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Debate: Israeli blockade of Gaza

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Background and context

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since June of 2007, when, after their 2006 victory in the Palestinian legislative election, Hamas took control of the Palestinian territory from Fatah.
Israel's rationale for the blockade is that Hamas constitutes a military threat, due to its charter's avowed wish to dismantle the Israeli state, and its rocket attacks on Israel carried out for many years sporadically and increasingly leading up to the 2008/2009 Gaza war. Israel bombed Gaza during this war and severely weakened Hamas, and it has continued to enforce the blockade as a means of ensuring against continued rocket attacks and military threats. Opponents consider the blockade illegal on the grounds that Israel is an "occupier" of Gaza (a disputed idea), and on the grounds that it has caused excessive economic and humanitarian harm to Gazans. The issue became particularly heated in May of 2010 when a "humanitarian" flotilla attempted to break the blockade and deliver aid directly to Gaza instead of through Israeli ports and check-points. A subsequent Israeli raid of the flotilla left 9 activists dead, causing international outrage over the raid as well as the blockade. As a result, renewed international attention has been give to the debate surrounding the blockade. The pros and cons, as argued by the main players involved, are presented below.

Contents

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Legality: Is the blockade legal under international law?

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Pro

  • Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal during conflict with Hamas Leslie Gelb. "Israel was right." The Daily Beast. May 31, 2010: "Regarding international law, blockades are quite legal. The United States and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can't remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal—even though they took place on the high seas in international waters. There would be a general violation only if the hostile actions against the ships took place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state. Thus, for example, if the Israelis stopped the ships in Egyptian waters, that would have been a violation." Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner, and Johns Hopkins international law Professor Ruth Wedgwood all argue that the blockade is legal."
  • Israel has right to know what enters Gaza during conflict In an interview with Charlie Rose after the flotilla raid, Vice President Joe Biden said: "You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not ... but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they're at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in."[1]
  • Israel stopped occupying Gaza in 2005; blockade is legal. Since 2005 Israel asserts that it ended its occupation of Gaza when it disengaged from the coastal strip in 2005. After Israel's unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza strip, Israel no longer occupied Gaza with troops.


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Con

  • Cease-fire invalideates blockade-justification of "war" w/ Hamas Marcelo Kohen, a law professor at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies, argued that "There is also at present a cease-fire on Gaza. Under [Israel's] logic one could maintain a maritime blockade unendingly. It only requires one party to consider itself as being in a ‘state of war.'" Therefore, Israel cannot justify its blockade and flotilla-raid in international waters on the grounds that it is "at war" or "in conflict" with Hamas.
  • Gaza blockade harms too many civilians for small military gains. Douglas Guilfoyle, a specialist in international and maritime law at University College London: "The real question is: 'Is the blockade itself lawful?' Everything else turns on that [...] [The blockade is illegal] if it will cause excessive damage to the civilian population in relation to the military advantage gained... so therefore intercepting a vessel on the high seas to support or enforce the blockade would not be lawful."[2]
  • Israel controls too much of Gaza; it is an occupier. After Israel's unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza strip, Israel no longer occupied Gaza with troops. But, Israel has retained control over Gaza's airspace and coastline, and over its own border with the territory. Egypt has control of its border with Gaza (except for the tunnels). Israel and Egypt also control the flow of goods in and out. Israel controls fuel imports to Gaza, and also controls the majority of electricity used in Gaza (approximately 60%), which it supplies from the Israeli electrical grid. So, while Israel may not have troops in Gaza any more, it has too much control over too many areas of life there. It is, effectively, an occupier, and its blockade should be seen in this context.
  • Controlling air, land, sea means "occupation." According to international law, if you control the land, the air, and the sea borders of a state, then it is considered under occupation regardless of whether you are actually there. By the Geneva conventions, occupation is illegal and should be resisted.
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Humanitarian: Is the blockade consistent with humanitarian principles?

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Pro

  • No humanitarian crisis in Gaza; blockade is OK Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu: "There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of 10,000 tons of goods go into Gaza. There's no shortage of food, medicine, or other goods."
  • Blockade strains Gazans, but does not cause humanitarian crisis. Speaking in 2006, Dov Weisglass, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that, "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."[4]
  • Hamas is cause of strife in Gaza, not Israel Hamas refuses to accept from Israel the aid offloaded from the flotilla. [5]. This either means that there is no crisis in Gaza, or that it is actively caused by Hamas. Netanyahu: "Why is life flourishing in the West Bank? Because it's not under the control of a terrorist organization!"


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Con

  • UN called Gaza blockade illegal human rights violation On January 24, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a statement calling for Israel to lift its siege on the Gaza Strip, allow the continued supply of food, fuel, and medicine, and reopen border crossings.[6] According to the Jerusalem Post, this was the 15th time in less than two years the council condemned Israel for its human rights record regarding the Palestinian territories.[7] The proceedings were boycotted by Israel and the United States.
  • Blockade damages Gaza fishing industry Israel allows fishermen to travel only 3 nautical miles offshore, reduced from 6nm in 2007. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that Gaza fishermen need to journey at least 12-15 nautical miles from shore to catch larger shoals, and sardines in particular are 6 nm offshore. Shoals closer to shore have been depleted. The total catch in 1999 was nearly 4,000 tons in pre-blockade 1999. This was reduced to 2,700 tons in 2008.
  • Blockade unjustly prevents building supplies entering Gaza The blockade of Gaza unjustly prevents cement and other building supplies from entering the Gaza strip by ship or land. This is based on the idea that these materials could be used to build military fortifications. But, its effect is far-reaching in undermining legitimate Gaza construction efforts, particularly those necessary in rebuilding infrastructure after the devastating 2008-2009 war.[8]
  • Blockade undermines responsibility of Israeli-occupiers to Gazans Amnesty International has argued that as the occupying power, Israel has a duty under international law to ensure the welfare of Gaza’s inhabitants, including their rights to health, education, food and adequate housing. It argues that the blockade undermines these responsibilities.
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Strategy: Is the blockade strategically valuable to Israel?

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Pro

  • Gaza blockade pressures Hamas to end rocket attacks, seek peace. The stated purpose of the blockade was to pressure Hamas into ending the rocket attacks and to deprive them of the supplies necessary for the continuation of rocket attacks.
  • Israeli blockade is supported by Egyptian blockade of Gaza Israel is not the only country blockading Gaza. Gaza's other neighbor, Egypt, is also blockading Gaza on the grounds that Hamas is a threat to its security. This demonstrates at the very least that Israel is not alone in its analysis, and it also is notably in the way that Egypt is a predominantly-Muslim country; the fact that it believes Hamas is a threat must mean that Hamas really is a threat, worthy of being blockaded.
  • Israeli blockade isolates Hamas, helping push for regime change. If Hamas does not change its view of Israel, the best outcome would be for Hamas to be dethroned from power. A blockade helps achieve this by undermining Hamas popularity and economic power.


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Con

  • Blockading Gaza actually strengthens Hamas' grip Mr Cameron told the Commons during his first "questions time" as Prime Minister of the UK: "We should do everything we can to make sure this doesn't happen again. Friends of Israel - and I count myself a friend of Israel - should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas's grip on the economy and on Gaza. [...] And it's in their own interests to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through."
  • Deterrence and targeted strikes better than Gaza blockade. Ehud Eiran. "End the Siege, but Keep Arms Out." New York Times. June 1, 2010: "Gaza has been used as a base for a 10-year shelling operation against southern Israel. This is our most acute security concern. [...] The siege does limit the amount and quality of weapons at Hamas’s disposal, but following the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, Israel relies primarily on deterrence and the occasional follow-up military action."
  • Gaza blockade worsens image of Israel as oppressor A senior American White House official told the New York Times in June of 2010: "Gaza has become the symbol in the Arab world of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and we have to change that. We need to remove the impulse for the flotillas. The Israelis also realize this is not sustainable."[9]


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Public opinion: Where is opinion internationally?

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Pro

  • Critics of Israeli blockade apply double standards Daniel Gordis. "A botched raid, a vital embargo." New York Times. June 2, 2010: "Israelis are resigned to the fact that reason will not shake the world’s blatant double standard. Our blockade of Gaza is “criminal”; yet nobody mentions that Egypt has had a blockade of Gaza in place since 2007, and has never hesitated to use lethal force against those trying to break it. Israel’s attempt to enforce a blockade becomes an international crisis, while most of the world shrugs when North Korea sinks a South Korean ship. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared his willingness to sit with Fatah leaders any time, anywhere, but they insist on mere “proximity talks,” which they will probably now scuttle, using the flotilla as an excuse."


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Con

  • Israelis suffer from double standard on Gaza blockade. It can be argued that Israel has a double standard. Israelis point to the suffering of their civilians who live near the border with Gaza, but they, and the rest of the world, turn a blind eye when it comes to the suffering of the civilians in Gaza, half of whom are children.


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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links and resources

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