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Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian Militants

The rules on the conduct of hostilities should only apply in extreme situations, with the general rule being that the use of lethal force should be regulated by the law enforcement notion.

In the context of the oPt, there have been serious instances concerning the use of force between Israel and militants based in Gaza. While IHL does not restrict all violence during such occurrences, many violations have been identified by independent commissions such as the Gaza United Nations Fact Finding Mission in 2009.

Hostilities of November 2012 (Operation Pillar of Cloud)

Hostilities of December 2008- January 2009 (Operation Cast Lead)

Hostilities of November 2012

Statistics (See OCHA Humanitarian Monitor November 2012): 

  • During the eight days of hostilities, Israel targeted over 1,500 sites throughout the Gaza Strip;
  • Palestinian armed factions fired 1,506 rockets towards Israel, according to the IDF spokesperson;
  • 165 Palestinians were killed, 99 believed to be civilians;
  • Six Israelis were killed as a result of the rocket attacks, including three civilians, two soldiers and a civilian-military contractor;

  • 224 Israeli injured;

  • The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that 1,399 Palestinians were injured;
  • Preliminary assessments indicate that some 450
    houses (including structures with single and
    multiple housing units) in Gaza were totally
    destroyed or severely damaged as a result of the
    Israeli military offensive, displacing most of their

  • In Gaza an estimated 8,000 houses sustained
    minor damage;

  • Israeli media sources have reported that 80 housing
    units in southern Israel were destroyed or severely
    damaged by rockets, displacing their residents.

Legal Assessments

During and following the hostilities, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as local and international non-governmental organisations expressed concerns that in several instances Israel had violated the rules concerning the conduct of hostilities.

See Human Rights Watch: Israel/Gaza: Israeli Airstrike on Home Unlawful

See also Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Statistical Report on "Pillar of Cloud."

Clear violations of IHL were committed by Palestinian militants by launching rockets towards civilian targets within Israel, or using weapons in a manner which could not be effectively directed towards military targets.

See Human Rights Watch: Gaza: Palestinian Rockets Unlawfully Targeted Israeli Civilians

Hostilities December 2008-Janaury 2009

Statistics: The conflict resulted in between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths.

The hostilities were subject to extensive review by an Independent Fact Finding Mission commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

The major findings of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict included:

  • Indiscriminate attacks by Israeli forces resulting in the loss of life and injury to civilians;
  • Deliberate attacks against the civilian population in Gaza;
  • Indiscriminate attacks upon the civilian population of southern Israel that constitute a deliberate attack against a civilian population by Palestinian militants;
  • Deliberate attacks by Israeli forces on civilian buildings in violation of the rule of customary international humanitarian law,  indicating the commission of the grave breaches;
  • Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population and unnecessarily exposed the civilian population of Gaza to danger;
  • Israeli armed forces violated the requirement under customary international law to take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and method of attack with a view to avoiding and in any event minimizing incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects;
  • Israeli armed forces directly and intentionally attacked al-Quds hospital in Gaza City and the adjacent ambulance depot with white phosphorous shells;
  • Israeli armed forces coerced Palestinian civilians at 'gunpoint' to take part in in house searches during the military operatios - as human shields; 
  • Numerous violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law were committed in the context of detention of Palestinians by Israeli Forces. Civilians, including women and children, were detained in degrading conditions, deprived of food, water and access to sanitary facilities, and exposed to the elements in January without any shelter. The men were handcuffed, blindfolded and repeatedly made to strip, sometimes naked, at different stages of their detention.

The Mission found that the incidents and patterns of events referring to the Israeli conduct were the result of deliberate planning and policy decisions.