The Fourth Geneva Convention relates to the protection of civilians during times of war and under any occupation by a foreign power.
Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions collective punishments are a war crime. Article 33 states: "No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed," and "collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited." Israel rejects the Fourth Geneva Convention or the Additional Protocols applicability to the West Bank de jure.
By collective punishment, the drafters of the Geneva Conventions had in mind the reprisal killings of World Wars I and II. In the First World War, Germans executed Belgian villagers in mass retribution for resistance activity. In World War II, Nazis carried out a form of collective punishment to suppress resistance. Entire villages or towns or districts were held responsible for any resistance activity that took place there. The conventions, to counter this, reiterated the principle of individual responsibility. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Commentary to the conventions states that parties to a conflict often would resort to "intimidatory measures to terrorize the population" in hopes of preventing hostile acts, but such practices "strike at guilty and innocent alike. They are opposed to all principles based on humanity and justice."
The law of armed conflict applies similar protections to an internal conflict. Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 requires fair trials for all individuals before punishments; and Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment.
It is frequently cited as the legal basis for the claim that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute war crimes. It is also cited as the legal basis for the claim that the demolition of homes of Palestinian suicide bombers constitutes a war crime. Israel maintains that the definition of "occupation" in the text of Article 2 precludes this interpretation since these are stateless territories which do not belong to a High Contracting Party.