example, Palestinians can be imprisoned for up to one year for the vaguely worded crime of offending the honor of a soldier. International human rights standards require precision in defining criminal offenses, and criminal offenses in Israeli domestic law are more precisely and narrowly defined. The Israeli military should revise the criminal law it legislates in the West Bank to comply with international standards and, at the very least, define criminal offenses as precisely and narrowly as does the Israeli domestic criminal code.

4.Are the report recommendations applicable to the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem?

Yes, Palestinians living in Gaza and East Jerusalem are fully entitled to respect of the rights they have under international human rights law, and the protections due to them as residents of occupied territory.

Despite dismantling its military government in the Gaza Strip and withdrawing its settler population from there in 2005, Israel continues to exercise significant control over the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and therefore continues to have obligations toward them under the law of occupation and must respect their rights.

Israel also has obligations under the law of occupation to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and must respect their rights and freedoms, despite its annexation of the territory in 1967 in a unilateral move that was not recognized by the international community and does not alter its status as occupied under international law.

5.Are you calling for the creation of a single state, in which everyone is accorded equal rights, or opposing a two-state solution?

No. The report does not advocate for any particular political solution. It recognizes the reality created by a 52-year-old occupation, in which the Israeli authorities exercise legal authority and control over the lives of Israelis and Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. It says that so long as that reality continues, Israel should respect and protect the fundamental human rights that Palestinians living under its de facto sovereignty have. The report focuses on three civil rights – freedoms of association, expression, and peaceful assembly. The rights Israel respects for its own citizens can be used as a benchmark.

6.Isn’t it up to the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, to ensure the protection of Palestinian human rights?

Both Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli authorities, which exercise effective control over the West Bank and Gaza, must respect the human rights of Palestinians.

Israel has ratified most of the key United Nations human rights treaties requiring it to respect, protect, and fulfill those rights for everyone within its territory or jurisdiction. The UN treaty bodies that monitor the human rights treaties, as well as international courts, have repeatedly stated that this means Israel must respect those rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israeli authorities retain their obligations to protect civil rights in their many actions and inactions toward Palestinians.

The State of Palestine has ratified all the major human rights treaties. Therefore the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, and Gaza are also bound to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of Palestinians, in the spheres in which they exercise authority. Human Rights Watch has documented violations of those rights by both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Hamas authority in Gaza, and called for their end.

Thus, a Palestinian police officer, exercising authority over a resident of the West Bank, should respect their rights, and an Israeli soldier, also exercising authority over a resident of the West Bank, should also respect their rights.

7.Are you saying that Israeli authorities should apply Israeli, rather than international, standards in granting rights to Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank even though they don’t even grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel?

The report calls on Israel to protect the rights of Palestinians no less than it protects the rights of Israeli citizens. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make about one-fifth of Israel’s population, face discrimination both in terms of law and practice and there are additional aspects of Israeli law and practice that do not meet international human rights standards. In the areas in which Israeli law and practice fall short of international human rights standards, Israel should change those laws and practices to adequately protect the rights of Israeli citizens, as well as Palestinians in the West Bank.

8.Some of the laws you criticize as violating human rights were in place at the time Israel occupied the West Bank. Are you calling on Israel to apply Israeli law in the West Bank?

No. The law of occupation forbids an occupying power from changing the existing law in an occupied territory, except when absolutely necessary. The Israeli authorities are, however, bound by international human rights law, which governs their exercise of power over Palestinians throughout the occupied territory. This means that Israel’s human rights obligations, together with protections provided by the law of occupation, limit the ability of the Israeli authorities to use draconian measures against Palestinians, even if some of those measures are based on laws passed by the British or Jordanian authorities prior to the 1967 Israeli occupation. By virtue of its membership in the international community and its ratification of major human rights treaties, Israel must respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of Palestinians.

9.Are you saying that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are legitimate so long as Palestinians have equal rights to Israeli settlers?

No. Israeli settlements in the West Bank are unlawful and should be dismantled. International humanitarian law forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into the occupied territory, and such transfer constitutes a war crime under article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israeli settlements trigger serious violations of the rights of Palestinians, including their rights to freedom of movement, family unity, and protection of private property. International humanitarian law provides special protections for people who live under foreign military rule, like Palestinians in the West Bank. The discriminatory regime present in the West Bank, where Israeli authorities privilege Israeli settlers unlawfully living in the West Bank over the occupied Palestinian population, underscores the injustice of the settlement enterprise.

10.With all the ongoing political violence, why shouldn’t the law of occupation and armed conflict still apply?

The law of occupation – part of international humanitarian law (IHL) – continues to apply in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza so long as Israel continues its occupation of those areas. During situations of active combat, IHL rules regarding the conduct of hostilities apply as well. Situations of active combat, though, have been rare in recent years in the West Bank. In all situations, human rights law applies in parallel with IHL and supplements the protections it provides to the occupied population.

11.But the law of occupation does not contain any stipulation on its expiration date, so on what basis are you claiming that human rights standards now apply?

The standards of international human rights law apply at all times, including during armed conflicts.

Leading interpreters of international law agree that in a long-term occupation, an occupying power is increasingly obligated to respect the human rights of those living under occupation, as part of its obligation to restore normal public life. Suspending rights for a short period may temporarily disrupt public life, but long-term, indefinite suspension cripples a community’s social, political, and intellectual life. The longer an occupation, the more military rule should resemble an ordinary governing system that respects the standards of international human rights law. In cases of indefinite occupation, such as Israel’s, the rights granted to an occupied population should be at least equal to the rights afforded the occupier’s citizens.

12.Aren’t you dismissing serious security threats that Israel continues to face and that necessitate imposing restrictions on Palestinians to prevent hostile acts?

Israel as an occupying power is tasked with protecting the security of residents of the occupied territory, and it is also authorized to take measures to protect its own armed forces and civilians. It may punish those who plan or perpetrate unlawful acts of violence, consistent with IHL and international human rights law that protect Palestinians living under occupation. As described in the report, however, many restrictive measures by Israeli authorities lack a concrete connection to security needs. And where legitimate security needs do arise, after 52 years of occupation, the Israeli authorities should find less restrictive ways of ensuring security than the long-term, indefinite suspension of virtually all civil rights.

13.Granting civil rights is impossible under a military occupation. Why don’t you call on Israel to end the occupation, rather than perpetuate and normalize it?

Human Rights Watch takes no position on when a war or an occupation should end. Rather, we apply international humanitarian law and international human rights law so long as the occupation continues. The report addresses the responsibilities of the Israeli authorities, given the fact of occupation. For the duration of its occupation, Israeli authorities are bound by both international humanitarian law and human rights law to respect the rights of Palestinians. 

14.Is Human Rights Watch applying this legal framework to other occupations elsewhere?

Throughout its work in conflict situations, Human Rights Watch applies international human rights law in parallel with international humanitarian law, out of recognition that even in times of armed conflict and occupation, rights need to be protected. In occupied territory such as Western Sahara or coalition-occupied Iraq, for example, Human Rights Watch has called for the occupying powers to respect the human rights of those living under occupation.

15.What are you asking third party states to do?

States and international bodies should highlight the importance of respecting the civil rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, since these form an integral part of the legal framework applicable in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They should use both international human rights law and international humanitarian law to scrutinize Israeli policies and practices toward Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and use the rights that Israel grants its own citizens as a benchmark for its obligations toward Palestinian residents. They should consider including calls for Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinians, on par with the treatment it affords its own citizens, in their publications, reports, and policy positions and to assess Israel’s conduct on this basis.