Oxfam calls for protection of civilians

Palestinian man walking in the streets of Nablus, followed by an Israeli tank (Nasser Ishtayeh)

A new report by Oxfam International today calls for the protection of Israeli and Palestinian civilians to be put at the top of the international agenda. The report calls for the Government of Israel, the Palestinian National Authority and the international community, through the Quartet (EU, Russia, UN, US) to act urgently to reduce the impact of conflict on Palestinians and Israeli civilians. The international community has a legal obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. According to the Oxfam research, the humanitarian situation has become critical and it is civilians on both sides who are suffering most.

The report calls for the Quartet to convene an emergency meeting of all parties to consider possible new ways that the international community can step up its involvement, including: The deployment of a strong protection or observation force for civilians; an international force to work as a verification and implementation mission; a mechanism for settling disputes; A UN mandated international peacekeeping force.

It also calls for an end to the culture of impunity - with those who commit inhuman and criminal acts being brought to justice, and for the Government of Israel to stop the construction of the separation barrier because of its devastating effect on Palestinian civilians.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking says: “Recent events in Gaza constitute appalling violations of international law. The reality is that ordinary Israelis and Palestinians cannot wait for a peace settlement - they need protection now.

“The international community is a like a rabbit caught in the headlights, paralysed by events as they unfold. It can and must do more to protect people on both sides - and start to ease the suffering.”

The new Oxfam report shows that the Government of Israel is failing to fulfil its legal obligations as the Occupying Power. As well as killing civilians it is also destroying infrastructure indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, even water tanks and pipes that Oxfam has built. Oxfam research shows that the most vulnerable Palestinian people are now totally dependant on charity, having sold everything they can to stay alive.

Israeli civilians are also living in constant fear from brutal attacks by Palestinian extremist groups, activities which the Palestinian National Authority and Israel as the occupying force, have so far failed to stop.
Oxfam director Barbara Stocking says: “Immediate action by the international community is needed to protect civilians. The gravity of the situation demands real engagement and fresh thinking. The protection of civilians should not be bargained for - it must be guaranteed. Every delay by the international community is another day that the suffering of civilians increases.”


Civilians are paying a high price for the escalating violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories. Hundreds of innocent lives are being lost and hundreds of thousands deprived of their basic rights as the security situation deteriorates. A solution to the conflict can only lie in a political process. In the meantime, civilians caught up in armed conflict are guaranteed the right to protection under international humanitarian law. They cannot afford to wait for a negotiated settlement. Moreover, their protection will strengthen the path to peace and help to reduce poverty.
The international community, through member governments of the Quartet (the EU, USA, UN, and Russia) and governments in the region, must act now and fulfil the obligations under international law to ensure the right of civilians to protection. Oxfam is calling on the Quartet to convene an emergency meeting with the Israeli Government and Palestinian National Authority to ensure that ordinary people on both sides are protected.

To download the full report (PDF, 581KB) click here.

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has claimed nearly 4000 lives since October 2000. Families in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories have been torn apart as their loved ones have had their lives cut short. Nearly 3000 Palestinians, a majority of whom are unarmed civilians, [2] have been killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and more than 600 Israeli civilians have died as victims of Palestinian terrorism, in addition to the 265 Israeli security-force personnel who have been killed. [3] At least 25,000 Palestinians and 5467 Israelis have been injured, [4] and Palestinians have died because curfews and the checkpoints imposed by the Israeli military around their towns or villages have prevented them from receiving medical attention. Thousands more have had their homes destroyed.

The current violence is taking place against the background of Israel’s 37-year military occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the breakdown of the Oslo peace process. Israel’s separation barrier, the stated aim of which is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers reaching Israel, is now limiting the access of more than half a million West Bank Palestinians to their land, livelihoods, and water. Fear has become a part of everyday life for ordinary people everywhere. Moreover, the majority of the 3.8 million Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as a significant percentage of the Israeli population, live in poverty as a direct result of the conflict. Civilians are more vulnerable than ever before in the current climate of violence. Yet the protection of civilians is a central obligation of states in the law of war (also called international humanitarian law, or IHL). [5]

Under IHL, civilian protection means that people have the right to have their basic needs met as well as to be protected from personal violence. All parties have committed grave abuses of human rights. The Israeli government has failed to fulfil its obligations towards the occupied population; the Palestinian Authority has failed to defend civilians and to stop the violent actions of the extremist groups. The international community has also failed to ensure respect for the rules of international humanitarian law, prejudicing the prospects for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. A political solution based on international law is required to bring about a sustainable and just peace. However, ordinary Palestinians and Israelis cannot afford to wait for one. They need protection now.

Fresh thinking is required to change this situation, and Oxfam is calling for urgent action to be taken by the international community to ensure protection for civilians on both sides. The effective protection of civilians is essential for establishing peace through a political process that must lead to an end of occupation and the creation of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.

Several models of international action exist already. All put the protection of civilians first, under international humanitarian law. Some have been successfully deployed in other conflicts. We suggest some ideas and models for consideration in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Oxfam does not commit itself to any particular model; only to the principle that in armed conflicts, international humanitarian law should be respected and civilians protected. We believe that their protection will, in turn, increase support for a peaceful settlement and marginalise those who wish to pursue violence. It would also greatly enhance the prospects for regional peace and global security. The application of these models needs urgent discussion and implementation by the GOI, the PNA, and member governments of the EU and UN via the Quartet. This would demonstrate that members of the Quartet and other governments are acting according to their responsibilities under Common Article One of the Geneva Convention.

Oxfam is calling on these key players to meet around the negotiating table without delay, to decide what action to take in order to protect civilians on both sides – and to start to put an end to the suffering.


  1. Foundations for Peace, Oxfam International Briefing Paper No. 21, p1.

  • Accounting Palestinian combatant and civilian casualties separately is difficult, because most Palestinian combatants do not wear uniforms. Many accounts of individual incidents report more civilian casualties than combatant casualties.
  • B’Tselem and Palestine Red Crescent Society and Israel Defence Force
  • Magen David Adom. Statistics for Palestinian injuries alone range from 26,129 (Palestinian Red Crescent Society), 38,000 (Palestinian National Information Centre), to 41,000 (Palestine Monitor).
  • International humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflicts or the law of war, is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, designed to safeguard those not actively taking part in the conflict, particularly civilians, and in the Hague Regulations which regulate the conduct of military operations.

    Related Links

  • Protecting Civilians: A cornerstone of Middle East peace (PDF) Oxfam International (May 2004)
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