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Foreign Min. Legal Expert Explains Gaza Blockade

Response to "human rights" flotilla: Armed conflict between Israel and Hamas, including Hamas arms smuggled via sea, justifies the blockade.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/27/2010, 3:12 PM / Last Update: 5/27/2010, 2:38 PM

Flash90

Part 2 of a Two-Part Series. The first part of this series, a detailed account and list of aid Israel provides Gaza, can be seen here.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry (MFA) has prepared a three-pronged “counter-attack” to the flotilla of anti-Israel “humanitarian” ships scheduled to arrive in Gaza later this week. Among the elements of the Israeli response is a detailed explanation of the blockade Israel has imposed on Hamas, as outlined below.

Sarah Weiss Maudi, the Foreign Ministry's expert on maritime and humanitarian law, was interviewed by the FMA website about the justification for the blockade on Gaza. She explained that the reason why ships are not allowed into Gaza is Israel has imposed a maritime blockade on the coast of Gaza. Israel did this, Maudi said, “because Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza.”

Hamas has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel proper, she said, “with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza by various routes, including the sea… Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law, and may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.”

She further said that “under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no vessels can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian vessels and enemy vessels. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate the maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked.”

“Various naval manuals, including the naval manuals of the US and UK, recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure that can be implemented in times of armed conflict,” Maudi continued. “And those manuals give various criteria for making a blockade valid, including the requirement to give due notice of the blockade. Israel, in accordance with the requirements of international law, has publicized the existence of the blockade currently in effect, and has published the exact coordinates of the blockade via the accepted international professional maritime channels.”

The interviewer then said, “Let's talk about the transfer of supplies over land. Why can Israel decide what goes in and what can't?”

Ms. Weiss Maudi responded, “In order to answer that question, we need to think about the events of the past few years. In 2005, Israel completed its disengagement plan and completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip, so that no Israeli military or civilian presence remained in the Gaza Strip. The disengagement plan ended Israel's effective control of the Gaza Strip after almost 40 years of effective control… What currently exists is a state of armed conflict.”

She added that though Israel had hoped “that the disengagement would be used as a springboard for more positive relations with our neighbors in Gaza, in actuality, the opposite occurred. Instead of positive relations happening, the terrorist organization of Hamas seized power in Gaza and stepped up the rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli communities and towns in Israel proper adjacent to the Gaza Strip.”

“Therefore, in light of the Hamas-sponsored attacks on Israeli civilian targets, Israel undertook a number of measures against the Hamas regime. One of these measures is the imposition of economic sanctions against the Hamas regime in Gaza… Under international law, every state gets to decide what goes in and out of its borders. Also under international law, every state gets to decide whether it wants to forge economic relationships with any entity or state. Similarly, a country has a sovereign right to decide whether to impose economic sanctions on any enemy state or entity.

“I want to emphasize that this is not an act of collective punishment, but is rather a measure to put pressure on a regime that is attacking Israel's citizens. Under international law Israel has a basic right to defend and protect its citizens.

“Such economic penalties have been imposed throughout modern history. There are many examples of bilateral sanctions: the U.S. against Syria and against Libya, for instance… In the international arena these are considered a legitimate and effective tool to exert pressure on terrorist or other regimes, such as that of the Hamas terrorist regime.” 

Interviewer: “So how do we make sure that our actions are against the regime, but not against the citizens?”

Ms. Weiss Maudi: “Well, Israel has a humanitarian obligation to make sure that certain vital humanitarian interests are met and that supplies go in. But I want to emphasize that Israel is under no obligation to supply non-vital goods or goods that could give Hamas a military or economic advantage. That is why Israel limits, for example, the supply of concrete into the Gaza Strip. Concrete could be used to mold rockets. It could be used to build reinforced bunkers which are clearly for military purposes against Israel.”

She emphasizes that Israel supplies Gaza with large quantities of humanitarian supplies, including baby formula, meat, dairy products, and more. “And in the last year and a half it has supplied Gaza with over a million tons of goods. The Israel Supreme Court constantly reviews these supplies to make sure that Israel is in line with its requirements under both Israeli domestic law and international law to supply vital civilian goods that are needed. And indeed, it has confirmed that Israel has been meeting its obligations under international and domestic law.”

It should be noted that Egypt has also closed its border with Gaza.

Remarks by MFA spokesman Yigal Palmor comprise the third prong of Israel's information response to the flotilla. Excerpts thereof:

“Ships forcing their way into Gaza will do nothing to aid the people there. Existing land crossings are more than capable of meeting their needs. International aid organizations and the private sector of Gaza ensure that all the necessary food, medicine and clothing are provided to the Strip via Israel… The land crossings remain the most efficient system to transfer goods to Gaza, and the flotilla organizers are well aware of this fact… Israel has invited the organizers of the flotilla to use the land crossings, in the same manner as all the reputable international organizations.

“However, they are less interested in bringing in aid than in promoting their radical agenda, playing into the hands of Hamas provocations.  While they have wrapped themselves in a humanitarian cloak, they are engaging in political propaganda and not in pro-Palestinian aid. If the organizers were truly interesting in providing humanitarian aid - as opposed to engaging in publicity stunts - they would use the proper channels to ensure delivery of any supplies.”