The Legal Aspects of Gaza Aid

MFA legal expert Sarah Weiss Maudi, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

A maritime blockade has been imposed by Israel off the coast of Gaza because Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza.


Interviewer: Today we are with Sarah Weiss Maudi. She is the Israel Foreign Ministry’s expert on maritime and humanitarian law. Sarah, we would like to ask you a few questions about Gaza. First of all, why is it that Israel can prevent ships from reaching Gaza?

Ms. Weiss Maudi: The reason why ships can’t come into Gaza currently is because a maritime blockade is currently in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such a blockade has been imposed by Israel 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 with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza by various routes, including the sea. 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. Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law, and may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.

Interviewer: So this is a recognized maritime practice?

Ms. Weiss Maudi: Exactly. 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. 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.

Interviewer: Okay. So this blockade should not surprse anyone.

Ms. Weiss Maudi: Exactly.

Interviewer: Now, let’s talk about the transfer of supplies over land. Why can Israel decide what goes in and what can’t?

Ms. Weiss Maudi: 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.

Interviewer: Does this mean that Israel no longer occupies Gaza?

Ms. Weiss Maudi: Exactly. The effective control of Gaza has ended. What currently exists is a state of armed conflict. What happened after disengagement was that Israel had hoped that the disengagement would be used as a springboard for more positive relations with our neighbors in Gaza. But actually, the opposite occurred and 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.

Interviewer: Is this a common practice?

Ms. Weiss Maudi: It is a very common practice. 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 – the imposition of economic sanctions. Rather, this is 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 US against Syria, against Libya, and these policies are imposed as a consequence of certain policies undertaken by a certain regime. 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,

May 27, 2010 | Comments »

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