Israeli Siege of Gaza Fact Sheet

THE VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

1. Why is Israel's siege of Gaza illegal under international law?

The stated aim of Israel's blockade is to apply "pressure" or "sanctions" to weaken the economy of Gaza and decrease support for Hamas. [1]  This amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's civilians, and as such is a violation of international humanitarian law (Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949). Further, as an occupying power, Israel is required under Articles 55, 59 and 60 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and is prohibited from impeding the full realization of the occupied people's human rights.  Israel's blockade impedes Gazans' rights to food, to an adequate standard of living, to work, and to the highest attainable standard of health.

As an occupying power, Israel has the duty to protect civilians under its control, and the specific duty to allow adequate access to food and medical supplies. Israel's siege of Gaza, including its land and sea blockade, violates these duties of protection by denying Gazan Palestinian civilians access to adequate amounts of the most basic food and medical supplies, as well as other supplies necessary for rebuilding after the destruction wrought by Israel's overwhelming destruction of Gaza's infrastructure in its 2009 attacks. Israel's violation of its duties, extensively documented by international organizations, ultimately amounts to the collective punishment of 1.5 million civilians, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

2. Israel claims it allows necessary humanitarian provisions to enter Gaza.  This is not true.

The amount of goods allowed into Gaza fall short of the minimum required to avoid malnutrition, poverty, and prevent or treat a variety of illnesses. According to Amnesty International's recently released annual report, the siege has resulted in "mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages." See the following statistics:

  • 61 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food, and rely on assistance from aid agencies.  An additional 16.2 percent are considered vulnerable to food insecurity. [2]
  • 65 percent of the food insecure are children under the age of 18. [3]
  • Unemployment is at 40 percent [4]
    • 10 percent of children under five are stunted (low height for age, usually attributed to a chronic lack of protein and micronutrients, including iron and essential vitamins), a steadily increasing trend over recent years, according to UNICEF. [5]
    • More than 10 percent of children are chronically malnourished, according to the World Health Organization, a significant increase since siege began.
    • The number of children under five suffering from acute malnutrition nearly doubled between 2006 and 2008 from 1.4 to 2.4 percent, according to UNICEF.
    • 65 percent of children aged 9-12 months, and 35 percent of pregnant women are anemic. [6]
      • According to a recent poverty survey conducted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of Palestinian refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water ('abject poverty') has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007
      • A majority of Gazans experience rolling blackouts of up to 12 hours a day, every day as a result of a chronic shortfall in electricity production resulting from the blockade [7]
      • Due to insufficient wastewater treatment capacity, Gaza's water authorities release 60-80 million liters a day of raw and partially treated sewage into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to avoid sewage flooding residential areas.
      • Water supply for domestic use is insufficient, raising hygiene and health concerns. In order to pump water to households, the water wells must receive electricity in synchronization with electricity supply to the same households. Almost all the households receive water for only 5-7 hours a day.

3. The Israeli blockage prevents the functioning of Gaza’s economy.

Export of Palestinian goods, the import of raw materials and access to Gaza's natural resources have been severely restricted.  For example:

  • Roughly 118 truckloads of strawberries and cut flowers exports were permitted to leave Gaza between December 10, 2009 and May 2010.  Before the blockade, an average of 70 truckloads a day left Gaza during strawberry season. [8]
  • Since January 2009, the Israeli navy has illegally restricted Palestinian fishermen's access to three nautical miles offshore, yet in practice Israel often limits fishermen to only two nautical miles, reducing their catch by 47 percent. [9]
  • 46 percent of Gaza's agricultural land is inaccessible or out of production either due to destruction of lands caused by Israeli military attacks or by its "security buffer zone." [10]
  • Roughly 90 percent of Gaza's factories are closed or are functioning at less than 10 percent capacity because of the inability to obtain raw materials and the inability to export finished products [11].
  • The Israeli human rights organization Gisha provides the following example of how the blockade aims to prevent economic development: "Israel permits Gaza residents to receive small packets of margarine, considered a consumption item. Israel bans, however, the transfer of large buckets of margarine, because the buckets are designed for industrial use, rather than home consumption, meaning that they could be used to allow a local factory to produce biscuits - and thus engage in economic activity.  Similarly, requests to permit empty cans into Gaza - intended for the preservation and marketing of Gaza-produced tomato paste - have been refused, but requests to transfer prepared, Israeli-made tomato paste are permitted." [12]

Some of the items prevented from entering Gaza are:

  • · sage ·  cardamom·  cumin·  coriander·  ginger·  jam·  halva·  vinegar·  nutmeg·  chocolate·  fruit preserves·  seeds and nuts·  biscuits and sweets·  potato chips·  gas for soft drinks·  dried fruit·  fresh meat·  plaster·  tar·  wood for construction·  cement·  iron·  glucose·  industrial salt·  plastic/glass/metal containers·  industrial margarine·  tarpaulin sheets for huts·  fabric (for clothing)·  flavor and smell enhancers·  fishing rods·  various fishing nets·  buoys·  ropes for fishing·  nylon nets for greenhouses·  hatcheries and spare parts for hatcheries·  spare parts for tractors·  dairies for cowsheds·  irrigation pipe systems·  ropes to tie greenhouses·  planters for saplings·  heaters for chicken farms·  musical instruments·  size A4 paper·  writing implements·  notebooks·  newspapers·  toys·  razors·  sewing machines and spare parts·  heaters·  horses·  donkeys·  goats·  cattle·  chicks [13]

4. Why does the international community continue to consider Israel an occupying power in Gaza?

Israel's continued control of Gaza's territorial waters, its airspace, the flow of people and goods through its land borders, and its continued ground and air incursions into the territory, verify that it exercises the "effective control" necessary to qualify as a foreign occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

5.     If Israel claims to have ended its occupation of Gaza were true would the blockade still be illegal?

Yes. Even if the Gaza Strip were not occupied, Israel would still be constrained by the principle of proportionality in imposing the blockade. This means that the military advantage gained must outweigh the harm caused the civilian population. Meaning, the blockade may be no more restrictive than is necessary for military purposes. Yet the blockade is far broader, and its explicit aims are political, not military. It is therefore illegal, and actions taken to enforce it are similarly illegal.

6.     Did Israel have the legal right to prevent the passage of the humanitarian aid flotilla?

No. As an occupying power, Israel is required under the Fourth Gevena Convention to ensure free, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to the occupied population. "If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies," including medical supplies, provided the blockading party is allowed to make technical arrangements for the passage.

Israel's denial of passage to the humanitarian flotilla, which was carrying solely humanitarian supplies and was searched by Turkish authorities prior to departure, was thus illegal. The effect of the blockade on the Gazan civilian population is well documented, causing alarming levels of malnutrition and near starvation. Israel's stated objective in imposing the blockade is also largely not military, but political in nature, namely, to weaken Gaza's economy and decrease support for Hamas. The damage that the blockade has caused to the civilian population is therefore clearly disproportionate to any military advantage Israel could obtain from the blockade. Preventing humanitarian goods from reaching Gaza has no relation to any threat posed by Hamas. The UN Security Council's Resolution 1860 of January 2009, which calls for a lift of the blockade to allow humanitarian assistance, confirms that Israel's blockade of Gaza is illegitimate.

7.     Did Israel have the right to board the flotilla ships in international waters last year?

No. The humanitarian flotilla was in international waters, on the high seas. The principle of freedom of navigation is enshrined in international law, including in the Convention on the High Seas, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and has attained the status of customary international law by which all states are bound. Under this principle, all states have the freedom to sail ships flying their flags on the high seas. Sovereignty over a ship is exclusive to the state whose flag the ship is flying. Any attempt to board the ship of another flag-state is therefore considered a breach of that state's sovereignty.

[1] Gisha. Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and obfuscation, January 2010
[2] Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, FAO, May 2010
[3] Ibid
[4] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009
[5] IRIN. OPT: Signs of worsening malnutrition among children, April 2009
[6] Ibid.
[7] OCHA. The Humanitarian Monitor, April 2010
[8] Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, FAO, May 2010
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Gisha. Restrictions on the transfer of goods to Gaza: Obstruction and obfuscation, January 2010
[12] Ibid.
[13] Gisha. Partial List of Items Prohibited/Permitted into the Gaza Strip. May 2010.

For more information go to IMEU, Institute for Middle East Understanding.

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