Fact Sheet: Legal Status of the Gaza Strip

November 19, 2012 IMEU
  • The Gaza Strip is Palestinian land that has been under Israeli military occupation since the June 1967 war. According to international law and the terms of the Oslo Accords, Gaza is considered a single territorial unit with the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have also been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.
  • Although Israel unilaterally withdrew its occupying army and settlers from the interior of Gaza in 2005, Israel continued to be an occupying power in Gaza under international law because Israel’s military continued to retain effective control of Gaza’s borders, airspace, and coastline.
  • Israel’s continued status as an occupying power in Gaza has been affirmed repeatedly by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and human rights groups. As noted by Human Rights Watch in a 2004 statement:

“The Israeli government’s plan to remove troops and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip would not end Israel’s occupation of the territory. As an occupying power, Israel will retain responsibility for the welfare of Gaza’s civilian population.

  • According to a 2012 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967:

“While the Israeli settlers were withdrawn in 2005, and the permanently stationed Israeli soldiers were withdrawn to the borders of the Strip, Gaza remains occupied by Israel. The form of occupation changed, but the occupying power remains in full control of the borders and even buffer zones on the Gaza side of the borders; the entry and exit of all people, goods and services into and out of Gaza and thus the entire economic growth or stagnation of Gaza; and the coastal waters, air space and underground of the territory of Gaza.”

  • As noted by the International Committee of the Red Cross in March 2023: 

“The ICRC considers Gaza to remain occupied territory on the basis that Israel still exercises key elements of authority over the strip, including over its borders (airspace, sea and land – at the exception of the border with Egypt). Even though Israel no longer maintains a permanent presence inside the Gaza Strip, it continues to be bound by certain obligations under the law of occupation that are commensurate with the degree to which it exercises control over it.

“In that regard, [international humanitarian law] requires Israel to ensure, to the fullest extent of the means available to it, that the basic needs of the population of Gaza are met. Notably, it must ensure that Gaza is supplied with the food, medical supplies and other basic goods needed to allow the population to live under adequate material conditions (Article 55 GCIV).

Israel’s obligations as the occupying power in Gaza

  • As the occupying power, Israel is responsible for the safety and welfare of the population in the territories under its control, including Gaza. These obligations are set out in international humanitarian law, primarily the Hague Conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
  • Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states the "Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population."
  • Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states "the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining... the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory."
  • Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment of civilians, stating: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."

See also