Israel & International Law: The Siege & Blockade of Gaza
PHOTO: Erez Crossing betwen Gaza and Israel (OXFAM)
For more on Israel's violations of international law, see our fact sheets on Israel's West Bank Wall and illegal settlements.
Since 1967, Gaza has been under Israeli military occupation, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although Israel withdrew its soldiers and some 8,000 settlers from the interior of the tiny, densely populated coastal strip in 2005, Israel continues to control virtually all entry and exit, as well as Gaza's airspace and coastline. As a result, Israel retains unconsented-to “effective control," the legal definition for qualifying as an occupying power. (See here for more on the legal status of Gaza.)
In the early 1990s, Israel began imposing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in Gaza, while building a barrier that surrounds the territory on two of its three non-coastal sides. Since 2007, following Hamas’ victory in internationally-monitored elections for the Palestinian Authority parliament the previous year, Israel has imposed a draconian siege and naval blockade on Gaza in an act of collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law.
In particular, 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.” (See here for more on the specific articles of international law dealing with collective punishment.) Israel also routinely uses collective punishment against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, in the form of home demolitions, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on movement , and other measures.
In September 2011, a UN panel composed of independent experts found that Israel's blockade of Gaza amounts to collective punishment in "flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law." In reference to the so-called Palmer Report, released a few weeks earlier, which found that the blockade is legal, the independent experts wrote: “In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel's closure policy towards Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians.” The Palmer panel, which was criticized as a politicized whitewash by human rights groups, did not have the power to subpoena documents or witnesses, therefore its conclusions “cannot be considered definitive in either fact or law,” in the words of The New York Times.
In September 2010, a UN fact-finding mission into Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which killed nine Turkish human rights activists, including an American citizen, concluded:
The Mission considers that one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas. The combination of this motive and the effect of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip leave no doubt that Israel's actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law.
Israeli officials have acknowledged that the siege and blockade are part of a strategy of economic warfare against the people of Gaza. In 2006, a senior advisor to then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Dov Weisglass, explained the goal of the Gaza siege was to put the people of Gaza "on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."
See fact sheet here for more on the opinions of human rights organizations regarding the legality of the blockade.