#PalestinianWomen: The Disproportionate Impact of The Israeli Occupation

#PalestinianWomen: The Disproportionate Impact of The Israeli Occupation

#PalestinianWomen: The Disproportionate Impact of The Israeli Occupation

The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD), Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), Women Media and Development (TAM)
Pictures: Main Image - CPT Palestine, licensed under CC BY 2.0
November 20, 2018
1. Introduction

For over half a century, Israel has occupied Palestinian territory and subjected Palestinians to systematic human rights abuses, in violation of international law. Since the occupation began, Israel’s “ruthless policies of land confiscation, illegal settlement and dispossession, coupled with rampant discrimination, have inflicted immense suffering on Palestinians, depriving them of their basic rights.”1 Palestinian women in particular have been forced to endure both direct and indirect gendered violence emanating from the occupation, which has affected women in distinct and specific ways. This report has been prepared by the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD), the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), and Women Media and Development (TAM) as part of the Karama network. The aim of this report is to demonstrate, through personal testimonies and quantitative research, the disproportionate impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian women. The reality of this will be demonstrated with reference to four categories of Palestinian women:  refugees; female Jerusalemites subjected to residency revocation/family reunification refusal; female prisoners subjected to gender-based violence, and Gazan women, focusing on denial of their access to healthcare.


Brief History


In 1947, with increasing Jewish immigration into Palestine, and with the British Mandate for Palestine ending the following year, the United Nations (UN) proposed a partition plan. Under UN General Assembly Resolution 1812, adopted on 29 November 1947, historic Palestine would be divided into two independent Jewish and Arab states, while Jerusalem would be governed by a special international regime, administered by the UN.

The adoption of the partition plan led to the Arab-Israeli civil war, which would last until 1949. This marked the beginning of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Jewish paramilitaries and later Israeli forces. From a population of 1.9 million Palestinians, 750,000 were forcibly expelled and fled the war, becoming refugees. 530 villages and cities were destroyed and many thousands of Palestinians were slaughtered.3 Following the war, Israel claimed approximately 78% of historic Palestine, marking its borders far beyond those proposed in Resolution 181. The death of many Palestinians, the dispossession and the destruction of their property, as well as the expulsion from their homeland, marks what Palestinians term “Al Nakba” – the catastrophe.

During the Six Day War of 1967, a further 300,000 Palestinians fled conflict or were expelled from their homeland. Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, establishing military control. Both waves of refugees, of 1947-1949 and 1967, formed a population of Palestinian refugees that today numbers over 5 million.4 Israel continues to deny these Palestinian refugees the right of return, despite condemnation by the international community.5

As an occupying power, Israel has continued the process of ethnic cleansing, and began a relentless process of illegal annexation – de jure and de facto – of the occupied Palestinian territories.

As part of this project, Israel has, since 1967, continued to construct and sustain settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, despite virtually unanimous condemnation by the international community and it being in violation of international law. There are now over 200 illegal settlements on Palestinian territory, housing almost 600,000 Israeli settlers. The establishment of the settlements is leading to a creeping, illegal annexation that undermines the establishment of a viable Palestinian State and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The settlements are maintained through a system of discrimination and segregation, supported by strict military policing, at the expense of Palestinian rights and livelihoods. Settler violence creates fear and instability for Palestinians, especially for women who are constantly alert with the fear that their children will be injured or killed.  Such violence – as well as destruction of property – overburdens women with increased worries and responsibilities to provide for their families.8 In addition, women in particular experience anxiety over leaving their homes for fear of settler violence.9

In Gaza, Israel’s blockade dating from 2007 and restriction of resources have led to what the UN has termed a “dramatic” humanitarian crisis.10 However, the de-politicised language of “humanitarian crisis” must not distort Israel’s political motivations; the deprivation of food, water, electricity and freedom of movement in Gaza by Israel is a deliberate plan to make the lives of Gazans (living under Hamas) unbearable. This collective “punishment” has only worsened since the 50 day war on Gaza in 2014, during which 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed, and Gaza suffered extensive destruction.11 Again, these conditions in Gaza have placed particular strain upon women, who experienced the loss husbands and sons in the fighting, and continue to bear the disproportionate burden of responsibilities towards their families in extremely challenging living conditions in Gaza.

Today, 51 years after establishing its military presence in Palestine, Israel continues to occupy Palestine through force and subjugation. It is an occupation built on the gradual removal of Palestinian rights, which, as will be highlighted in this report, is experienced in distinct and specific ways by Palestinian women.


Disproportionate Impact of Israeli Occupation on Lives of Women


The structure of the occupation and its effects are especially damaging to women, who do not have equal access to justice or equally effective social platforms to address this imbalance. The militarised nature of occupation is inherently masculine; the occupation was established by men, it is led by men, and continues to be imposed largely by men. The occupation rests on constructed gender identities and roles, in turn it perpetuates gender inequalities emanating from patriarchal norms.  The occupation can be said to affect women specifically both directly and indirectly. In a direct sense, the violence of the occupation – whether directed at men or women – is disproportionately borne by women: those who cannot reunite with their families and homes; those that are made to watch as their husbands and children are detained, attacked and killed around them; those who suffer gender-specific torture in Israeli prisons; those refugee women that must endure continuous refugeehood in an already patriarchal society; those female human rights defenders who are specifically targeted by Israel, and those women, particularly in Gaza, that are denied their most basic right to health. The occupation continues to substantiate and reinforce the patriarchal structure of Palestinian and Israeli societies, the gendered and negative effects of which are again borne by women.

Throughout Palestine, in many cases, these violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including actions constituting ill treatment and degradation, are committed directly by Israeli State actors – including night raids, property destruction and demolition, forced evictions and population transfer, separation of families, mistreatment of female prisoners, targeting of human rights defenders, restrictions on freedom of movement and expression and checkpoint violence.12 Such violations, whether perpetuated directly against women or their family members, have a profound and damaging effect on women. In their roles as primary caregivers for their children and families, the threat of violence, separation and other abuses perpetuated by the Israeli occupation is an extremely onerous burden for Palestinian women to bare.

In other cases, gendered human rights abuses are committed by non-State actors, such as settlers, but endorsed by the Israeli State by their failure to investigate and prosecute the Israeli perpetrators.13 Furthermore, women continue to be subjected to gender-based violence and other gendered human rights violations by Palestinian men. As UN women report, the relationship between occupation violence and gender-based violence, including domestic violence, is complex and multi-layered, where the presence of occupation limitations feeds into a more conservative environment based on insecurity and protectionism.14 The report states that communities, men and women suffering from occupation are more likely to fall into a cycle of domestic violence.15

As observed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, violence (and other human rights abuses) against Palestinian women occur both in private and public spheres, with women suffering multiple sources of discrimination and violence: they suffer the violence of the Israeli occupation, whether directly or indirectly, but they also suffer from a system of violence emanating from tradition and culture, with embedded patriarchal social norms and multiple outdated legal frameworks.16 The experiences of women under occupation are distinct and specific, yet are all too often overlooked by mainstream human rights organisations, which routinely fail to include or adequately address gender concerns in their reporting.17


Israel’s International Obligations


Israel is a signatory to a number of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)18 and International Human Rights Law (IHRL)19 treaties, which  apply to the occupation.

Israel, as an occupying power, is bound by a number of obligations under IHL. Articles 43 and 55 of the Hague Regulations 1907, which is customary international law and therefore must be respected by all states, provide that an occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, must ensure public order, and act only as an administrator of property, preserving the status quo. It further provides in Articles 23 and Article 46 that the seizure of private property is prohibited and the family lives and religious convictions of persons must be respected.

Furthermore, in respect of  IHL, the Fourth Geneva Convention also applies to Israel as an occupying power. Important aspects of this Convention include the prohibition on collective punishment20, the prohibition on population transfer21 and the obligation to preserve the family, cultural and religious lives of the occupied population.22 While Israel invariably attempts to deny the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the basis that the sovereign status of Palestine was disputed when Israel became an occupying power, its attempts to do so are legally incorrect and incongruous with the purpose of the Geneva Conventions, which is to ensure protection of civilians who find themselves under occupation. Article 4 of the Convention defines persons protected by the Convention as those who, “…at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Furthermore, it has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice23 as well as the Israeli Supreme Court24 that the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable to Israel in the Palestinian territories.

In respect of Gaza, although Israel claims that IHL does not apply following its “disengagement” in 2005, Israel still controls Gaza’s borders, airspace and sea and as such its access to resources, medical supplies, food, water and electricity. Furthermore, Israel exercises “police” functions over Gaza through technology such as drones.25 Israel also retains its ability to exercise physical control at any time. As such, Israel still retains effective control over Gaza. Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Convention, states that “territory is occupied when it has actually been placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation only extends to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” Despite the “disengagement” Israel has not relinquished control over the Gaza strip. GISHA argues that “…where control is exercised, responsibility attaches.”26 Furthermore as GISHA highlights, even if the occupation in Gaza were to be considered as having ended, Israel would still owe post-occupation obligations to Gaza under IHL. Owing to Israel’s failure to preserve public life and institutions in Gaza under Article 43, GISHA argues that if and when the occupation of Gaza comes to an end, Israel “…would likely continue to owe certain duties to the occupied population, until such reasonable time as Gaza residents can build the structures and systems that should have been provided by the occupying power.”27 In light of the above considerations, the UN has affirmed that it considers Gaza still to be under occupation by Israel.28

It is widely accepted that fundamental human rights obligations continue to apply in times of armed conflict.29 Furthermore, the actions of an occupying power must be scrutinised through the lens of both IHL and IHRL, with IHL being lex specialis, as it affords particular protections to the occupied population.30 The legal obligations of IHL and IHRL  are complementary, and the applicability of one set of obligations does not preclude the applicability of the other. As such, international human rights instruments to which Israel is a signatory are applicable in the occupied Palestinian territories.31 Israel’s obligations exist beyond its territorial limits, extending to the jurisdiction under Israel’s effective control.32 The applicability of human rights obligations to the Palestinian territories has been affirmed extensively by, amongst others, the UN Secretary-General33, the UN General Assembly34, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights35, and by the International Court of Justice in its opinion on the Israeli annexation wall. Furthermore, in relation to women specifically, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) General Recommendation No. 30 on Women in Conflict Prevention, Conflict and post-conflict situations has affirmed the application of the Convention in situations of armed conflict and occupation.37 The CEDAW Committee emphasises that States parties to the convention are responsible for the human rights of individuals “within their territory or effective control, even if not situated within their territory.”38 This is a clear affirmation that the Israeli government is responsible for the human rights situation of Palestinian women and girls living under Israeli occupation.

Despite the clear applicability of both IHL and IHRL to Israel’s actions, Israel continues to commit violations of both IHL and IHRL against Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and within the territory of Israel, in addition to preventing of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In respect of IHL, examples of violations discussed above, including night raids39, settlement construction40, housing demolitions41 and residency revocations leading to forced population transfer42, are clear breaches of IHL In Gaza, the denial of humanitarian access—both in and out of the Gaza Strip—is a further violation of IHL.43 This report will highlight and demonstrate the specific and distinct effects of these of violations on women. 

IHL provides that military occupation is a temporary state of affairs whereby sovereign power remains with the occupied population and does not vest in the occupying force (in line with the principle of self-determination). As such, the occupying power has obligations to manage the public order and civil life in the interests of the local population. Israel’s continued dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinian people violate this obligation. As such, it can be convincingly argued that Israel’s continued occupation and annexation of Palestine is in itself illegal.44 This has been echoed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, who, in a statement made to the UN General Assembly in 2017, said that “Israel’s role as occupier in the Palestinian Territory – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza – has crossed a red line into illegality.”45 In IHRL terms, Israeli practices cause constant and severe violations of women’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as described above, and inhibit the development of Palestinian society in line with international human rights obligations.

For Palestinian refugee women, Israel continues to bar their return to their homeland, forcing them into a state of perpetual refugeehood. Palestinian refugee women have been socially, politically, and economically subjugated as a result of discriminatory laws and decades of marginalisation, and are forced to endure not only the hardships of protracted refugeehood while living in an already patriarchal community. As will be discussed in this report, this untenable situation is in violation of countless UN General Assembly46 and UN Security Council resolutions47 that have urged Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees. For example, Article 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 194848 provides that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”  Furthermore, UN Security Council Resolution 237 of 1967 calls upon Israel to “…facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities.”49 Several other UN General Assembly and UN Security Council Resolutions50 have required Israel to allow for the return of Palestine refugees. Yet, Israel has continued to ignore all of these resolutions, barring the return of Palestine refugees and refusing to compensate them for their stolen land and property.

In Gaza, the siege has reached such a critical point that conditions are increasingly “unliveable”, violating the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment51, the right to health52 and even the right to life.53 It is an “open-air prison” with 56% youth unemployment and a shocking 78% of young women unemployed54, in violation of their economic and social rights to adequate living conditions, including shelter, food55 and a livelihood.56  Since the end of the 2014 war, Gaza has seen a 73% perceived increase in Gender-Based Violence.57 As the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence and Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, on her mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territory/State of Palestine  wrote in 2017, the political situation “serves as mitigating circumstance that makes violence against women more acceptable.”58 Furthermore, contrary to General Recommendation 35 of the CEDAW Committee, gender-based violence committed by Israelis against Palestinians remains pervasive throughout Palestine.59

Female Palestinian prisoners are subjected to a number of human rights violations and gender-based violence by Israeli actors. Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, denial of access to sanitation, stress positions, beatings, sexual harassment are all commonplace for Palestinian female prisoners, contrary to international human rights standards.60 The transfer of Palestinian women to Israeli prisons is also in violation of international humanitarian law prohibiting the occupying power from forcibly transferring the occupying population from the occupied territory.61

Collective punitive measures against Jerusalemites, including restrictions on freedom of movement, residency revocation, forced evictions, home demolitions, house arrests and denial of family reunification applications place a disproportionately harmful impact on women, who overwhelmingly bear the responsibility of caregiving in the family.62 These measures continue to violate the human rights of Palestinian women in a myriad of ways, including, but not limited to, exposing them to inhuman and degrading treatment, causing them emotional, psychological and physical harm,63 violating their rights to property and a livelihood64 and private and family life,65 as well as restricting their rights to access to basic services such as healthcare and education.66

Israel is obliged to refrain from committing such human rights abuses and prevent non-state actors from committing such acts.67 Yet, rather than legislating against these practices, Israel actively promotes and participates in them. As a whole, the collective punishment, forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people represent some of the gravest breaches of IHL and IHRL, breaches which have very distinct and damaging effects for women.


International Support of Israeli Violations


These violations are occurring in a political climate that favours the occupying force. The occupation is now in its 51st year. It is uniquely long, but is being normalised and legitimised globally, most notably by US President Donald Trump’s declaration in December 2017 that Jerusalem is the “eternal capital of Israel”. This policy decision was particularly damaging, as will be discussed in section 3 of this report on residency revocation and family reunification. The president’s declaration supports the collection of Israeli policies designed to implement the intentional forced transfer of Palestinians from Jerusalem. For example, the housing demolition regime, which saw 155 Palestinians from East Jerusalem left homeless in 2017 as a result of Israeli demolition orders.68 By declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the US president has legitimised Israel’s breaches of international law and endorsed its anti-Palestinian regime.

The declaration was followed by another decision: to cut US aid given to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) by $65 million – over half of the agency’s $125 million budget. As will be highlighted  in this report, the rights and needs of Palestinian women refugees are neglected by Israel and their host states abroad, such as Lebanon and Jordan. Israel refuses both to take responsibility for the situation of Palestinian refugees, including those in Gaza, the West Bank, the 1948 territories or Jerusalem. Furthermore, Israel continually bars refugees outside of these territories from returning to their homeland. It will be seen that Israel has obligations towards Palestinian refugee women under international law, yet is rejecting these to the detriment of Palestinian women. Women and girls are left heavily dependent on UNRWA aid; removing this aid makes the United States complicit in their suffering.


This Report


This report has been prepared by the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD), the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), and Women Media and Development (TAM) as part of the Karama network. Drawing on the issues above, the aim of this report is to demonstrate, through personal testimonies and quantitative research, the gendered nature of the Israeli occupation.

Four themes are covered in this report: women refugees; residency revocation and denial family reunification in respect of female Jerusalemites; female prisoners; and access to health in Gaza. In addressing each of these issues, Israeli abuses are examined through the framework of international law in order to highlight the effects of these abuses  on Palestinian women. Some Israeli actions represent direct discrimination against Palestinian women; others are generalised, but have effects which are particularly damaging to Palestinian women. They are the result of the disproportionate impact of the occupation on women in a patriarchal society and can be contextualised by broader Israeli motives: “to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967.”69

2. Women Refugees

© Yousef Deeb
“To become a refugee is to find oneself summarily deprived of the protections and safeguards which nationality and citizenship normally confer. At a stroke, the refugee loses home, property and means of livelihood, the whole array of civil and political, economic and cultural rights which the state is traditionally expected to uphold and guarantee…It is this situation which those assisting refugees must confront as a most urgent practicality.”70



According to the most recent UNRWA figures, there are 5,340,343 Palestinian refugees spread across 58 camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza.71 Figures from humanitarian agencies are higher, with Badil recently placing the number at 7.98 million.72

The Palestinian refugee problem is unique. The majority of Palestine refugees are the product of the 1948 war, forced off their land to reside in other areas of Palestine or neighbouring states such as Syria, Jordan or Lebanon. Yet, there was also a second major expulsion, following the 1967 war where Israel occupied by force the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. In only three months – June, July and August of 1967 – UNRWA recorded a total of 200,000 Palestinian refugees crossing into Jordan. In the Jericho area alone, 65,000 persons are reported to have fled from their homes, leaving only about 7,500 behind.73 Almost half of those were the victims of secondary displacement – initially displaced in 1948, and uprooted for a second time in 1967.

70 years after the initial exodus, the plight of Palestinian refugees remains one of the world’s most enduring refugee crises. Supported by the Israeli occupation, it is also one of the most entrenched. After the Israeli decision in late-1948 not to allow the return of Palestinian refugees, concrete steps were taken—the destruction of Arab villages, the acquisition and handing-out of Arab property, the development of Israeli settlements on Arab land—that collectively rendered that return virtually inconceivable.74 These developments continue today. The Zionist project continues to seek an Israeli state in Palestine. While highly desirable, it is equally difficult to envision Israel opening its doors to the millions of Palestinians that wish to return. This enduring state of refugeehood produces specific effects and distinct harms for Palestinian refugee women.



The practical effect of the legal ambiguity under IRL and the clear violations of IHL and IHRL is a removal of Palestinian rights and a lesser quality of life more broadly. In the West Bank and Gaza, the refugee community is young, but faces the highest rates of unemployment and poverty. They face “repeated violations of human rights and high levels of violence, with individual, familial and community resilience stretched to the limit.”75 In Gaza, issues are compounded by the severe and abusive blockade; in the West Bank, by “socioeconomic conditions rooted in occupation-related policies and practices imposed by the Israeli authorities.”76 For women, already denigrated by patriarchal communities and by the disproportionate effects of the occupation, this is a double detriment to already difficult lives.

The specific disadvantage to women is well documented by a study recently completed by MIFTAH, entitled “Documenting Violations by the Israeli Occupation against Refugee Women the Palestinian Refugee camps in West Bank and Gaza Strip”. Speaking to 500 Palestinian refugee women from 12 Palestinian camps (7 in the West Bank, 5 in Gaza), their main findings are as follows:

Physical and Psychological Abuse. 33% of those interviewed had been directly exposed to physical assault by Israeli Occupation Forces. 9% had been exposed to threats of being attacked by  policing dogs during Israeli night raids on their homes.
Arrest, detention and foul language. 37% had been exposed to detention or interrogation. 38% said that they or members of their households had been exposed to verbal abuse during Israeli army raids, at checkpoints or while visiting religious places.
Women’s Economic Circumstances. 4% had been forced to work in substandard conditions after Israeli forces had detained or killed the breadwinner of the family. 2% had quit their job after the killing or detention of a family member to take care of their children. 7% reported that they were forced to disregard their health to reduce expenses, due to the absence of a breadwinner.
Displacement and family dispersion. 24% were forced to live in shelters or with extended family. 22% were forced to live under unhealthy conditions. 13% stated that the female and male members of their families were separated as a result of having to live in shelters.
Women’s Health. 21% had been exposed to beatings or tear gas at Israeli checkpoints while they were pregnant. 4% reported that they aborted or gave birth at Israeli checkpoints.
Women’s Education. 5% of refugee women or their children had been forced to drop out of school because of reasons related to the Occupation.
Prohibitions on cultural and social participation. 64% (321 cases) were unable to visit religious or recreational places because of Occupation restrictions.
Psychological Effects.
31% were suffering from psychological distress, cramps or seizures because of Israeli Occupation measures.
29% of the women reported that they feel physically paralyzed when Occupation Forces assault them.
72% reported feeling panicked when they hear the sounds of Israeli bullets, war jets, bombs or Palestinian ambulances.
88% confirmed that they feel terrified when Occupation Forces storm the camp.
77% reported that they suffer from anxiety over fears of being expelled again.
49% still have scenes of killing and destruction etched in their memories.

According to MIFTAH, there is a “triangle of oppression” for Palestinian refugee women77: the combination of violations of the Israeli occupation, the hardships of daily life and traditional attitudes towards women. Palestinian refugee women bear the brunt of Israeli abuses, and are forced to endure them in an environment that is already suppressive and patriarchal.

The effects of women outside of Palestine is also profound. One 201378 survey found that Palestinian refugees residing in camps in Lebanon were “socially, politically, and economically disadvantaged as a result of discriminatory laws and decades of marginalisation”. Reviewing 2,575 households, 82% of respondents were women: 52% of respondents reported chronic illness, 28% reported acute illness, and 55% were psychologically distressed.79


International Law

The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (‘Refugee Convention’) and its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (‘1967 Protocol’) provide the primary protection for refugees under International Refugee Law (IRL). They provide a definition of ‘refugee’, as well as a series of basic obligations for signatory states. In its application to Palestinians, however, the Refugee Convention is problematic. A number of the states in which Palestinian refugees reside, for example Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, are not signatories to either of these instruments. Israel is a signatory to both, but it is unclear from the text of the Refugee Convention whether or not its obligations extend to the Palestinian territories it occupies. It has been argued, for example, that Article 40 of the Refugee Convention, the ‘Territorial Application’ clause, does not apply to situations of prolonged occupation.80 On the other hand, the trajectory of both IHL and IHRL has in recent years seen a shift from jurisdiction and traditional sovereignty to control: states become responsible for all those over whom they exercise a sufficient level of control.81 This interpretation would ensure protection to those refugees in the West Bank and Gaza who Israel does not feel obliged to protect.

Equally contentious is Article 1D of the Refugee Convention, the clause that disapplies the Convention to those receiving protection or assistance from other organs of the UN. With Palestinian refugees receiving assistance from UNRWA (and previously from UNCCP), they fall under this provision. Immediately, the clause places Palestinian refugees at the mercy of an agency, UNRWA, that is itself dependent on foreign aid (see introduction). And, while UNRWA was designed to grant special protection for Palestinians, its mandate to protect Palestine refugees has in fact led to a loss of protection under international law due to a series of confused interpretations.82 Furthermore, it places many Palestinian refugees into a ‘protection gap’83 – once they have received UNRWA assistance, they are excluded from the protections of the Refugee Convention, even if that assistance was only short-term or one-off. Many are thus left stateless, unable to rely on the Convention’s protections and no longer qualifying for UNRWA’s assistance.

Refugees have fundamental rights in IHRL, which must be respected by states. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes in that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.” The CEDAW Committee, in its General Recommendation 32, emphasises that CEDAW requires that women refugees are granted, “…without discrimination, the right to accommodation, education, health care and other support, including food, clothing and necessary social services, appropriate to their particular needs as women. In addition, women refugees should be offered sources of livelihood and employment opportunities.”84 As well as these rights specific to refugees, it should be emphasised that refugees are entitled to the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Therefore, restrictions including, but not limited to, accessing healthcare,85 practicing their religion,86 education87 constitute violations of such rights.

In relation to Palestine refugees specifically, as noted, this untenable situation is in violation of countless UN General Assembly88 and UN Security Council89 resolutions that have urged Israel to allow the return of Palestinian refugees. For example, Article 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 194890 provides that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” Furthermore, UN Security Council Resolution 237 of 1967 calls upon Israel to “…facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of hostilities.”91 United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 3236 of 1974 recognises the “inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes”.92 And, specific to Women in Conflict, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, calls for parties to armed conflicts “to respect the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements, and to take into account the particular needs of women and girls.”93 Yet, Israel has continued to ignore all of these resolutions, barring the return of Palestine refugees and refusing to compensate them for their stolen land and property. These calls for justice for Palestine Refugees are are falling on deaf ears, as Israel continues to bar their return or take any responsibility for the refugee population.

Israel has an obligation to respect the fundamental rights of Palestinian refugees, principally, the right to self-determination, the right of return and the right to restitution and compensation. Yet, it is actively legislating against these – previously through laws such as its Law of Return (1950), but more recently through the 2001 Ensuring Rejection of the Right of Return Law. This prevents refugees, defined as “a person who left the borders of the State of Israel at the time of war and is not a national of the State of Israel, including the persons displaced in 1967 and refugees of 1948 or a member of his family” to return to Israel except through specific Knesset authorisation. It is an unquestionably discriminatory law, targeting Palestinian refugees at the expense of Israeli citizens.94

The above findings demonstrate Israel’s disregard for Palestinian refugees, as well as its disregard for international law. Women refugees, in particular, are treated as second-class citizens, deprived of their rights. Without political and international will to achieve a resolution to the status of Palestinian refugees, Israel will continue to disregard international law and reject its refugee obligations. International pressure must be applied to this end to bring about the end to the normalisation of this protracted displacement and the suffering endured as a result.



Recognize the Palestinian right of return, as contained in United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 194 and 513. It is also necessary to confirm United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, pertaining to the rights of women and peace, along with Security Council Resolution 237 of 1967, calling on Israel to respect human rights in the regions affected by the Middle East conflict of 1967, to ensure safety and security for their residents and facilitate the return of the displaced.

Confirm the importance of implementing United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 3236 of 1974.

Donor states and organizations should fulfill their obligations towards UNRWA so that the Agency can continue providing services to Palestinian refugees.

Provide psycho-social support for individuals exposed to traumatic experiences as a result of violations committed by the Israeli Occupation. This should include a heightened role for international bodies (governmental and non-governmental organizations) in Palestinian refugee camps.

Design developmental economic programs that address women’s psycho-social and recreational needs as a means of providing relief from the daily suffering resulting from the Israeli Occupation.

End all restrictions on refugee camps; allow them to develop, if necessary, into healthy and thriving areas.

Provide support for local women’s institutions and human rights organizations to monitor human rights violations, with an emphasis on those committed against refugee women, and providing regular updates to the UN and other international human rights organizations.

3. Jerusalem: Residency Revocation and Family Reunification

© Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD)

Israel’s closely linked policies of residency revocation and family reunification are used to target Palestinians and forcibly transfer them from their homes. The harmful effects of these policies are particularly felt by Palestinians living in Jerusalem, where Israel is intent on diminishing the Palestinian presence.95 Residency revocation is the process where Palestinian residency permits are revoked by Israeli authorities, while family reunification is the process whereby individuals apply for residency permits to reunite with their families. Both represent the power Israel holds over fundamental Palestinian rights – the right to private and family life – and both are examples of Israeli demographic reconstruction by decree. These policies form part of Israel’s 2020 “Master Plan” with the aim of reducing the Arab population of East Jerusalem to under 28%.96 Thus, residency revocation and denial of family reunification are designed with the aim of altering facts on the ground and forcibly transferring Palestinians from Jerusalem, in order to maintain a majority Jewish Israeli demographic.


Residency Revocation

During the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in breach of international law, and began to apply its law there. Israel re-drew the map of Jerusalem, adding 7,000 hectares of mainly Palestinian-owned West Bank land to East Jerusalem. The annexed area is currently home to at least 370,000 Palestinians and some 208,000 Israeli settlers.97 Having annexed the region, Israel changed the residency status of resident Palestinians and labelled them ‘permanent residents’ – the same legal status as foreigners wishing to reside permanently in Israel. Unlike those foreigners, however, this change of status was not optional.

According to official figures, 14,595 Palestinians from East Jerusalem had their residency status revoked between 1967 and the end of 2016.98 These revocations were carried out for a number of reasons, but mostly due to  what Israel has deemed the failure to demonstrate a “centre of life” in East Jerusalem. The “centre of life” policy entails the practice of permanent revocation of residency for Palestinian Jerusalemites where the Israeli Ministry of the Interior deems that a Jerusalem Palestinian does not have his/her “centre of life” in Jerusalem but rather lives in the occupied West Bank or elsewhere, or has stayed abroad for 6 years or obtained residency/citizenship of another country.99 Providing proof that Jerusalem is one’s “centre of life” is onerous. This necessitates providing to Israeli authorities numerous documents, “including such items as home ownership papers or a rent contract, various bills (water, electricity, municipal taxes), salary slips, proof of receiving medical care in the city, certification of children’s school registration.”100 Through residency revocations, Israel has separated husbands from wives, parents from children, and extended families from one-another, causing traumatic complications for women attempting to remain with their families in both Jerusalem and West Bank.

Jerusalem Residency confers fewer rights than nationality and can be revoked at Israeli discretion.101 It is governed by the Law of Citizenship and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order, 2003), a law described by the UN as encompassing blatant discrimination.102 This “temporary order” was renewed in June 2017 for the 14th consecutive time.103 Until recently, residency status could be revoked for a failure to show a “minimal obligation of loyalty to the state of Israel. As well as a degrading basis upon which to remove an occupied people’s rights, the Israeli Supreme Court recently deemed it unconstitutional, disproportionate and sweeping.104 The Court, however, suspended the decision for six months to allow the Knesset to amend the law and so to permit revocation of residency on this ground.

The purpose of residency revocations is to force people to leave their homes and to divide families. This leads to traumatic fears of separation from children for mothers and, contrary to Art. 5(a) of CEDAW, an entrenching of patriarchal practices across society. Palestinian women living in Jerusalem lose residency rights if they get divorced or their husbands remarry.105 There are no options for their children and their best interests are not considered106: if they remain with the father, the mother will no longer be allowed to reside in the same city as them or even visit. Limiting their access to justice, and contrary to CEDAW General Recommendation 30, female victims of domestic violence fear going to authorities in case they are forcibly transferred away from their children.107

If a Jerusalemite woman has been residing with her husband outside the city of Jerusalem, but got divorced and wanted to return to live in Jerusalem, she will have no residency rights, devoid of fundamental liberties such as the right to movement or work.108 She will not be able to access health insurance or social security benefits,109 losing her financial independence. According to a report by HaMoked, in May 2016 there were 9,900 Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem without residency rights, living with the social limitations outlined here.110

Furthermore, Israel continues the practice of revoking residency as collective punishment. That is, in cases where a Palestinian Jerusalemite has committed a crime, it is Israeli practice to revoke the residency not only of the perpetrator, but of their entire family. For example, a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem rammed an Israeli vehicle on 8 January 2017, killing four soldiers and injuring 15 more. The following day, fifteen members of his family were told their residency permits would be revoked. Ultimately, before the end of January, thirteen of his family had their residency removed and were evicted from East Jerusalem. On the decision, Aryah Deri, Israeli Minister of the Interior said: “let this be known to all who are plotting, planning or considering carrying out an attack, that their families will pay a heavy price for their actions and the consequences will be severe and far-reaching.”111 Such practices place enormous psychological strain and stress upon women, who are disproportionately affected by this kind of collective punishment, as it is often men who are victims of extra-judicial killings or arrests, while their wives and families are evicted, their residency revoked and they are made homeless.112

As a result, Jerusalem has been described by Human Rights Watch as having a “two-tiered system” with “one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians.”113 Israeli decisions on residency are based not on residency or property law, but on punitive measures and collective punishment fed by “entrenched discrimination.”114 Ultimately, it discriminates against Palestinians and aims to reduce the number of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem. It is a “quiet deportation115 that “has treated the Palestinian residents of the city as unwanted immigrants and worked systematically to drive them out of the area.”116 It is the most direct tool used to forcibly transfer Palestinians from East Jerusalem.


Family Reunification

Under this residency system, spouses must submit family reunification applications  where one member holds a Jerusalem ID and the other does not. Only if both have Jerusalem IDs can they live legally in Jerusalem. As of 2003, however, with the passing of the Law of Citizenship and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order, 2003), this reunification became almost impossible. Under this law, Palestinians are blocked from attaining Jerusalem ID on the basis of marriage. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, in other words, are barred from living with their spouses from the West Bank in all but the most exceptional status. Their children are denied permanent residency status. Reunification with Gazan spouses is strictly forbidden.

The application process for family reunification is long, burdensome, and highly bureaucratic with the policies and procedures surrounding the process often changed. Applicants report of the rules and requirements changing so that they are constantly having to resubmit new applications or supporting evidence.117 Applications for family reunification are routinely refused by the Israeli authorities without providing the applicant with reasons for the refusal. It has been reported that the average timescale for applications to be approved, from the date of original submission to the date granted, is ten years.118

To illustrate the effect of these policies on Palestinian women, PWWSD have documented a number of cases of attempted family reunification. Almost every case refers to the burden that reunification places on their families and social relations. Na’ima K used to travel to and from the United States with her husband. At one stage, after he was out of Palestine for six years, his residency was revoked and he could never return again. Na’ima now lives in Saffah, Ramallah, lonely and without her husband. Sawsan S was forced to live for 18 years without her husband because he was not issued a Jerusalem ID. Nahed N’s husband, who does not have Jerusalem ID, could not be present for the birth of their child.

Families are divided and women are held as prisoners in their own cities. If S.A. leaves Jerusalem, she will instantly lose her status. She cannot either move away permanently, or her husband and children would lose their status. Economically, where the unification process is being attempted, legal costs can be huge. Afaf A has been trying to reunify with her husband in Jerusalem for 18 years. She still has no Jerusalem ID, and has so far spent 70,000 NIS on legal fees.

The Israeli reunification and residency systems discriminate against female Palestinians. These systems divide families and causes traumatic complications for women attempting to reside with their families in both Jerusalem and the West Bank. They remove Palestinians from the region, gradually re-shaping East Jerusalem towards an Israeli-majority demographic.


Violations of International Law

Under both IHL and International Criminal Law, residency revocations are forcible transfer, a ‘coercive act’ with no grounds under international law.119 They are collective punishment, inflicted on entire families rather than individual perpetrators of crimes. They affect women disproportionately since men are more often the victims of extra-judicial killings or arrests by Israel. This collective punishment, supported by evidence from OCHA and Human Rights Watch,120 is a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a war crime. Within a widespread and systematic policy to transfer the protected Palestinian population, these practices may amount to a crime against humanity.121

Israel’s practice of residency revocations and denial of family reunification also violates a number of IHRL standards, including both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Committee has noted that the prohibition against collective punishment is non-derogable.122 The intentional targeting of Palestinians and separate, specific policies aimed specifically at dispossessing and forcibly transferring Palestinians from Jerusalem are inherently racist and discriminatory, in violation of a number of international human rights standards.123 Furthermore, the disproportionately harmful effects of these practices for women violates the prohibition against discrimination enshrined in a range of international human rights instruments.124

The separation of families, forced evictions and home demolitions constitute violations by Israel of the right to private and family life. International human rights instruments recognise that the family is a fundamental unit of society125 that performs valuable functions for that society and that States “…bear the primary obligation to provide protection and assistance to the family so it can fully assume these functions.”126 Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 17(1) of the ICCPR provide that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence.127 This right has been interpreted as encompassing the protection against forced evictions, the demolition of homes or property, and forced expulsions.128 In addition, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for the right of children not to be unnecessarily separated from their parents against their will.129

The Human Rights Committee has urged Israel to immediately cease punitive house demolitions and provide effective remedies to victims of property destruction, forced eviction and forcible transfer.130 Furthermore, the Committee against Torture has recognised house demolitions as a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Art.16 CAT.131 The psychological trauma and ill treatment faced by women through, arrests, detentions, night raids, separation from their family, invasive body searches and restrictions on free movement, amongst other things, can also constitute torture, cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment, in violation of several IHRL instruments, including the CAT and Art.7 of the ICCPR.

Israel’s measures against Palestinians in Jerusalem also deprive Palestinians of a range of their economic, social and cultural rights including shelter, food132, a livelihood133 and education.134  Furthermore, as noted, these measures constitute violence against women both directly and indirectly. The measures are often directly violent, or they have the effect of placing women at greater risk of violence by non-state actors, for example, as they are too afraid to report domestic abuse, contrary to CEDAW General Recommendation 30.135

It should be noted that the above outline of human rights violations committed by Israel against Palestinian Jerusalemites is by no means comprehensive. These measures by their nature are designed to infiltrate every aspect of Palestinian Jerusalemites’ lives, with the aim of forcibly removing Palestinians from the city, and or/ making life in Jerusalem so unbearable for Palestinians that they will “choose” to leave. As such, the human rights violations that result from these policies are numerous and interrelated. It should be emphasised, however, that for women, the consequences of these policies are particularly disastrous.



Immediately cease the practice of residency revocations and have Israel review its Entry into Israel law, which allows the MoI to revoke the residency rights of Palestinians.

Reinstate the residencies of all Palestinians who wish to reinstate their Jerusalem residency status and give all current residents of Jerusalem indefinite right-to-remain.

Immediately repeal the “temporary order” to the Law of Citizenship and Entry into Israel (2003) related to family unification. Grant Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem I.D holders Jerusalem residency status.

Take positive steps to facilitate family reunification; compensate those who have lost large amounts of money due to the costly procedures.

4. Women Prisoners

© Women Media and Development (TAM)

Since the beginning of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine in 1967, approximately 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and detained by Israeli military forces.136 In January 2018, Addameer reported that the number of Palestinian females detained in Israeli prisons had risen to 59.137 The majority of these are detained in Hasharon and Damon prisons located inside Israel (an unlawful transfer in violation of Articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 8 of the Rome Statute), neither of which is equipped for female prisoners.

There is only one prison in Israel – Neve Terza Prison in Ramleh – that is designed to meet the gender specific needs of women. Yet, even here, Palestinian women face being labelled a ‘security prisoner’ and placed in cells with Israeli women criminals who threaten, assault and humiliate them. They are discriminated against by the institutions itself – granted less (or no) recreation time, and living in dormitories without access to books, newspapers or other media.138

CEDAW Recommendation 35 requires that when assessing whether treatment of women constitutes torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, “a gender sensitive approach is required to understand the level of pain and suffering experienced by women and that the purpose and intent requirement of torture are satisfied when acts or omissions are gender specific or perpetrated against a person on the basis of sex.”139 However, contrary to this, there are reports of inhumane treatment and routine psychological abuse on sexual grounds. Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, denial of access to sanitation, stress positions, beatings, and sexual harassment are all commonplace for Palestinian female prisoners.140

Further to the above mentioned realities, there are numerous examples of child detention. According to the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs’ 2017 annual report, 6,742 Palestinians were arrested, including 1,467 children.141 In Israeli Criminal Law the age of responsibility for a crime is 15 years old. As of August 2016, however, the Knesset approved a law allowing courts to sentence children as young as 12-years old in cases of allegedly ‘terrorist offenses’. The law, applicable in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, has been widely condemned by human rights groups. It offers broad definitions of ‘terrorist offences’ and grants police wide discretion over whom to arrest and detain. Under this law, acts such as waving a flag, sharing a post on social media, or chanting a slogan could be deemed a terrorist offence and could lead to long periods of detention without access to a lawyer.

Shocking in itself, the law has been used retroactively to detain Palestinians at Israeli discretion. Tasnim Halabi, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl, was sentenced in January 2017 to 18 months in HaSharon Prison for a supposed stabbing attempt against Israeli soldiers.142 When the alleged attempt took place in April 2016, Halabi was 14 years old, placing her 4 months below the age of criminal responsibility. Similarly, in November 2016, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Aged 13 at the time of his arrest, it was, at the time, against Israeli law to imprison a child under 14.143 According to his lawyers and human rights groups, he received ill treatment during the interrogations, a violation of international humanitarian law. Detainment as a means of punishment displays a high level of disregard for international human rights law by Israeli Occupation Forces, especially in cases where children are held in detention for long lengths of time, only to be tried under new laws that were non-existent at the time of their arrest.

The most prominent recent example, however, was the arrest in December 2017 of Ahed Tamimi a 16 year-old Palestinian child, following the emergence of a video showing her slapping two Israeli soldiers after hearing that her 15-year-old cousin had been severely wounded by Israeli soldiers.144  Despite video evidence demonstrating that she posed no threat to the soldiers she had slapped, Ahed, now 17 years old, was sentenced to 8 months in prison.  While detained, she endured aggressive interrogations, and threats made against her family. There is nothing she has done to justify this. This can be contrasted with the recent reduction in sentence for Elor Azaria, an Israeli Occupation Forces soldier who, in Hebron, murdered a wounded Palestinian lying on the ground, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, by shooting him in the head. The Israeli Occupation Forces parole board reduced his sentence by one third, meaning that he will only serve 9 months in prison.145 This serves to highlight the extremely disproportionate and discriminatory imprisonment and sentencing of Palestinians.

Addameer highlights that the detention of women and girls results in them being deprived of their right to education. Addameer notes that minors are not provided with any school classes in detention, which is in direct violation of international laws and standards.146 This has lasting and damaging effect for these girls’ futures.147

The practice by Israel of denying Palestinian prisoners sufficient communication and visits with their families is well documented, often on ‘security grounds.’ Even where visits are permitted, they are often cut short by lengthy security checks, and required to take place with a glass screen separating the prisoner from their family. Addameer emphasises that the denial of family visits has a profound and damaging effect particularly on female prisoners in terms of their psychological and physical wellbeing, leading to conditions of anxiety and depression and exacerbated feelings of isolation.148   Furthermore, the arrest and detention of Palestinian women political prisoners also “…serve as a form of collective punishment against their entire family” with incidents of violence during arrest have an enormous psychological impact on the children who witness them.149

As part of their contribution to this report, Women Media and Development (TAM) has documented evidences of Israeli violations against female ex-prisoners. The 20 testimonies compiled for this report are extremely concerning. In documenting such violations, TAM has noted the following themes: (1) physical and psychological torture at the moment of imprisonment; (2) physical and psychological torture during investigation; (3) prison conditions and family visits prohibition and (4) medical negligence/denial of access to services. Testimonies gathered by TAM,  detail physical and psychological torture at the point of arrest and imprisonment, physical and psychological torture during interrogations and detention, shocking and unhygienic prison conditions, and worrying incidences of medical negligence. Many of our testimonies document women being kept in solitary confinement without reason for long periods at a time. Cells are filthy, overcrowded and flooding with sewage. Beds and bedding are soiled and food is inedible.

Arrests usually take place during night raids. These tactics are a form of collective punishment that deny Palestinian women their privacy,150 create inadequate living conditions151 and regularly subject women to gender-based violence in their own homes. Such raids usually encompass the following characteristics: entrances at 4am, violent threats made towards Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, gratuitous property damage, and overwhelming and intimidating numbers of soldiers. Invasive bodily searches are rife, with no awareness of or concern for cultural or gender-based sensitivities. Rape threats are common, as are threats to family members. In violation of one of the most fundamental human rights, the right to fair trial,152 these women are so often denied access to their lawyers.


Physical and Psychological Torture at Arrest/Imprisonment

At least 14 of these testimonies describe physical or psychological torture at the point of arrest or imprisonment.

Ahlam H was arrested and placed in a cell with a metal chain hanging from the middle of the ceiling. She suspected this was to hang prisoners. The scene had a traumatizing effect on her and all the other inmates put in this cell. She was also beaten by prison soldiers, who broke her nose and caused her to faint. She was placed in solitary confinement in a filthy cell full of insects and with an overflowing toilet.

Suha M, a child, was arrested at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Over 15 Israeli soldiers surrounded her and pointed their guns in her face. They dragged her to the floor, beat her back and broke her arm. In prison, she was placed in an isolation cell, where she was handcuffed, blindfolded and her legs chained. She reports that the soldiers in the prison would treat her badly, swear at her and tell her “we will let you die in isolation”. When she could no longer cope with the humiliation and mistreatment, she went on hunger strike. When she was finally transferred to a regular cell, she was subjected to beatings and intimidation by Russian prisoners, and was regularly denied food by the prison soldiers.

Amani A was arrested at her home during a raid by Israeli soldiers and was stripped naked and searched by a female Israeli soldier, who also told her that she was forbidden to wear her Islamic dress, and would not let her take it to prison. She was taken away in a jeep and then taken to a room that she did not recognise, where she was forced to strip naked again and was searched while soldiers laughed and mocked her.

Following her arrest, Hiba H was blindfolded with her hands tied and dragged into a room. There, her clothes were removed and she was searched, naked. She was then blindfolded again and taken to a dirty cell. Twenty days later, Hiba was told by the warden to prepare herself for court; the warden led her to a small room, undressed her and inspected her naked body, and afterwards, she had her hands and feet tied.

Ihsan D was subjected to many strip searches in prison, including before and after transfer from the cell to the court or to the interrogation room. One day, she was fed up with all of the degrading searches, so she refused to be inspected. A female soldier threatened her that if she didn’t take off her clothes, she would keep beating Ihsan until she was dead. But Ihsan insisted on not taking her clothes off. She was then severely beaten and forcibly strip searched.

Manal G was pregnant when she was arrested and was only fed one meal a day. When she went into labour at around 05:30 am, she was ignored until 1:30pm. When she was finally taken to hospital, her hands and legs were tied to the hospital bed during labour. When she returned to prison, she and her baby were placed in a 3-person cell with 7 other prisoners. She was eventually moved to solitary confinement and her baby was taken away from her.

Radhad K was arrested in Hebron in 2016 when her car brakes failed and she crashed into a bus near the settlements. First, she was shot in the leg. Then, a gun was pressed to her spine: she was shot point-blank and paralysed in her lower body. She was taken, without medical aid, to the hospital where she fell into a coma for 5 days.


Physical and Psychological Torture During Investigation

At least 11 of our testimonies describe physical and psychological torture during investigation. These include physical stress positions, beatings, physical and verbal abuse, violations of personal privacy, harassment, and being kept in pitch-black, isolated cells. Many of our testimonies include hunger strikes.

Ahlam H, a child, was threatened with rape and with arrest of her mother, sister and relatives. Every day during interrogation, she was subjected to insults and abuse. She was also subjected to physical abuse, including beatings and being slapped in the face.

Eman I was taken to court as a humiliation strategy, with the needle through which she was being force-fed still in her body. Out of nowhere, a soldier yanked out the needle from her elbow area – cutting her lower arm from elbow to wrist. She fainted instantly, woke up in the clinic, and saw her arm bleeding intensely from where the needle was.    

Ouhoud S, a child, was subjected to physical and verbal abuse during investigation. A detective pointed a gun in her face and threatened to kill her. She was placed alone in a dark and dirty underground cell for three days. Prison soldiers then took her back to the interrogation room and attached her to lie detector, in an attempt to force a false confession from her. 

During investigation, Suha M was subjected to psychological torture, including death threats, threats made against her family, mocking, humiliation and curses made against her religion. She was also subjected to physical beatings.

In the worst example of physical torture, Mona H’s arms were tied above her head by 10 officers in a crucifixion position. She was left for 48 hours, without allowing her to rest or use the toilet. She urinated on herself and lost consciousness. On another occasion, she was crucified for over 12 hours outside in the cold weather and pouring rain. On another occasion, her brother was transferred to her prison and beaten in front of her, with threats made to kill him. 


Prison Conditions and Prohibition of Family Visits

Repeated throughout the testimonies were reports of appalling prison conditions, including dirty and smelly cells, insect and vermin infestations, inedible food, lack of functioning facilities and overcrowding. There were also reports of women being denied family visits or any other communication with their families.

Suha M was routinely denied visits from her family. Whilst Suha was in prison, her mother sadly died. Suha did not find out until a week later. She was also denied any contact with her lawyer or the Red Cross.

Ahlam M was one of 8 prisoners in one tiny cell, where 3 of them could not stand up next to each other at the same time. She also reported that the cells were dirty and full of insects, with poor toilet facilities.

Jihan D was denied visits by her family in prison. Only her mother was permitted to visit, and she was not allowed to see any of her siblings. While she was in prison, Jihan’s uncle died, and she was not allowed a phone call. She also reported the cells as being dark, filthy and smelly. She reports that the food made her want to vomit and describes being given a foul smelling piece of chicken that still had the feathers on.


Medical Negligence and Denial of Access to Services

There is a significant shortage of medical services for Palestinian women in prison. They are denied basic sanitary products, given incorrect medicines, made to suffer before treatment, and pregnant prisoners give birth while chained to prison hospital beds. There is also a lack of provision of education programmes, which is particularly concerning in cases where children are detained.   

Hiyam H was taken to the doctor with a toothache. The doctor removed the wrong tooth and left the rotten one in her mouth. When she had appendicitis, she was operated on handcuffed to the bed, then left handcuffed to the same bed for the next three days.

Eman F was refused any sanitary products or sufficient toilet access when she had her period in prison. She asked a female soldier for some pads, but the soldier acted as if she didn’t know what Eman was asking for. For two nights, she was bleeding with no sanitary pads or sufficient toilet access, and only had her clothes on. 

When Radhad K was in hospital, being treated for her paralysis and gunshot wound, she was abused by officers. She suffered death threats and mocking continuously. When she was operated on to remove two bullet fragments in her stomach, they did so in the same room, handcuffed to the same bed, with no anesthetic. She watched and suffered through the whole operation. Suha M, a 15 year old prisoner, was denied access to education. Suha found a chemistry textbook in prison, which had been left behind by another prisoner and tried to use it to study, only for it to be confiscated by the soldiers, who told her it was forbidden.


Violations of International Law

The testimonies highlight the brutality of Israel’s practice of arrests, prison, detention and interrogation conditions for female Palestinian prisoners, as well as in hospitals while in Israeli custody.  These practices breach numerous international human rights standards and are a stark example of the disdain in which Israel holds Palestinian female prisoners. When women are abused in custody, unequal power relations between men and women are manifested, reinforced and reproduced.153 This is in violation of Israel’s obligations under CEDAW both to prevent and address discrimination against women, and also to eliminate discriminatory patterns of conduct of men and women in society, including social and cultural practices, views and stereotypes which are “…based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.”154 Furthermore, in its Resolution 1325, the UN Security Council affirms the obligation of all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.155

Each instance of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment described above is a violation of IHRL and of the fundamental, absolute principle of international law  that no one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.156 This includes women prisoners being subjected to psychological torture and trauma, such as being denied contact with their families. In particular, a number of these abuses are particularly gendered in their nature and/or impact on female prisoners, from threats of rape to invasive body searches, many of which constitute gender-based violence. The CEDAW Committee has expressly affirmed in its General Recommendations 19 and 35 that gender-based violence is inherently discriminatory and therefore in violation of CEDAW.157 In its General Recommendation 35, the CEDAW Committee emphasises that states are obligated to provide “…mandatory, recurrent and effective capacity-building, education and training for the judiciary, lawyers and law enforcement officers, including forensic medical personnel, legislators, health-care professionals…all education, social and welfare personnel, including that working with women in…prisons, to equip them to adequately prevent and address gender-based violence against women.”158

International standards also require that women are afforded access to appropriate healthcare services in prison. In its General Recommendation 14 on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights emphasies that “…States are under the obligation to respect the right to health by, inter alia, refraining from denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees…abstaining from enforcing discriminatory practices as a State policy; and abstaining from imposing discriminatory practices relating to women’s health status and needs.”159 In relation to female prisoners specifically, the state must ensure that the delivery of healthcare in prison is gender sensitive and appropriate to gender-specific health needs. This is outlined in both the UN Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners160 and UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules).161

As noted, female prisoners are often denied access to quality legal representation, in violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial.162 Furthermore, the practice of denying female prisoners access to their family during family visits, as well as potentially amounting to cruel and inhuman treatment for both the prisoner and her family members, also constitutes a violation of the right to respect for private and family life.163 The continued detention of children has resulted in many girls being denied a proper education, in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.164

The imprisonment of female Palestinians by Israel also constitutes violations of IHL and International Criminal Law. Where a woman is transferred to an Israeli prison, this constitutes an unlawful transfer, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer by an occupying power of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power. Furthermore, Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that where protected persons are to be imprisoned, they must be detained in the occupied territories. Article 76 also lists a number of express obligations held by the occupying power in relation to the treatment of prisoners who are protected persons i.e. from the occupied population, including access to healthcare, sufficient conditions of food and hygiene and proper treatment of minors. It is clear from the above evidence that Israel is not meeting these obligations as an occupying power. As such, Israel’s continued practices of forced transfer and mistreatment of prisoners can be classified as war crimes as defined by Article 8 of the Rome Statute.



Demand that Israel cease its practice of transferring Palestinian female prisoners out of Palestine, a practice illegal under international law.

Grant all Palestinian detainees access to legal services and to their family during family visits. Accommodate such access with complementary practices at all relevant checkpoints.

Demand that Israel treats all Palestinian female detainees with dignity and respect, and with an acknowledgement of their gender-specific requirements;

Assert, without qualification, the absoluteness of the prohibition of torture. Put an end to any torture, inhuman or degrading treatment in Israeli prisons.

5. Access to Health in Gaza

Kashfi Halford, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In Gaza, Israel pursues policies that are detrimental to human health and life and cause Palestinians much suffering, such as depriving Palestinians access to essential health care, medicine, fuel and adequate nutrition.165 As noted, Israel has withdrawn its permanent presence from Gaza, but still controls the borders (with the exception of Rafah crossing). Citing security concerns, it does not allow Gaza to build an air or sea port, and so makes Gazans dependent on Israel for travel. It exercises ‘actual authority’166 over the region and therefore this constitutes an occupation.167 With effective control, Israel is bound by both IHL and IHRL in the region.

Given Israel’s human rights obligations over Gaza, the freedom of movement of Gazans must be protected.168 This includes a right to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, recognised by Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip as one single territorial unit: Palestine.169 It also includes a more general right to leave Gaza, subject only to certain justifications on Israel’s part – public security, for example. Israel has a sovereign right to limit travel within its own borders, yet this right must be balanced with their corollary obligations under IHL, IHRL and local agreements: the right to heath, humanitarian access, and freedom of movement.

As this submission demonstrates, Israel is abusing this balance. Israel’s travel restrictions go beyond legitimate, sovereign interests, and discriminate against Palestinian women. Gaza is approaching the stage where “separation is the rule and access is the rare exception.”170 For patients, and particularly for women, this has tragic effects. 

In a report recently submitted by WCLAC to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories,171 we highlighted three areas of concern: Israeli border policies; health rights and access to health; and the effects of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. 


Borders and the permit system

Three key features of the border regime are important to note:

1. A consistent decline in the approval rate of patient permit requests since 2012.

The approval figures have fallen from 92.5% in 2012, to 88.7% in 2013, to 82.4% in 2014, to 77.5% in 2015 and to 62.1% in 2016.172 At the end of November 2017, the approval rate was only 54% – the lowest since 2006 when WHO began monitoring patient access from Gaza.173 There has been, in short, “a steep regression in access policy, primarily with respect to movement of people via Erez Crossing.”174

2. The prevalence of shocking and inexplicable delays.

Of the 26,282 permit applications submitted by patients aiming to exit through Erez in 2016, 8,242 (31.4%) were delayed.175 Many applicants received no response from border authorities, even after lawyers filed formal applications on their behalf.176 These delays regularly extend months and years beyond medical appointments, worsening already life-threatening diseases [Women’s Voices: 5, 6, 9, 10] and in some cases resulting in death. This is even the case with children, as Anwar T’s testimony demonstrates. Her daughter is 5 years old, yet is prevented from finishing her cancer treatment in Israel. Her situation worsens by the day. 

3. The aggressive interrogation of female patients, even when medically weak or vulnerable.177

Fadwa S, a 52 year old widow and mother of five, was suffering a malignant cancerous tumour in the ovaries and uterus. After being denied a companion to travel with, she was interrogated by two officials when crossing back in to Gaza. She was exhausted and in pain – the day after serious cancer treatment. She was stripped, invasively searched, interrogated for two hours, then left in a room crying for two hours.

Nidaa T, a 32 year old mother of three, was suffering from an Arterial Aneurysm – a life threatening condition that demands urgent treatment. Since 2015, she has been rejected for permits 10 times. Gazan hospitals cannot treat her and she has lost feeling in her right hand. In October 2017 she was invited to ‘interview’. She was invasively searched, left for hours in a freezing room, and aggressively interrogated. She still has no permit.

Subhuyeh S, a 50 year of mother of 6, has cancer. She was questioned at the border by Israeli officials and locked for over an hour in a 2×2 metre room. She was interrogated for over two hours – attempting to gain information about her sons. She was placed on a list and denied entry. She now has three malignant tumours in her neck. She still has no permit.

The combination of these measures indicates “a severe and inexplicable tightening of the closure.”178 Targeting seriously ill women, they cannot be justified by security. As our testimonies demonstrate, they are punitive, humiliating and degrading. They are also arbitrary, and a breach of Israel’s IHL and IHRL obligations: to respect free movement of Palestinians179 and to ensure and facilitate access to health.180 Israel must adhere to its obligations, and any restrictions on the human rights of Palestinians must not be arbitrary, must be proportionate, and “must not impair the essence of the right”.181 Yet, Israel’s border policies are based on arbitrary distinctions, they target seriously ill women who pose no threat, and they create a climate of aggression and hostility that is slowly but surely eroding the rights of Palestinians. 


Humanitarian Access

Parties to a conflict must allow the free passage of medical equipment and humanitarian relief organisations.182 Yet, without consent from the controlling state – Israel – no supplies will cross the border. Arbitrarily withholding consent and “depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supply and access, can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law”.183 Such relief can never be lawfully withheld in situations of occupation, such as this.184

Yet, restrictions on access into Gaza for humanitarian relief are excessive, with an approval rate of just 48% in 2016 (314 requests) for health personnel exiting or entering Gaza. As with Gazans trying to exit Gaza, processing times are lengthy and require a minimum of 3 weeks.185 By failing to facilitate humanitarian access, Israel is preventing the development and functioning of civil society inside Gaza.186 Since most humanitarian workers focus on women and children, it is they who feel this the most.


Wider Issues: Infrastructure, Blockade and Health Rights

The blockade of Gaza, described by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as collective punishment that is suffocating Gaza’s people, is now 11-years long. As collective punishment, it is a grave breach of IHL.187

It is causing an infrastructure crisis, with chronic electricity shortages (18-20 hours a day) and inadequate sanitation as facts of everyday life. This is felt especially in the health sector. In mid-2017, 14 public hospitals and 16 health facilities faced partial or complete closure of essential services.188 According to Head of the Women’s Health Centre in Gaza, the situation is particularly detrimental to pregnant women who are subjected to dangerous risks due to a lack of services and equipment. Abortions, premature births and labour complications are at an increase. Many women are giving birth in shelters, and the few that give birth at hospitals are evacuated immediately post-labour, even those who have undergone a C-section.189 In its Second Country Gender Action Plan (C-GAP II) for Palestinian Territories, the World Bank emphasizes the need to address gaps in access to maternal and reproductive health care, particularly in areas of high conflict i.e. Gaza, Hebron and Jerusalem. This includes assessing the impact of restricted mobility and the challenges this creates in terms of access to reproductive health care and rising rates of C-sections.190

S.M is 56 years old, married with 6 children she lives in Gaza. During the bombing of 2014, S.M’s home was destroyed. Her son bled to death over a four hour period, with ambulances unable to reach him. S.M lives in a temporary (4x6m) house made of wood, it has only two rooms: one bathroom and a kitchen.

In such infrastructure crises, as the CEDAW Committee notes in General Recommendation 30, women and girls are at the front line of suffering, bearing the brunt of the socioeconomic dimensions.191 As reported by the UN in 2015, the humanitarian crisis “has forced thousands of women to neglect their own needs to save and support their families, with large numbers of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and, in many cases, permanent disabilities.”192 January 2018 brought news of another hospital forced into closure due to fuel shortages.193 The more the health system and wider infrastructure disintegrates, the more it “hinders the full realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls’ affected by conflict.”194

The Right to health is fundamental to both IHL and IHRL. The latter, as expressed in CEDAW, calls for equality between men and women in access to health care services. This includes “services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period…as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.”195 The failure to afford women access to pregnancy-related healthcare is gender-based discrimination. The ICESCR similarly recognises the right as entailing “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”196 A vital component of this is accessibility: “health facilities, goods, information and services…should be accessible to all individuals and groups without discrimination and free from barriers.”197 As long as Gazan women suffer, in pregnancy or otherwise, this right is not being realised. As long as they suffer due to the Israeli blockade, it is Israel that is violating this right.



Ensure Israeli compliance with border procedures, not only facilitating access, but showing Palestinians the respect to respond to applications in a timely manner consistent with medical requests.

Put an end to aggressive and invasive interrogation practices at the border. Where women are concerned, allow access in all but the most pressing cases.

Provide meaningful and adequate reparations for women that have been unjustly searched, interrogated, or subjected to inhuman, degrading or similar treatment at border crossings or in permit applications.

Ensure Israeli compliance with the clear IHL obligation to allow humanitarian access to Gaza.

End the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Facilitate the free movement of infrastructure and energy supplies. Grant Gazans the opportunity to rebuild their lives after the 2014 war.

6. Conclusions

© Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD)

The policies and outcomes outlined in this report fit into, and must be contextualised by, wider systems of discrimination against Palestinians. Free movement is being curtailed, individuals are being coerced off their land, and individual rights are being removed. These are fundamental breaches of international law, and must be recognised as ethnic discrimination.

Israel’s rejection of its International Law obligations to recognise and facilitate a Palestinian right of return is denying Palestinian women from their homeland. It is leaving millions in a legal black hole, deprived of their rights and living as second class citizens across the Middle East. It is an openly discriminatory policy, fuelled by a fear that the Palestinian return will undermine the Zionist project. Residency revocations and family reunification laws constitute a forced transfer. They are the workings of an unspoken but clear aim: to reshape the demographic make-up of East Jerusalem in favour of Israel. At their core, they are inhumane, depriving women of their basic rights and forcing women to live lives apart from their loved ones. The treatment of female prisoners is gender-based violence. It capitalises on cultural differences that allow for intimidation, threats and bullying. They are a stark example of Israel’s disdain for Palestinians. Restrictions on health access to and from Gaza, as well as the cripplingly tight blockade, are punitive measures on an already destroyed region that produce disproportionately harmful effects for women.

Women’s rights, enshrined in conventions such as CEDAW, contain positive and negative obligations. They require facilitation, encouragement and enforcement as well as desisting and protecting from abusive practices. It is clear that Israel continues to violate many international laws, including IHL and IHRL, with impunity. Israel and its violent occupation, creeping annexation and ethnic cleansing is bolstered by the failure of the international community to hold Israel to account. Israel and the international community is responsible for the suffering of the various groups of women discussed in this report, as well as the subjugation and suffering of Palestinians more broadly.

As long as Palestinian women live according to the whims of  Israeli occupation and creeping annexation of Palestinian land, their human rights will not be realised. As emphasised in the preamble of CEDAW,“…the eradication of apartheid, all forms of racism, racial discrimination, colonialism, neo-colonialism, aggression, foreign occupation and domination and interference in the internal affairs of States is essential to the full enjoyment of the rights of men and women”. The effects of the occupation stifle the whole of Palestine and reinforce and reproduce gender inequality. The effects of the occupation are felt most intensely by the women who hold its communities together. It is for the international community, and for activists around the world, to call for its end.