International Law and War in Palestine/Israel

About the Event

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Francesca Albanese, spoke about a broad range of issues, including human rights, the impact of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory on children, and how her work at the UN might change in light of recent developments in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

On the issue of accountability in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, Albanese stated, “Especially at this moment, we have to be able to condemn all violations of international law that take place, regardless of who commits them.”

On the crimes that have been committed on both sides of the current violent conflict, Albanese said, “As a people oppressed, as a people under an illegal occupation, the Palestinians have a right to resist under international law. […] Nonetheless, there are limits, and these limits are stringent. And the right to life should always be protected. So, there is no question that Hamas is responsible for crimes, war crimes, and this goes without saying. At the same time, the response that Israel has given doesn’t meet international standards either, and I cannot find one provision of international law that has not been violated by Israel as the occupying power, who is acting in the name of self-defense, because even self-defense has limits.”

On the legal dimension of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, Albanese stated, “Each bombing needs to respond to certain criteria in terms of international law: it is to be proportionate; it is to distinguish between civilians and military; and it is to be respectful of the principle of precaution. So, if there is a risk to harm civilians, well, the operation is to be withheld.”

On the deeper context for the crisis, Albanese said, “There has already been a 16-year unlawful blockade—naval, air, and ground blockade—over Gaza. It was already a humanitarian crisis before the 7th of October. The population was already on the brink of collapse.”

On Israel’s intensification of the blockade on Gaza in recent days, Albanese stated, “Israel has tightened the blockade by not allowing entry of water, food, and electricity, another layer of illegality because it might be intentional starvation. So, the blockade is a war crime, and if the blockade leads to intentional starvation, it’s a crime against humanity.”

On the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, Albanese said, “The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza are occupied under international law, and it’s an occupation that operates squarely outside what is permitted by international law. In fact, in my view and the view of many international law experts, it’s illegal because it has operated as a vehicle to colonize occupied land, which is a clear violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which is also violated by the transfer of Israeli civilians into occupied territory.”

On Israel’s approach to the current conflict compared to previous ones, Albanese stated, “There is no restraint. There is a heightened level of violence, verbal, that reflects also policies on the ground. […] There are a number of authoritative scholars who have come out already warning about the risk of genocide. Genocidal statements have been issued throughout the year.”

On the matter of genocide, Albanese said, “Genocide is a particularly serious atrocity crime because it requires a specific intent to destroy in full or in part a population on ethnic, religious, or national grounds. […] The situation of Gaza, 16 years of unlawful blockade with six major wars, and probably 7,000 people killed in this span of time. I think it’s really meaningful to look at this from the genocide convention perspective. Why it’s important, because there is not just an obligation to ensure accountability. […] It’s not just about bringing people to justice, to an international court once the atrocity crime has been committed. There is an obligation on the genocide convention to prevent, to act to prevent the commission of such a crime, and this all the more urgent now.”

On Israel’s demand that Gazans leave the northern part of Gaza and relocate to the south, Albanese said, “You cannot give this order for a number of reasons. First of all, because the south was being bombed, because the south had been bombed and there were no places where these people could find safe haven, could find a shelter. But also there were elderly, children, where would they go?”

Addressing the international community, Albanese stated, “I really wish this was an opportunity for the international community and the policymakers, including the US, who are the most influential foreign actors in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship on this question to act with wisdom […] and evenhandedly. […] It’s the moment to stand in solidarity with both Israelis and the Palestinians, and calling for an immediate cease-fire is the first step toward what I think should be a negotiated way out, a negotiated solution, […] putting at the center of the decisions the rights of everyone—the rights of all, equality of all, dignity and freedom of all, both the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

Francesca Albanese is an Italian international lawyer and academic. On May 1, 2022, she was appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 by the Human Rights Council at its 49th session. Albanese is an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, as well as a Senior Advisor on Migration and Forced Displacement for a think-tank, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD). She has widely published on the legal situation in Israel and the State of Palestine and regularly teaches and lectures on international law and forced displacement at universities in Europe and the Arab region. Ms. Albanese has also worked as a human rights expert for the United Nations, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Featured image credit: Shutterstock/Anas Mohammed


National Press Club, 529 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20045


Wednesday October 18, 2023