Why Gaza is "occupied" under Israeli Effective Control

In their coverage of Gaza, the media are often confused as to the status of Gaza and whether it’s still militarily “occupied” by Israel.  This confusion likely stems from the fact that Israel “disengaged” in 2005, removing its illegal settlements and its soldiers from the territory.

This confusion was clear for all to see when, on April 6, 2023, the CBC issued a “correction” stating, “Last night, we made a reference to the Gaza Strip being ‘occupied.’ The territory is not occupied, but rather has its borders controlled by Israel and Egypt.”  This “correction” followed the broadcast on April 5, when the a CBC Radio presenter on the World at Six had accurately described the Gaza Strip as “occupied.”  This “correction” was likely the result of the pulling of strings at the CBC by a pro-Israel media organization.[i] 

Failing to properly describe Gaza as “occupied” is misleading, giving the Canadian public the impression that the people in Gaza may have far more agency than they actually do.  It also changes the light by which Israeli actions may be judged, and whether the people of Gaza are a civilian population deserving of the protections of international humanitarian law.

Key Points

Even though Israel “disengaged” from the Gaza Strip in 2005, evacuating its illegal settlements and removing its ground military forces, experts in multiple fields have maintained that Israel still bears the responsibilities of a military occupier under international law.  The Fourth Geneva Convention, among other instruments of international humanitarian, details important responsibilities of the occupier in situations of war and occupation, foremost the protection of civilians.

For example, experts including United Nations fact-finding missions, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have concluded that Israel has not ended its role as an occupying power. Under international law, an occupation does not depend on whether a foreign power has a direct ground troop presence in a territory, but on whether it asserts “effective control.”

This point was expressed in a letter to the CBC in April, 2023 from Michael Lynk, retired law professor and former Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, who wrote that “Under international law, this degree of control exercised by Israel since 2005 is sufficient to conclude that Israel remains the occupying power over Gaza.”

This is a widely held position. The UN’s Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (a.k.a. “Goldstone Report”) determined unambiguously in 2009 that Israel exerted “effective control” over the Gaza Strip, and therefore continued to be an occupying power:

“Israel has without doubt at all times relevant to the mandate of the Mission exercised effective control over the Gaza Strip. The Mission is of the view that the circumstances of this control establish that the Gaza Strip remains occupied by Israel. The provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention therefore apply at all relevant times with regard to the obligations of Israel towards the population of the Gaza Strip.”[2]

Similarly, earlier in 2023, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reaffirmed its longstanding position that it:

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.”[3]

The United Nations and its various bodies continue to assert that Gaza is occupied Palestinian territory:

  • UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) stressed that the “Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967.”[4]
  • The United Nations General Assembly approves a series of resolutions every year which affirm that Gaza is considered occupied Palestinian territory.[5]
  • Major United Nations investigations have referred to the “occupied Gaza strip,” including the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (2009) (a.k.a. “Goldstone Report”),[6] the Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (2019),[7] and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel (2022), which concluded that “Israel remains in occupation of Gaza by virtue of the control exercised over, inter alia, its airspace and territorial waters, its land crossings at the borders and its supply of civilian infrastructure, including water and electricity.”[8]
  • Humanitarian and human rights issues in Gaza fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt),[9] and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,[10] among other UN bodies and agencies which similarly view Gaza as occupied.
  • In 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s pre-trial chamber determined that the court’s jurisdiction “extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”[11]

This international consensus is reflected in the official policy of the Canadian government, which includes Gaza among “occupied territories”:

  • “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip). The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel's obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories.”[12]

This position is also shared by prominent human rights and humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (see above). Prominent humanitarian NGOs including Save the Children,[13] Oxfam,[14] and Islamic Relief[15] consider Gaza as part of the occupied Palestinian territories. Further:

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued in 2004 that disengagement “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.” As HRW explained, “Under international law, the test for determining whether an occupation exists is effective control by a hostile army, not the positioning of troops. Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in control.”[16]
  • Israeli human rights NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement argued shortly after disengagement in 2007 that Israel continued to be an occupying power and that it asserts effective control, describing how “Israel continues to control Gaza through an ‘invisible hand’: control over borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, the tax system, supply of goods, and others.”[17]
  • Amnesty International concluded in 2022: “Even though Israel withdrew Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it retained effective control over the territory, which it tightened further through an unlawful air, sea and land blockade, and an official policy separating Gaza from the West Bank, following Hamas’s takeover of the territory two years later. As a result, the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains under Israeli military occupation, with Israel controlling the Palestinian population living there, their natural resources and, with the exception of Gaza’s short southern border with Egypt, their land and sea borders and airspace.”[18]


Individual journalists and media outlets may choose to disagree with the above consensus, but it cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist. It is simply incorrect for media to state as fact that Gaza is “not occupied” when the key experts in the international, humanitarian, and human rights sectors say exactly the opposite.

Last Updated: 2023-06-23

[1] “Success! HRC Prompts CBC Radio On-Air Correction, Gaza Isn’t “Occupied” By Israel,” Honest Reporting Canada, April 10, 2023, https://honestreporting.ca/success-gaza-isnt-occupied-by-israel-hrc-prompts-cbc-radio-on-air-correction/    

[2] United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (2009), https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/special-sessions/session9/fact-finding-mission, para 276.

[3] International Committee of the Red Cross, “What does the law say about the responsibilities of the Occupying Power in the occupied Palestinian territory?,” March 28, 2023, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/ihl-occupying-power-responsibilities-occupied-palestinian-territories

[4] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1860 (2009), adopted January 8, 2009, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/645525

[5] Several of these resolutions are outlined in a letter to your office from Michael Lynk dated April 12, 2023.

[6] United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (2009), https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/special-sessions/session9/fact-finding-mission

[7] The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/co-iopt/opt

[8] Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, October 20, 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/10/commission-inquiry-finds-israeli-occupation-unlawful-under-international-law   

[9] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), https://www.ochaopt.org/

[10] Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-palestine

[11] International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber I, “Decision on the ‘Prosecution request pursuant to article 19(3) for a ruling on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine’,” February 5, 2021, https://www.icc-cpi.int/court-record/icc-01/18-143

[12] Government of Canada, Canadian policy on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, last updated 2023-01-20, https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/mena-moan/israeli-palistinian_policy-politique_israelo-palestinien.aspx?lang=eng#a06

[13] Save the Children, “After 15 years of blockade, four out of five children in Gaza say they are living with depression, grief and fear,” June 15, 2022, https://opt.savethechildren.net/news/after-15-years-blockade-four-out-five-children-gaza-say-they-are-living-depression-grief-and

[14] Oxfam, “Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel,” https://www.oxfam.org/en/what-we-do/countries/occupied-palestinian-territory-and-israel

[15] Islamic Relief, “Where we work: Palestinian Territory,” https://islamic-relief.org/where_we_work/palestinian-territory/

[16] Human Rights Watch, “Israel: 'Disengagement' Will Not End Gaza Occupation,” October 28, 2004, https://www.hrw.org/news/2004/10/28/israel-disengagement-will-not-end-gaza-occupation

[17] Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, “Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza,” January 17, 2007, https://gisha.org/en/disengaged-occupiers-the-legal-status-of-gaza/#:~:text=The%20report%20analyzes%20Gaza's%20legal,obligations%20to%20residents%20of%20Gaza.

[18] Amnesty International, “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity,” February 1, 2022, https://amnesty.ca/human-rights-news/israels-apartheid-against-palestinians-a-cruel-system-of-domination-and-a-crime-against-humanity/