What war crimes laws apply to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

Context- Conflict between Israel and Palestinian forces since militant group Hamas’ weekend assault have created a huge and rising death toll on both sides.

The war falls under a complex international system of justice that has emerged since World War Two.

(Credits- Statista)


  • Internationally accepted rules of armed conflict emerged out of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which have been ratified by all UN member states and supplemented by rulings at international war crimes tribunals.
  • A series of treaties governs the treatment of civilians, soldiers and prisoners of war in a system collectively known as the “Law of Armed Conflict” or “International Humanitarian Law”. It applies to government forces and organised armed groups, including Hamas militants.
  • If alleged Palestinian perpetrators of atrocities in Israel and all alleged perpetrators of crimes on the occupied Palestinian territories are not brought to justice at home, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is the only international legal organ able to bring charges.
  • The ICC’s founding Rome Statute gives it legal authority to investigate alleged crimes on the territory of its members or by their nationals, when domestic authorities are “unwilling or unable” to do so.


  • The International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s permanent war crimes tribunals, opened in The Hague in 2002. It has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in its 123 member states or committed by its nationals.
  • Many of the world’s major powers are not members, including China, the United States, Russia, India and Egypt. The ICC recognises Palestine as a member state, while Israel rejects the court’s jurisdiction and does not formally engage with it.
  • With a limited budget and staff, ICC prosecutors are already investigating 17 cases ranging from Ukraine and Afghanistan to Sudan and Myanmar.
  • The ICC budget has allocated just under a million euros ($1.06 million) for investigations in the Palestinian territories for 2023 and is seeking additional resources.
  • The ICC has had an ongoing investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the occupied Palestinian territories since 2021.


  • New York-based Human Rights Watch cited as possible war crimes the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate rocket attacks, and the taking of civilians as hostages by Palestinian armed groups, as well as the Israeli counter-strikes in Gaza that killed hundreds of Palestinians.
  • The taking of hostages, murder and torture are explicitly banned under the Geneva Conventions, while Israel’s response could also be subject to a war crimes investigation.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant drew criticism from UN officials and human rights groups by announcing a tightened blockade to prevent food and fuel from reaching the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people.


  • A siege can be considered a war crime if it targets civilians, rather than a legitimate means to undermine Hamas’ military capabilities, or if found to be disproportionate.
  • Attacks on military objectives have to be proportional under international law which means they must not lead to excessive loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects in relation to the direct and concrete military advantage expected.

Syllabus- Prelims; Current Affairs

Source- Indian Express


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