The Israeli government and some U.S. politicians are attacking the Obama administration for permitting a recent U.N. Security Council resolution that condemns Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Secretary of State John Kerry faced further ire on Wednesday after saying the settlements threaten prospects for peace in the region.
Yet part of the reason the administration decided to speak out forcefully about the settlements is because they are such a key feature of Israel’s occupation ― now approaching its 50th year. The occupation affects almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
1. Palestinians can’t live free of Israeli military presence.
When the Israel–Palestine conflict is referred to as an “occupation,” it’s not figurative — occupied Palestinian territories, specifically the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are constantly patrolled and controlled by the Israeli military. These armed soldiers have been accused of beating, detaining and torturing Palestinians.
Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli soldiers who are critical of the occupation, alleged that Israel Defense Forces intentionally killed civilians during the last war in Gaza. Soldiers enforce checkpoints, blockades, curfews and other restrictions.
2. Palestinians in Gaza can’t control the flow of goods and supplies.
Israel maintains a strict blockade on Gaza that allows it to control what flows in and out of the territory. Israeli officials say the blockade aims to prevent Hamas, a militant political group that took over the territory in 2007, from acquiring weapons ― but the crackdown on imports and exports also extends to food and medicine.
Government documents show that from 2007-2010, the Israeli military calculated the number of calories people in Gaza needed to avoid malnutrition. Critics said the calculation appears to have been used to limit the food supply in Gaza, a charge the Israeli government denied. The limited food supply in Gaza has caused price inflation.
The blockade also restricts shipments of materials, such as wood and steel, that are needed to rebuild structures like schools and hospitals leveled in past wars with Israel. In 2011, a U.N. panel ruled the blockade constituted collective punishment, a violation of international law.
3. Palestinians can’t control their access to water in the occupied territories.
Since the beginning of the military occupation in 1967, Israel has controlled access to water in the occupied Palestinian territories. The majority of the water from the area’s two main sources goes to Israeli areas. There are frequent water shortages in the West Bank and poor water quality in Gaza, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
When the demand for water increases in summer months, settlements are prioritized, Amnesty International found. Palestinians sometimes go days or months with water shortages. Bethlehem residents say they have experienced 40 days without running water ― affecting bathing, drinking, cooking and agriculture. Palestinians often resort to storing water, which can be unsanitary, or using bottled water, which can be expensive.
4. Palestinians can’t access certain life-saving health care.
Due to the blockade, many hospitals in the Gaza Strip lack critical equipment and resources. For cancer treatment, which is hard to come by in Gaza, Palestinians have to request permission from Israel to travel elsewhere ― usually to Israel, where the treatment is available. Israeli officials will only grant travel permits to patients who have “urgent humanitarian and life saving cases,” a representative from the prime minister’s office told Haaretz.
Even if people are granted entry, the process can be long, expensive and bureaucratic. The situation has left many cancer-diagnosed Palestinians, including children, stuck in Gaza. Hospitals there lack resources, and Israel has bombed many of them during past wars.
Israel has denied travel permits to Israel for hundreds of Palestinian women suffering from breast cancer this year, according to Middle East Monitor. In the first 10 months of 2016, 548 Palestinian women applied for travel permits to access breast cancer treatment — 287 were turned down for unspecified reasons, and 125 were rejected due to alleged security concerns. There are over 1,200 women suffering from breast cancer in Gaza, representing just under 20 percent of the cancer patients there.
5. Palestinians can’t live in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel are barred from living in or even visiting the settlements, according to Diana Buttu, former legal adviser to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The Israeli settler population has grown 21 percent between 2009 and 2015, reaching almost 600,000 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Additionally, many of the roads between and around settlements are restricted to Israelis, making efficient transit difficult for Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians’ homes have been demolished in order for these settlements to exist.
6. Most Palestinians can’t enjoy the rights of citizenship.
Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are effectively a stateless people, who, for the most part, lack rights to citizenship in any sovereign nation.
Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem are technically eligible for citizenship, but Israel only granted citizenship to about half of Palestinian applicants from 2003 to 2013. And the application process has all but halted over the past three years, according to a Times of Israel report. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem can only vote in municipal elections.
For Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank, gaining Israeli citizenship is all but impossible. It’s even difficult for Palestinians with an Israeli parent to gain citizenship. Being married to an Israeli does not grant Palestinians the right to live in Israel.
Under the Law of Return, anyone who is a non-Israeli Jew or is related to a non-Israeli Jew can be almost automatically granted citizenship. Palestinian refugees who fled Israel during the 1948 war are denied that opportunity and can’t reclaim the land and possessions they were forced to leave behind.
This is particularly important when it comes to voting rights in Israel. Israeli politicians and policies directly impact Palestinians’ lives, but without Israeli citizenship, Palestinians cannot vote in national elections. Palestinians from the occupied territories who live in Israel are only allowed to vote in municipal elections.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, a governing body that has some authority in parts of the West Bank, last held presidential elections in 2005.
7. Palestinians don’t have the same due process and civil rights as Israelis.
Palestinians can be imprisoned without charge for a period of up to six months under the Israeli policy of “administrative detention.” After the end of the six months, Israeli officials are allowed to renew the detention indefinitely ― a violation of international law, according to B’Tselem.
Many detained Palestinians are activists, protesters, politicians or journalists, sparking criticism from human rights groups that Israel is attempting to silence dissidents. In April, almost 700 Palestinians were under administrative detention, many loosely accused of being terrorists. Hundreds of minors were also in custody. Some detainees held under administrative detention have been tortured, according to Amnesty International.
While Israelis are required to be brought before a judge within 48 hours of being arrested, Palestinians can wait up to eight days. Palestinians are tried in military courts, while Israeli settlers living in the same territories are tried in civil Israeli courts.
At every stage of the criminal justice process, occupied Palestinians have fewer rights. Their trials can be longer, the threshold for their convictions is lower and they receive longer sentences than Israelis for similar crimes. As of 2011, the conviction rate of Palestinians in these military courts was almost 100 percent.
8. Palestinians can’t travel in, out and through occupied territories without restriction.
Israel has implemented strict travel restrictions in and outside the occupied Palestinian territories for decades, making it difficult for Palestinians to leave, return and travel through the areas.
Military checkpoints and roadblocks are scattered throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, some of which have lines that can add up to five hours to Palestinians’ daily commutes. There are almost 100 permanent checkpoints, according to B’Tselem. Checkpoints have been set up on roads following terrorists attacks, but also after children threw rocks. Occupying soldiers can arbitrarily deny passage through any checkpoint, which can make working, visiting family and planning travel almost impossible. Palestinians have died at checkpoints en route to a hospital on the other side, the U.N. reports.
Entering and leaving occupied Palestinian territories is also difficult for Palestinians. The border with Egypt is rarely open and has a waiting list of 30,000 people. Passage through the northern border is up to Israeli officials’ discretion. Travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is extremely difficult. Traveling through Jordan has become more restrictive this year, as more travel permits are denied. Many of the people who attempt to leave are students or people seeking medical treatment.
Entering occupied territories as a foreigner is also difficult, even for Palestinians who were born or are living abroad. U.S. citizens report that they’ve faced discrimination for attempting to travel to occupied territories, and detention and interrogation are not uncommon. It’s particularly challenging for activists and journalists to enter the territories.
9. Palestinians aren’t equally protected by labor laws.
In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court passed a law allowing Palestinian workers employed by Israeli businesses the protection of Israeli labor laws. But a new regulation passed in September requires Palestinians to pay a deposit to the court upfront before suing employers for labor law violations. The expensive fees and long process makes it harder for Palestinians to challenge mistreatment. Foreign workers, many of whom are Palestinian, hold the majority of working-class and service jobs in the Israeli economy.
Palestinians working for Israeli businesses in the settlements have experienced violations of Israeli employer standards. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of child labor in settlement businesses as well as other abuses, like denying social benefits and paying below the minimum wage.
10. Palestinians can’t stay out late.
The IDF has, at times, imposed curfews on Palestinians. The curfews are usually put in place on Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashanah in October, or following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.
Israeli officials justify these curfews as necessary security measures, but human rights observers like B’Tselem say curfews constitute collective punishment — a violation of international law. Curfews are often the result of protests of the occupation itself.
This list of obstacles Palestinians face as a result of the occupation is not exhaustive — there are a number of other human rights concerns and restrictions imposed on non-Israelis in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have said aspects of the occupation violate or disregard international law and human rights. There is no sign Israel plans to end the occupation any time soon.