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Fact Sheet: What is Occupation?
  • The Gaza strip and West Bank (including east Jerusalem) are known in official UN parlance as the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), captured by Israel in 1967 in what is perhaps the longest-running military occupation in modern history.  Referring to the OPT exclusively as “Gaza and the West Bank” obscures the fact that the OPT are under occupation, which is their defining feature under international law.

  • As civilians living under occupation, the 3 million Palestinians living in the OPT are entitled to legal protections under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and Israel’s unilateral annexation of east Jerusalem have no legal effect on these protections.[1]  This has been repeatedly affirmed by the UN; of the 189 countries that have signed the Convention, only Israel disputes the Convention’s applicability in the OPT.

  • The occupation itself is illegal; numerous resolutions of the UN Security Council (which are binding on UN member states) since 1967 have called for an Israeli withdrawal.  Moreover, the Commission on Human Rights has also repeatedly called for a withdrawal and affirmed that the "Israeli military occupation in itself constitutes a grave violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people."[2]

  • The Oslo accords did not end the occupation, either legally or in practice.  Under the accords, Israel maintains military control over 82% of the OPT.  Israel retains control over all borders and regulates all movement between Gaza and the West Bank as well as within those areas.  Israeli military orders governing the Palestinian population and their land remain in effect, as do Israeli military courts.  Some 300 Palestinian prisoners arrested before the 1993 Oslo accords continue to languish in Israeli jails.  Moreover, the Oslo accords formally recognise Israeli control over settlements in the OPT, even though all such settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law.  While Israeli officials sometimes claim that “90% of the Palestinian population lives under PNA rule,” the actions of Israel still have a direct impact on all aspects of life in the OPT.

  • The PNA is not a state.  It has no geographical contiguity or control over its borders or coastline, making it entirely dependent on Israel.  PNA-controlled areas in the OPT are fragmented into dozens of isolated bantustans.  All ties between the Gaza strip and the West Bank and with the outside world are under Israeli control; even customs duties meant to fund the PNA are first collected by Israeli authorities (and have been withheld during the al-Aqsa Intifada).  Basic governmental functions, such as the judiciary, executive, and Palestinian Legislative Council, are severely disrupted by Israeli restrictions on movement that have also strangled the economy.

[last updated 6 April 2002]


[1] “Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the [Fourth Geneva] Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory” (Article 47, Fourth Geneva Convention).

[2] E/CN.4/RES/S-5/1, 19 October 2000, para. 4