Page last updated 19 April 2018


In the West Bank two systems of law are applied in a single territory: one – a civilian legal system for Israeli citizens, and a second – a military court system for Palestinian residents. The result: institutionalised discrimination. This is made abundantly clear in the Association of Civil Rights in Israel Report “One Rule, Two Legal Systems” published in October 2014 (link below).

Administrative detention i.e. detention without charge or trial, is widely used. Amnesty International US has reported that: “Its use may result in arbitrary detention and if prolonged or repeated can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Other violations to which administrative detainees – as well as other Palestinian prisoners held by Israel – are routinely subjected include the use of torture and other ill-treatment during arrest and interrogation; poor prison conditions, including inadequate medical care; detention in prisons inside Israel rather than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); and prohibitions on family visits.”

One way or another, since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned (cited in John Dugard’s 21 Jan 2008 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967),  somewhere between 15 and  20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the oPt, and 30 to 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population.

Within the Military Court system the treatment of children is particularly egregious, a topic on which Military Court Watch has published regularly. Links to their own reports and important others will be found on their Reports page.

When it comes to enforcement of Palestinian rights against attacks by Israeli soldiers or settlers the law is curiously inactive. It is not too much to say that both are often able to operate with impunity as numerous incidents and reports testify (see many of the links below).

With regard to land and land ownership, a series of measures have been used to “legally” deprive Palestinans of their lands: declarations of land as ‘state lands’, military need, absentee laws etc. For details see the Settlement Building and Land Issues section.

Fourth Geneva Convention: some applicable articles

Article 31: ‘No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.’

Article 32 prohibits the use of ‘any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons’, a prohibition that applies not just to murder, torture etc ‘but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents’.

Article 33: ‘No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.’

Article 71: ‘No sentence shall be pronounced by the competent courts of the Occupying Power except after a regular trial.’


Israel and annexation by lawfare

Michael Sfard, The New York Review of Books, April 10, 2018

Israel is increasingly drafting “laws” to strip away the mask of “temporariness” from the occupation

“I always thought that if Israel were to unilaterally annex the occupied Palestinian territories, it would come under an international spotlight, with denunciations and protests around the world. I was wrong. Annexation is underway, but out of the spotlight, away from international attention.”

“These new laws are to be applied in a setting in which the colonized are dominated by the colonizers, with a clear intention of maintaining that domination. Even the Israeli judiciary is joined to the task, allowing the exploitation of Palestinian property for the benefit of Israeli settlers. This epic transformation is taking place after close to fifty years of occupation. During that time, Israel made profound changes to both the landscape and the demography of the territory it conquered. Palestinians were subjected to a military government that denied them participation in the political process that shaped the rules applied to them and determined their future. Israel used the authoritarian powers that international law gives an occupying force to exploit the territory in a way never envisaged by the framers of those laws. It unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, a move that was widely condemned abroad. The international community does not recognize the unified city as Israel’s capital; even Trump’s declaration on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem stops short of acknowledging the annexation of the city’s eastern parts.”


 One Rule Two Legal Systems
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Oct 2014

This report outlines the nature of the legal regime currently operating in the West Bank. Two systems of law are applied in a single territory: one – a civilian legal system for Israeli citizens, and a second – a military court system for Palestinian residents. The result: institutionalised discrimination. The report reviews the prevailing legal situation in the West Bank under Israeli rule, and explains how decades of “temporary” military rule have given rise to two separate and unequal systems of law that discriminate between the two population groups living in the one territory – Israelis and Palestinians. The legal differentiation is not restricted to security or criminal matters, but touches upon almost every aspect of daily life.


 Starved of Justice: Palestinians Detained Without Trial by Israel
Amnesty International, USA, Jun 2012

A brief discussion of the iniquities of the administrative detention system.


 Courageous Voices, Fragile Freedoms: Israel’s Arrest and Detention of Palestinian Human Rights Defenders against the Annexation Wall
Adameeer, Dec 2013

An important report arguing that precisely because of  international recognition of, and support for, the actions of the Palestinian activists against the Wall, Israel has responded with the increasing use of military regulations, which allows it to continue its campaign of repression behind the veneer of legal authorization.


 Children in Military Custody
Delegation of British lawyers, Report on the treatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law, 2012

“The visit was funded by the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which also provided diplomatic support throughout the visit, on the shared understanding that the delegation was to be entirely independent.”

The Report made three core recommendations, viz that international law, international humanitarian law and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and therefore should be fully and effectively implemented; that international legal principle of the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children; and that should not discriminate between those children over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction. Beyond that it made over forty specific recommendations with regard to the procedures for arrest, interrogation, bail hearings, plea bargains & trial, sentencing & detention and complaints & monitoring. Suffice it to say the report makes distressing reading.

In a Progress Report two years later (Sep 2014), Military Court Watch found that just 5 percent of the recommendations had been substantially implemented.

A Military Court Watch update in June 2015 UK lawyers’ report – 3 years on links to the latest Secretary General’s Report to the UN General Assembly on the Promotion and protection of the rights of children (6 June 2015) which includes a section on ‘Israel and the State of Palestine’. MCW reports that “since the delegation last came to the region, over 3,500 children have been detained” and that despite some changes there has “not had a significant impact on reducing the reports of abuse”.


 There’s no nice way of building settlements in occupied territory
Gerard Horton, +972, 3 Mar 2015

Horton, co-founder of Military Court Watch discusses recent UNICEF reports – Children in Israeli Military (Mar 2013) now updated, finding little improvement: 91 percent of minors continue to report having their hands painfully tied; 82 percent report some form of physical violence; 78 percent are not adequately informed of their legal rights; 30 percent sign confessions in a foreign language; and 13 percent are held in solitary confinement while being interrogated.

“The military strategy employed is both reactive and proactive. In its reactive form, any and all acts of resistance are responded to with overwhelming force as a means of deterrence. In its proactive form, the military demonstrates its presence in Palestinian villages in order to intimidate the local population so that resistance is not even contemplated.”


 Israel – Briefing to the UN Human Rights Committee
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) , Sep 2014

“The briefing [lays] a heavy emphasis on Palestinians detained and interrogated by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), where the State Party’s violations of the Covenant are exceptionally serious, combining – perhaps uniquely among States Parties – systematic torture with political, legal and indeed judicial legitimisation. PCATI considers this legalisation of torture by Israel to be a blatant violation of the Covenant.”


  Alternative Report to the UN Human Rights Committee
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, Sep 2014

This report focuses on two of the issues on which Israel had been asked to report to the Human Rights Committee: the investigation of the suspected use of excessive force by the Israeli security forces against Palestinians, and law enforcement on Israeli civilians in the West Bank. It highlights the failures in the investigations mechanisms of the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division and the Samaria & Judea District Police.


 Immunity for Jewish terrorists
Ariel David, Ha’aretz, JfJfP 5 Aug 2015

While authorities vow to crack down on settler violence against Palestinians, studies by rights groups show Israel has a poor track record in bringing Jewish terrorists to justice. For instance, a report published in May 2015 by Yesh Din, found that of some 1,000 complaints filed with Israeli police over alleged violence by settlers between 2005 and 2014, more than 91 percent of investigations were closed without indictments being filed. In around 85 percent of cases , the investigation was closed due to a failure to find suspects or collect sufficient evidence to file charges…


 Former Shin Bet Chief: Price Tag Terror Impunity Will Lead to Murder of Another Prime Minister
Richard Silverstein,  Tikun Olam, JfJfP 04 May 2014

Israel’s Shin Bet has been weakened in its fight against Jewish terror. Former Shabak and Mossad chiefs, Shabtai Shavit and Carmi Gillon, have said that Israel is a land with laws that aren’t enforced when it comes to Jews attacking Palestinians… Gillon has gone as far as to say that “The price tag phenomenon is likely to lead to the murder of another Israeli prime minister.”


 Turkel report confirms IDF can kill and injure with impunity
Composite report, JfJfP, 08 Feb 2013

Three reports in early 2013, from the Turkel Committee, B’Tselem and Yesh Din, deal with the impunity IDF soldiers enjoy in relation to Palestinians. Neither the Israeli government nor IDF commanders seem to have any interest in enforcing even those rules that are in place. And many are totally inadequate: “Another suggestion by the [Turkel] panel seems so obvious that it’s hard to believe that the IDF didn’t implement it a decade ago: to establish Military Police field units in the territories that include investigators who speak Arabic and can collect evidence from Palestinian residents.”

In effect there is no system of accountability:

A senior retired Israel Defense Forces officer, who filled several senior command positions in the territories going back to the first intifada, once said that he would make it a point to rush to the scene of every incident that raised suspicions of soldiers killing a Palestinian even though their lives were not endangered.

“If you got there a quarter of an hour late, forget it,” he said. “By then the commanders and their soldiers had coordinated their versions [of the incident] and chances were you’d never find out what really happened.”

[Quotes from the Amos Harel article “The Turkel report: A no-confidence vote in the IDF’s internal investigations” included in this posting]

Some Organisations

Adameer, Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons. The centre offers free legal aid to political prisoners, advocates their rights at the national and international level, and works to end torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.

Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) documents cases of torture, ill treatment and degradation of detainees and prisoners.

Yesh Din, a volunteer organisation working to defend the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.


Contents of this section


a) Maps of the occupation
b) Occupation and the Fourth Geneva Convention

Israel’s human rights violations – an introduction
Settlement building and land issues
Restrictions on movement
House demolitions, forced displacement, denial of residency rights
The Wall
The Green Line
The economics of the occupation

c) Gaza under occupation
d) Living under occupation

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