Al-Haq, the oldest Palestinian human rights organization and the West Bank affiliate of The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), recently launched a campaign to stop collective punishment.
Collective punishment is simply penalising a group as a whole with no regard for individual responsibility. Such punishments and other measures of intimidation have been utilised by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for decades, in such forms as mass arrests; house demolitions; movement restrictions; the Annexation Wall; and property destruction.
As observed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its 2003 Humanitarian Action Plan for the OPT, ï¿½the impact - if not intent - of the measures imposed by Israel has been collective punishment of the civilian population.ï¿½ Despite Israeli claims that its authorities impose penalties only in response to criminal acts, these measures are often applied as a means to repress political dissent, exact revenge, or obtain political gains.
Collective punishment and intimidatory measures are clear breaches of international law. Despite Israelï¿½s claim that these penalties are required for reasons of national security or military necessity, they are undoubtedly violations of its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. Nonetheless, Israeli authorities continue to carry out such acts unilaterally and unchecked by the international community. Such acts have been endorsed by successive Israeli governments and, in light of its refusal to challenge these practices, have the de facto approval of the Israeli High Court.
As a result, 3.4 million Palestinians live in a state of virtual confinement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Daily life is a series of ordinances and an ordeal of checkpoints which interrupt all aspects of daily life, such as getting to work, attending school, obtaining medical assistance, or seeing family and friends. They are regularly subjected to property confiscation, house demolition, and arrest. Further, the right of Palestinians to move is dependent on their identity cards. Palestinians have been subjected to such measures for years, and their effect on the population and the economy has been devastating.
It should be noted that the obligations under international law do not stop at national borders: the international community carries a responsibility as well. Indeed, the duty of all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to respect and ensure respect thereof is one of the most fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law. In cases of breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention by the Occupying Power, the High Contracting Parties must use lawful means at their disposal to ensure compliance so that civilians and other non-combatants can obtain the protection afforded them by the Convention. As noted in the ICRC Commentary,
” ï¿½in the event of a Power failing to fulfil its obligations, the other Contracting Parties (neutral, allied or enemy) may, and should, endeavour to bring it back to an attitude of respect for the Convention.”
For this reason, Al-Haq calls on the High Contracting Parties to uphold this obligation, and to help bring about an end to the system of collective punishment with which all Palestinians are burdened. The intent is to ensure that individual Palestinians are able to enjoy the protections provided for them in international law, so that they can live a life unencumbered.