Fact Sheet: Legal Status of Israel’s Siege & Blockade of Gaza

August 18, 2023
  • Starting in the early 1990s, Israel made it increasingly difficult for Palestinians and commercial goods to enter or leave Gaza, which along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. In 2007, following Hamas’ victory in parliamentary elections for the Palestinian Authority, Israel imposed a suffocating siege and naval blockade on Gaza that have been repeatedly condemned by the UN and rights groups as collective punishment of the entire population and illegal.
  • Collective punishment contravenes the Hague Conventions on the laws of war, as well as Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.”
  • The siege and blockade devastated Gaza’s economy, which already suffered from decades of repressive Israeli restrictions, and turned Gaza into an impoverished open-air prison. As a senior advisor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained in 2006, Israel’s policy in Gaza was “to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”
  • In 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross released a statement entitled Gaza closure: not another year! which noted: “The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law.”
  • Also in 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the blockade, stating: "I have consistently reported to member states that the blockade is illegal and must be lifted."
  • In 2011, after Israel’s attack on a flotilla of civilian ships taking aid to Gaza killed nine human rights activists, including an American citizen, the UN released a report by a panel of five independent rights experts who concluded Israel's blockade is in "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law."
  • In 2012, 50 international aid agencies, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Oxfam, released a statement calling on Israel to lift its siege and blockade, declaring: “For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now.’”
  • In a 2016 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 condemned Israel’s blockade as illegal, stating: “As a form of collective punishment imposed upon an entire population, the blockade is contrary to international law.” 

See also