Expulsion of Palestinians: Banished From the Promised Land

January 01, 2002

The Israeli government has announced that it may forcibly expel the families of suicide bombers, or alternatively, forcibly transfer these families to the Occupied Gaza Strip. Both actions are illegal under international law. Despite their illegality, Israel has deported more than 1500 Palestinians.1

International Law Position - The Fourth Geneva Convention

The Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel in June 1951, prohibits the deportation or forcible transfer of Palestinians, whether to another country, to Israel or to the Occupied Gaza Strip.

Israel’s policy violates the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on expulsion

“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons [Palestinians] from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power [Israel] or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited regardless of their motive.” (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49(1)).

Grave breaches…shall be those involving any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the present Convention: … unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person. (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 147).

According to the Commentary of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “The prohibition [on deportations] is absolute and allows no exceptions. As an absolute prohibition, Israel cannot expel or forcibly transfer Palestinians under any circumstances or for any reasons.

The historical origin of the prohibition against expulsion followed the mass deportations that occurred during World War II against Jews and other groups. In 1946 the international community determined that deportations constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,2 irrespective of the stated “justification” for such deportations. The international community also outlawed the transfer of populations from one part of occupied territories to another part of occupied territory.3

Israel’s policy violates the prohibition on collective punishment

“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.” (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33).

One of the basic principles of law is that responsibility is individual and penalties cannot be inflicted on persons who themselves have not committed the alleged illegal acts. Allowing Israel to expel families of suicide bombers or others who have not committed a criminal act clearly falls under this provision. To put an entire family on trial and convicting it for the crime that one member of that family may have committed is overt collective punishment. Any Israeli attempt to justify its illegal actions on the grounds of “deterrence” or “threat to Israeli security” is an attempt to divert international attention away from the illegality of its illegal practices.

UN Position on Expulsions and Forcible Transfers

The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly affirmed that Israel’s policy of deporting Palestinians is illegal.4

United Nations Security Council Resolution 799 of 1992 in which the Security Council

Strongly condemns the action taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to deport hundreds of Palestinian civilians, and expresses its firm opposition to any such deportation by Israel…and affirms that deportation of civilians constitutes a contravention of its obligations under the [Fourth Geneva] Convention;

Expulsions and Forcible Transfers are War Crimes

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998 classifies deportations and forcible transfers as “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes”:

“…'crime against humanity’ means… the forced displacement…by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law.” (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7(1)(d) and 7(2)(d)).

“… 'war crimes’ mean…grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, [including]…unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement." (Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 8(2)(a)(vii)).

The International Community is Obligated to Enforce the Law

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention includes “unlawful deportation or transfer” as one of the Grave Breaches, which place an obligation on all High Contracting Parties to the Convention to prosecute those responsible for their commission:

The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention. (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 146).

The Fourth Geneva Convention mandates that

“The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.” (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 1).

The international community has failed to fulfill its obligation to enforce international law, promoting Israeli intransigence by teaching Israel that it is above the law and reinforcing the sense of abandonment prevalent in the Palestinian population.


  • 1. From 1967 to 1992, Israel deported 1522 Palestinians. See B’Tselem, Statistics on Deportation.
  • 2. In its Article 6 (b and c) the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal stipulated that “deportation for slave labor or for any other purpose was a 'war crime’ and “deportations and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population” are among “crimes against humanity.” In its September 30th, 1946 judgment, the Tribunal agreed that deportation was illegal. See Roy Gutman, Deportation, in Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know 123 (Gutman and Reiff, eds. 1999).
  • 3. Gutman, id.
  • 4. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly condemned Israel’s deportations of Palestinians. See UN Security Council Resolutions: 607 (1988), 608 (1988), 636 (1989), 641 (1989), 681 (1990), 694 (1991), 726 (1992), and 799 (1992).
Back to top