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Key Points

  • Civilians were targeted, attacked, abused, and killed over 2023 at a scale unprecedented in the recent history of Israel and Palestine.[1] Since October 7, 2023, at least 27,478 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza (the majority of whom are civilians) and 66,835 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza.[2] This includes more than 11,500 children.[3] At least 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals in Israel, the majority of whom are civilians, have been killed, most on October 7 and in the immediate aftermath. 
  • In the context of the current hostilities in Gaza and Israel, serious violations of international law have been committed by all parties to the armed conflict, some of which amount to war crimes.
  • On October 7, Hamas-led gunmen, with the participation of other Palestinian armed groups and people in civilian attire from the Gaza Strip carried out an attack in southern Israel, which included indiscriminate rocket attacks, deliberate killings of civilians and hostage taking, acts that amount to war crimes.[4] About 136 people were still held hostage as of February 5, according to Israeli authorities.[5]

  • Shortly thereafter, the Israeli authorities cut off essential services, which constitutes collective punishment of Gaza’s population, a war crime, and blocked the entry of all but a trickle of fuel and aid, which is also a war crime. The World Health Organisation has warned that the population is “starving to death.”[6]
  • The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war, which is a war crime, as Human Rights Watch has documented.[7]
  • Israeli airstrikes have incessantly pounded Gaza, hitting large residential buildings, schools, shelters, and hospitals and reducing large parts of neighbourhoods to rubble, including in attacks that were apparently unlawful and should be investigated as possible war crimes.[8] Israeli forces have also unlawfully used white phosphorous in Gaza.[9]
  • UNRWA estimates that around 1.7 million people in Gaza are displaced from their homes – 75 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million population.[10] More than half of the population are now crammed inside Rafah, which had a pre-war population of 280,000. The majority of Gaza’s population has been ordered to evacuate,[11] in acts that risk forced displacement, which is a war crime. Ordering civilians to flee, when there’s no safe place to go and no safe way to get there, is not an effective warning under international humanitarian response. Given the widespread destruction in Gaza, many will have no home or access to basic services to return to when the hostilities end.
  • Israel’s unlawful attacks, ground offensive and unlawful total blockade of Gaza is having a severe impact on children,[12] people with disabilities,[13] older people,[14] people with diabetes,[15] and women and girls.[16] There are specific groups that have being particularly impacted by the killings and hostage taking by Palestinian armed groups (please refer to the section below on impact on groups at particular risk for further information).


The UK government should:  

  1. Continue to call on all parties to respect international humanitarian law.
  2. Continue to press Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, including through diplomatic efforts with third parties, to safely, immediately and unconditionally release all civilians who are still being held hostage. As long as hostages are held, ensure that they are treated humanely; held in decent conditions, including access to good quality medical care, food, and accommodation; and are allowed to communicate with their families through private means and to receive visits by an impartial humanitarian agency like the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  3. Increase public and private pressure on Israel to comply with international humanitarian law both in terms of the provision of humanitarian assistance and the conduct of hostilities. Specifically:

Humanitarian assistance: Israeli authorities should stop obstructing aid from getting into Gaza by fully opening its crossings and not placing unjustified restrictions on humanitarian goods from entering Gaza and should ensure aid can reach all parts of Gaza.  They should immediately turn on the supply of water, and electricity and refrain from disrupting access to telecommunications.

Conduct of hostilities: Israeli authorities should not carry out indiscriminate attacks or target civilians and civilian objects, upholding the special protection status afforded to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, and must comply with the rule of proportionality (that civilian harm is not excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage), and end attacks on areas formerly deemed safe. They should warn the Israeli government against further actions making it difficult or impossible for displaced Palestinians to return home. Finally, Israel should avoid the use of explosive weapons that have a wide-area effect or are too inaccurate to be anything but indiscriminate when used in populated areas.

  1. Suspend the licensing of military equipment to Israel. The UK government confirmed that it had 28 extant licenses and 28 pending applications for military equipment (as specified by the government on January 12, 2024), which it identified as most likely to be used by the Israeli army in offensive operations in Gaza, including components for combat aircraft and targeting equipment. The UK provides approximately 15 percent of the components in the F-35 stealth bomber aircraft currently used in Gaza. There is a clear risk that UK arms and military equipment transferred to Israel might be used to facilitate or commit serious violations of international law in breach of UK domestic law.
  2. Publicly support the work of the International Criminal Court across all situations under its jurisdiction, including the ongoing investigation into serious crimes committed by all parties in and from Palestine.
  3. Call on Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) provisional measures ruling, request a private copy of Israel’s report on implementation of the ICJ provisional measures order (a non-public report due on February 26, 2024) and use all forms of leverage, including sanctions and embargoes, to ensure Israel’s compliance. Refrain from undermining the ICJ (and in effect the rules based international order) and acting inconsistently with the government’s own policy of leaving determinations about whether crimes have been committed to competent courts, by questioning the findings of the ICJ.     
  4. Reverse its decision to temporarily pause funding to UNRWA and state clearly that it is continuing to fund the agency, as it investigates the serious allegations levied by the Israeli government. It should also state its support for UNRWA’s essential role in delivering lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
  5. Withdraw the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.
  6. Impose sanctions on Israeli officials and institutions that are involved in settlements in the West Bank, which the UK accepts is a violation of international law. Currently the UK has imposed a travel ban on violent Israeli settlers, but this needs to be coupled with sanctions on officials and entities involved in this violence and responsible for the illegal settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.   

[11] Ibid.

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