Human Rights in the Holy Land



Human rights and dignity for all – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

2023 is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which has led to a significant part of the United Nations work being in the area of human rights and international law.

The United Nations human rights infrastructure today is based on the universality of the UDHR and the relatively new Human Rights Council (HRC) and system of four yearly Universal Periodical Reviews (UPR) of each UN member state. These are peer reviewed, where diplomats review each other’s country’s reports, with monitoring and analysis by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and its expert special rapporteurs, supported by NGOs and other stakeholders. The UK, India and South Africa were some of those reviewed at the HRC session in November 2022; Japan, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka among the ones in February 2023; with Barbados, France, Israel, and UAE among those coming up in May 2023.

The UPR national reports cover compliance with International Human Rights obligations, action on previous UPR recommendations, and best practice in Civil and Political Rights, as well as in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; they also feature links to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The right to life; justice, the rule of law, and impunity; the rights of: women and children, minorities and indigenous people, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people; these are all among the areas to be covered in order to be able properly to review the situation.

Human Rights and International Law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

UNSC 2334 from December 2016 is the most recent UN Security Council (SC) resolution on Israel and Palestine. The resolution was passed 14-0 in the last month of the Obama administration, with the USA abstaining. It has not been overturned and still stands. It affirms that the settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) are illegal under International Law.

Under its new right-wing government, Israel has continued to carry out night raids to kill or capture Palestinians in the OPT, including refugee camps. Some, including children, are being held in detention for months without trial. Israel is also breaching generally recognised international norms by its demolitions of homes and the dispossession and exclusion of Palestinians who are charged with no offence but are related to or associated with resistance fighters who have attacked Israeli Jews or have resisted attacks from occupation forces or from illegal Jewish settlers. These are all in contravention of the human rights of the Palestinians.

In 2016, at its 31st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted resolution 31/36 entitled Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. This condemned illegal Israeli settlements and demanded that Israel withdraw from them.

In December 2022, a United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry report for OHCHR on the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), welcomed UN General Assembly resolution 77/400, which requested an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) relating to Israeli occupation of remaining Palestinian territory. The resolution had been passed, despite UK, along with USA, Israel and Germany voting against it.

The use of economic and cultural sanctions and divestments

Part of the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in helping end apartheid in South Africa came from its use of boycotts, divestment (removals of investments) and sanctions against activities and goods related to apartheid. Among those who see the present treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid and want to use their financial choices to bring pressure for the restoration of full human rights are many local authorities and educational institutions (including universities). The UK government is proposing to legislate to outlaw such decisions by public bodies in response to actions that discriminate against Palestinians and infringe their human rights.

In February 2020 the OHCHR published a list of companies contributing to the infringement of the human rights of Palestinians through their links with illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian land. This list needs to be updated, but is a useful source of companies to boycott in order to put pressure for the restoration of the rights of illegally displaced Palestinians.

Definition of Antisemitism

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has drafted a working definition of Antisemitism (WDA). It was not intended to be used legally or to police behaviour, but is now often used in this way. Many politicians and scholars (including many Jews) felt that the IHRA definition inappropriately prevents freedom of speech, such as in criticising actions of the Israeli government which harm Palestinians. Scholars came up with the Jerusalem Declaration, as “a tool to identify, confront and raise awareness about antisemitism as it manifests in countries around the world today”, although they say the UN – and others concerned to counter antisemitism – should rely on the UN Human Rights Instruments and the UN Charter, they offered the Jerusalem Declaration for further clarity. It is endorsed by 350 leading holocaust and antisemitism scholars from UK, Europe, Israel and the USA.

Unfortunately the UK government, in adopting the IHRA WDA in 2016, ignored the advice of the Home Affairs select committee that year, that neither anti-zionism nor legitimate criticism of the Israeli government are the same as antisemitism. The government has misguidedly imposed the IHRA WDA on Universities and other public bodies, resulting in silencing much reasonable discussion about antisemitism, the roots of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and about restarting possible paths to peace, just when such discussion is most needed.


  1. UK Government

Write to your MP (and copy the email to the Foreign Secretary) to ask the Foreign Secretary to:

–        Support full access and cooperation for OHCHR and other UN staff and authorised experts to investigate and look for the facts of the situation and speak without fear or favour

–        Reverse its opposition and instead support the request to the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s continued refusal to end its occupation of the OPT Territory.

–        Withdraw the BDS Bill currently going through Parliament and protect the rights of public bodies (such as councils and educational institutions) to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel in response to actions that discriminate against Palestinians and infringe their human rights.

–        Require the UK government and public bodies (such as councils and educational institutions) to encourage the use of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism; if they have already adopted the IHRA WDA they should use the text of the Jerusalem Declaration as a tool to interpret it.

–       Advocate for the UN not to adopt the IHRA WDA; where  it is already adopted, the Jerusalem Declaration should  be used as a tool to interpret it.

  1. Local councils, universities and companies

Ask your local public bodies and companies to:

–          Not invest in (or to divest from) or lobby firms named in the UN OHCHR list of companies contributing to the Israeli illegal occupation of remaining Palestinian land.

–          Not adopt the IHRA WDA, or, if it is already adopted, then use the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as a tool to interpret it.

  1. UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Ask the OHCHR to

–          Update its list (Database – OHCHR) from February 2020 of companies contributing to the infringement of the human rights of Palestinians through their contributions to the Israeli illegal occupation of remaining Palestinian land.

–          Urge the Human Rights Council to follow up its resolution 31/36 on the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian people in the Occupied Golan.

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