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 the Palestinian population through research, teaching the MPH and Diploma programs, 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 and well being, such as economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental influences on health.

ICPH defines health as a basic human right, and focuses on justice in health It promotes a multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral 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. Active cooperation with community and society ensures that the link between theory and practice is maintained.

ICPH upholds primary health care as a strategy for health promotion and health services development based on community mobilization, participation, and equity. Primary health care, a population-directed approach to health, is not merely a clinic in a remote area, but rather a strategy, and a system of health care provision that includes teamwork among the various categories of providers, effective linkages in the community, and referral mechanisms among the different levels of health care.

 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 first ten-year cycle was centered on participation in the development of the Palestinian Primary Health Care model along with non-governmental organizations, and include the initiation of women’s health programs. The following cycle focused on the development of the Community Based Rehabilitation model, in cooperation with local groups. The Institute is currently active in a range of areas, including child health, health policy, planning and management, non-communicable diseases, population, health and development, psychosocial and mental health, and women’s health. The Institute is also active in the development of metrics which can uncover the effects of exposure to political violence  on health, such as human insecurity, distress, uncertainty, deprivation and other such social suffering indicators.