Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza in 2005, the terrorist organization Hamas emerged as the victor in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Israel and the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union) subsequently imposed economic sanctions on Gaza. Three conditions were set to lift these economic sanctions: Hamas must renounce violence against Israel, recognize Israel, and honor all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In June 2007, Hamas staged a coup and seized control of Gaza from the PA. To prevent smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists, Israel and Egypt tightened their respective border crossings and placed restrictions on shipping. Though Israel is routinely condemned for enforcing the blockade, critics usually ignore the role of Egypt, which must cooperate to close the southern end of the Gaza Strip. In October 2014, and then again in March 2015, for example, Egypt demolished dozens of homes along its border with Gaza to create a buffer zone to stop smugglers and extremists from crossing in either direction.
Since the Hamas takeover, Israel has been bombarded by rockets and mortars and other terrorist attacks. When Israel has responded to these provocations, it has typically been blamed for the violence.
The international media and critics of Israel have repeatedly called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian crisis” and blamed Israel for the conditions, ignoring the fact that Hamas has full authority within the Strip and has routinely diverts aid, medical supplies and other resources away from the public to its fighters. In one incident, for example, Hamas seized 200 tons of food and supplies from the UNRWA. An August 2014 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found that funds allocated to Gaza for construction and relief were mishandled. Even the Palestinian Authority has condemned Hamas for the plight of Gazans. For example, the PA accused Hamas of stealing thousands of liters of fuel from local Gazan companies and then telling the media that there is a fuel shortage for propaganda purposes.
Hamas not only withholds supplies from the Palestinians in Gaza, it also diverts materials to build weapons. Cement that could be used to build homes and infrastructure is instead used by Hamas to build terror tunnels. When Israel evacuated Gaza, the expectation was that the Palestinians would use the land where Jewish settlements had been to build high-rise apartments for refugees to get them out of camps. This did not happen, however, and the refugees remain in camps today only because Hamas wants to keep them there.
Following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Israeli sources donated over $1 million in medical and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, in addition to 600 ambulances. Injured Palestinians were cared for in Israeli hospitals, and the border crossing was frequently used to get medical equipment and other necessary supplies to the Strip. Even during the rocket attacks that provoked Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, Israel continued to send humanitarian aid to Gaza. Restrictions on the passage of goods into Gaza have been largely tied to the degree of calm. When violence escalates, as it did during the “Great March of Return,” Israel temporarily closes the border crossing.
On May 31, 2010, a flotilla of six ships carrying anti-Israel protestors attempted to break through the naval blockade to deliver supplies to Gaza. The organizers were warned ahead of time they would not be allowed to reach Gaza but were told they could dock in Ashdod and their cargo would be transferred by land through the border crossing to Gaza. The ships ignored the warnings and IDF naval forces intercepted them. Five of the ships were escorted to Israel without incident, but passengers on the lead boat, the Mavi Marmara, attacked the Israeli soldiers. In the melee, seven soldiers were wounded and ten Turkish activists were killed. Subsequent efforts to organize flotillas were usually aborted and the few ships that did try again to break the blockade were intercepted and diverted to Israel.
Israeli security forces and customs officers stopped a shipment from entering the Gaza Strip prior to the 2016 Passover. In May 2016, a massive shipment of rocket and tunnel building supplies hidden in boxes of textiles and jewelry were confiscated at a Gaza checkpoint. Nevertheless, Israel opened the Erez border crossing for the first time in eight years to allow goods to be transferred to Gaza. Shortly thereafter, a shipment of ten drones bound for terror groups in Gaza was discovered and confiscated at the crossing. Later that year, a Palestinian weapons-smuggling boat disguised as a fishing vessel was intercepted. These and other incidents since then reinforced the need for Israel to maintain the blockade.
Meanwhile, the PA has also contributed to the misery of Palestinians in Gaza. In an effort to pressure Hamas to cede power or provoke Gazans to revolt, Mahmoud Abbas slashed the salaries of thousands of government workers and ordered early retirement for nearly a third of them in April 2017. The PA also stopped paying for the electricity and fuel supplies that Israel was providing to Gaza, resulting in power shortages.
International law requires that Israel permit passage of food, clothing, and medicines intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers, and maternity cases. If Israel has reason to believe Hamas will intercept these goods and the enemy will benefit, even these provisions may be prohibited. Israel also need not provide these supplies; it is obligated only to allow others to transfer provisions.
Furthermore, the law does not prohibit Israel from cutting off fuel supplies and electricity to Gaza, withholding commercial items, or sealing its border. Israel also is not obligated to provide any minimum supplies to prevent a “humanitarian crisis.”
Some detractors call Israel’s actions “collective punishment”; however, this refers to the “imposition of criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another’s guilt.” Israel has done no such thing. Israel has no obligation to maintain open borders with a hostile territory. The suspension of trade relations or embargoes is a frequent tool of international diplomacy and has never been regarded as “collective punishment.”
Israel complied with—and exceeded—international law by delivering humanitarian supplies it was not required to provide.
Sources: The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
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Miller, Elhanan. “Israel to double water delivery to Gaza,” Times of Israel (March 4, 2015);
Levy, Elior. “Hundreds of smuggling attempts to Gaza intercepted in 2015,” YNet News (February 2, 2016);
Amir, Noam/Hashavua, Maariv. “Smuggling attempt foiled: Israel seizes 4 tons of Gaza-bound chemicals used in rockets,” Jerusalem Post (May 3, 2016);
“Israel to Reopen Border Crossing Into Gaza for Entry of Goods,” Algemeiner (May 4, 2016);
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