ICPH was established informally as Palestinian social action was emerging at the end of the 1970's, then as a formal university unit, a department, and as an institute in 1998. Its mission and goals have been primarily defined by the extra-ordinary conditions of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The institute's inception, growth and development were a response to the Palestinian community's need for generating the evidence required to develop independent and informed health policies, plans and programmes.
ICPH aims to contribute to the protection and improvement of the health of Palestinians through research, teaching the Master in Public Health programme, and the capacity building of public health providers and planners. Its theoretical foundations are based on the notion that health is socially constructed; and on understanding health and disease in context, taking shape over the life course. Medical services are considered important for achieving health, but not sufficient, requiring additional action outside health services and within community and society to address the structural factors that influence health, such as the economic, social, and cultural contexts.
ICPH defines health as a basic human right, and focuses on justice in health. It promotes a multidisciplinary and intersectoral approach to address health problems, and for the promotion of population health. This approach requires team work, and a focus on issues as opposed to disciplines.
ICPH combines immediate health crisis survival needs with longer term development objectives. Its programs run in cycles, beginning with observation, research/needs assessments to inform action, teaching and training, field interventions, monitoring, advocacy; and evaluation, which guide new programming and inform policy. The Institute is active in a range of areas, including child health, chronic diseases, health systems and management, population, psychosocial/mental health, and women's health.