International Red Cross Denounces Israeli Blockade of Gaza As Violation of International Law

The respected International Committee for the Red Cross has released a statement denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a violation of international law.

The ICRC stated today that

As the ICRC has stressed repeatedly, the dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid. The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza’s health care system has reached an all-time low.

The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

It also denounced Hamas for its obstruction of efforts to see Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is about to enter his fifth year in captivity.

Part of the problem is that Israeli officials have made statements that the restriction on everything from candy to medical equipment to water systems has been in retaliation for both Shalit’s capture and the Hamas victory in the elections. That supports the claim of collective punishment and goes beyond searches for weapons.

Now, we may be seeing an even more dangerous confrontation as Iran sends ships to try to run the blockade.

Notably, Israel has just loosened restrictions on candy, spices, and shaving cream. It would have been better if those restrictions had not been in place for the outset. The strongest claim for Israel is the need to search for weapons. It has undermined its case for years through these other restrictions.

54 thoughts on “International Red Cross Denounces Israeli Blockade of Gaza As Violation of International Law

  1. And we will be the first to champion Israels right to do this, huh.

    Just like Arizona and the Mexicans. My question is, do they just round up the Mexicans or is this state law unequally applied? See,s like Dredd Scott is raising its head at this very moment.

  2. McClatchy broke this story last week: “JERUSALEM — As Israel ordered a slight easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip Wednesday, McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.

    Read more:

    Then go to al jazeera for a description of what is actually happening in Gaza. Here is just a sample of the ICRC statement: “Jazeera that the organisation – which traditionally remains neutral – was reluctant to publicly criticise the blockade. But she said three years of quiet efforts to ease the embargo did not result in any progress.

    “The result has not been what we expected, and we thought that after three years the situation was dire enough, serious enough, to speak out publicly to try to break this closure of Gaza,” she said.

    The shortages are particularly dire in Gaza’s health care system, where the ICRC said more than 100 essential medicines – including chemotherapy and hemophilia drugs – are unavailable. Many basic medical supplies, like colonoscopy bags, are also barred from Gaza and routine blackouts cause damage to medical equipment.”

    We thus have two war crimes: 1. collective economic punishment and 2. failure to follow the Geneva Conventions as an occupying power. The US, busy committing its own war crimes, is certainly not the nation to “neutrally” take up the matter. There needs to be sanctions on Israel for its war crimes and to force it to lift the blockade. I am certain there are ways to protect Israel that do not involve the commission of war crimes. “Security” is not the magic word that allows nations to do whatever they please– to violate both international and national laws. Any person who accepts that “national security” justifies the commission of war crimes, needs to reconsider this belief. In so doing, your nation becomes nothing better than those whom you fear. Your nation becomes a thug. Do not believe a thug only turns against the “enemy”. Thugs see enemies everywhere and they will turn on, (in fact in both nations, the govts. have turned on), anyone who opposes their illegal and immoral actions.

  3. The Israeli ambassador to the US’s argument on Colbert was that while Israel has an obligation to allow humanitarian aid, they don’t have any obligation to make the people of Gaza happy or give them junk food. Even if you accept that argument (which I suppose I do), Israel has hurt its international position by taking that line and hurt its legal position by making statements about retaliation.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens with the ships from Iran.

  4. Jill & everyone,

    I wonder if anyone knows of any official definition of collective punishment. I read it to mean, e.g., not shooting random people from a city because one of your soldiers was attacked in that area. Blockades have historically been a part of warfare and they are not just directed at weapons. Does the argument that an economic blockade is “collective punishment” have historical or textual support?

  5. James M., This is a legal analysis of the situation.

    “The International Committee of the Red Cross has described Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

    That conclusion rests on the Israeli government’ status as an occupying power in Gaza, which assigns it certain obligations to the people of Gaza.

    Those obligations are spelt out in detail by the Fourth Geneva Convention. At their most basic, though, they require Israel to provide for the basic needs of the people, particularly food and medical care.

    To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.

    The convention also requires the occupying power to allow sufficient shipments of aid – food, clothing, medical supplies and other essentials – and to take steps to preserve the health care system in the occupied territory.”

  6. Jill, I read through your link and their links. No where do I find the phrase “effective control” in the fourth Hague Convention or in the Fourth Geneva Convention (the stated origin of the claim that Israel is still an occupying power even though they withdrew from Gaza).

    In the Hague Convention IV, Section III is the relevant part. Art. 42 of the Fourth Hague Convention says: “Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.
    The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.” (emphasis added)

    Which implies to me that if the hostile army withdraws, the land is no longer occupied.

    (BTW, Jill, Art. 50 is something you might want to cite the next time this thread gets started: “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.” — that’s the sort of thing I was asking about earlier:)

    The Geneva Convention refers to “partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party” (Art. 2). Article 6 says: “In the case of occupied territory, the application of the present Convention shall cease one year after the general close of military operations; however, the Occupying Power shall be bound, for the duration of the occupation, to the extent that such Power exercises the functions of government in such territory, by the provisions of the following Articles”

    Does that mean that since military operations have been over for over a year and Israel does not exercise the functions of government in Gaza, the convention does not apply?

    For both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, how does Gaza not being signatory effect the analysis?

  7. James,

    Occupation by troops on every corner is no different than occupation by isolation. It’s a tactic as old as the Romans. In fact it was this very tactic that Vercingetorix used against the Romans in Gaul and Germania. It’s a logistical strategy. Withdrawal in this case is technical, not actual.

    As to Gaza not being signatories? Irrelevant. Israel is. Their breaking of the Geneva Convention is no more acceptable than ours is in torturing prisoners. The purpose of the Geneva Convention is to define the behavior of signatory nations towards wounded and capture soldiers AND civilians during wartime. The US won’t call Israel on breaking the Convention because Bush did and Obama continues to do so, protecting our own domestic war criminals.

  8. James M:

    I agree with Buddha’s analysis here. As a signatory, Israel is obligated under the Hague Convention and must comply. I also agree that Israel has no duty to make Gazans comfortable as we have previously discussed — merely adequately fed, housed, and medically attended to.

  9. Buddha & mespo,

    Both the Geneva and Hague conventions are treaties that by their own text treat signatories and non-signatories differently. I agree that Israel may be morally bound, but unless there were subsequent agreements that modify that aspect of the treaties, I think the legal analysis does change.

  10. Right-wing Israeli politicians want a stable, self-governing nation of Palestine about as much as right-wing US politicians want a “liberated” Cuba. They gain too much domestic political clout from the situation. Of course, the Castros and Hamas gain even more in their domestic politics from being the “victims” of these blocades/sanctions. If the US right-wing survived the end of the “existential threat” crisis culture with the fall of the USSR, can’t the Israeli right-wing see that they, too, can politically survive the changes that would be brought about by genuinely seeking peace with the rest of the region? They’ll find new fears and hatreds to play.

    Legal question: If Israel isn’t an “occupying power” in Gaza, then what empowers them to blockade Gaza? Presumably, New Zealand can’t just arbitrarily decide to blockade Jamaica. If Gaza isn’t an independent nation-state at war with the nation of Israel, and it isn’t under the control of a different nation-state, as Gibraltar is to the UK, then there isn’t a nation-to-nation state of war.

    If Israel feels that the people of Gaza have a significant degree of control over the actions of Hamas, and this justifies the blockade of Gaza, then Israel seems to be saying that Gaza is self-governing. It seems that when you have a defined group of people, in a defined territory that isn’t claimed by any other nation-state, and the people of that region are responsible for self-governance, then you have a nation-state. Am I over-reaching to suspect that Israel is acting in a manner that treats Gaza as a de-facto nation? If they treat Gaza as having the responsibilities of a nation, then aren’t they entitled to the rights of one?

  11. Buddha & mespo,

    Bah, I don’t actually feel that strongly about it. It was just annoying to read an argument for why it did apply that cited texts that I read to say it didn’t.

  12. I don’t know James M. There’s an awful lot of information that contradicts what you just wrote. I don’t know if you had the chance to really read through everything though. I would hope you might feel strongly about the starvation and death of other people.

  13. I have read a lot of very thoughtful comments on the issue of the blockade. Although there are strong arguments on both sides on the issue of legality, my view is that the legal dispute masks the real problem: the underlying policy is morally flawed and doomed to failure. It is morally flawed because it most directly harms the civilian population. Arms smugglers have been able to get around blockades for centuries. It is doomed to failure because it will merely harden attitudes among the very people whose good will is necessary if peace is ever to be accomplished. The U.S. response has also been weak and predictable. We need to get past the false notion that a friend is someone who will always support my actions. A true friend will kick my ass when it is necessary. In this case it is necessary.

  14. JERUSALEM — The European Union on Monday called Israel’s closure of Gaza “unacceptable” and offered to play a role in opening the borders, as Israel appointed three Israeli experts and two foreign observers to a commission to investigate its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

    The EU move added to the intense pressure Israel has faced to lift the blockade since nine pro-Palestinian activists died in clashes after Israeli commandos rappelled aboard one of the aid ships last month. The three-year closure has withheld all but the most basic supplies from Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinian residents.

  15. Mike A. and Swarthmore Mom,
    You guys hit the nail on the head. The Israeli approach will just create more terrorists. Just like our war in Iraq and our over use of unmanned drone attacks.

  16. I’m a jewish lawyer, as liberal as they come. But, on the issue of Israel, etc. the facts make me more conservative. It’s obvious from many of the comments here and elsewhere that when it comes to israel, her critics throw out the facts and resort to hypocrisy.

    How can these critics have any legitimacy if they avoid the most basic facts of the controversy? For example, the blockade of gaza was NOT an “Israeli” blockade, it is/was, in fact a joint Israel/Egypt blockade. Where’s the criticism of Egypt for imposing this blockade? Israel’s critics select the facts most convenient for them and disregard the simple reality of the situation.

    Don’t believe me? Then how about one of the foremost philosophers in the world? Bernard-Henri Lévy:

    “The catchphrase being trotted out ad nauseum refers to the blockade imposed “by Israel.” The most elementary honesty, however, requires one to make clear that this blockade has been undertaken by both Israel and Egypt, conjointly, along the borders of the two countries that share frontiers with Gaza, and with the thinly disguised blessing of all the moderate Arab regimes. Saying the blockade has been imposed by Israel alone can only be described as disinformation. The moderate Arab regimes, of course, are only too happy to have someone else contain the influence of this armed extension, this advanced base and, perhaps one day, this aircraft-carrier of Iran in the region.”

    Critics have every right to make their criticisms, but they do not have the right to base their criticism on dubious, distorted “facts.” There can be no honest debate if one side picks the facts favorable to its argument and disregards other facts that don’t fit so well.

    Can we therefore agree on one thing- since it’s a joint blockade can we call it a joint Israel/Egypt blockade and not simply an “Israeli” blockade? Perhaps if we start w/ the facts, a more open and honest debate can be maintained.

  17. Lines from the movie “Battle of Algiers” by Gilo Pontecorvo:

    Journalist: Isn’t it a dirty thing to use women’s baskets to carry bombs to kill innocent people?

    Larbi Ben M’Hidi: And you? Doesn’t it seem even dirtier to you to drop napalm bombs on defenceless villages with thousands of innocent victims? It would be a lot easier for us if we had planes. Give us your bombers, and we’ll give you our baskets.

  18. DJM, I’ve never been particularly impressed with the defense that begins with “Johnny’s doing it too.” If you read my earlier post, you will have noted that my objections to the blockade are policy-based. Furthermore, as Buddha notes above, “elementary honesty” entails the recognition that the approval of Egypt is purely a matter of political cover. I am reminded of the coalition of the clueless patched together by Bush and Cheney to pretend that the invasion of Iraq was an exercise in genuine outrage by the free nations of the world. Please.

  19. To Buddha Is Laughing- Thank you for proving my point. I see you conveninetly side stepped the entire thrust of my post; it’s not an “Israeli” blockade, it’s a JOINT Egypt/Israeli blockade, and you don’t dispute this fact and the fact that Israel’s critics conveniently fail to state that it is a JOINT blockade. So yes, “distorted facts” indeed.

    As to deaths, of course they are tragic and I wish that it didn’t happen; no one disputes that. However, the Israeli soliders were enforcing a JOINT blockade, the soliders first came on the boat w/ paint guns, and they were then attached by these “civilians” and only then did the Israeli forces use more force in their self-defense. As usual, Israel’s critics reserve for themselves and the Palestinians the right to self-defense but reject any such self-defense by Israelies.

    Furthermore, the “civilians” were blatantly attempting to break a JOINT Egyptian/Israeli blockade, which they knew was being enforced by the Israeli military w/ the consent of the Egyptians. If you confront a military blockade, reason suggests that you very likely will expose yourself to a military response and you take your own risks in doing so.

    Bernard-Henri Lévy says it much more elegantly than I:

    “The very idea of a “total and merciless” blockade ‏(Laurent Joffrin’s June 5 editorial in the French daily Liberation‏) “taking hostage the humanity [of Gaza]” ‏(former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin in Le Monde on the same date‏) also constitutes disinformation. We mustn’t tire of reminding others: the blockade concerns only arms and the material needed to manufacture them. It does not prevent the daily arrival, via Israel, of between 100 and 120 trucks laden with foodstuffs, medical supplies and humanitarian goods of every kind. Humanity is not “in danger” in Gaza, and it is a lie to state that people are “dying of hunger” in the streets of Gaza City.”

    “It is debatable whether or not a military blockade is the right course of action to weaken and, one day, bring down the fascislamist government of Ismail Haniyeh. But it is an indisputable fact that the Israelis who man the checkpoints between the territories night and day are the first to make the elementary but essential distinction between the regime ‏(that they seek to isolate‏) and the population ‏(which they are careful not to confuse with the regime, and in particular not to penalize as, once again, aid has never stopped passing into Gaza‏).”

    “Disinformation: the utter silence, throughout the world, about Hamas’ incredible attitude now that the flotilla has carried out its symbolic duty − to trap the Jewish state and relaunch, as never before, the process of demonization. In other words, now that the Israelis have carried out their inspection and brought the aid cargo to those for whom it was supposedly intended, Hamas’ attitude in blocking that aid at Kerem Shalom checkpoint, allowing it to slowly rot, is met with silence.”

  20. Mike Appleton- the point isn’t that Egypt’s doing it too, but that Israel’s critics can’t get even the most basic facts right. if they can’t get the “small” stuff right, how can we expect them to get the “bigger” picture right?

    Also, the hypocrisy of Israel’s critics goes much farther than the joint blockade issue; that was but one glaring example of a host of example; read Bernard-Henri Lévy’s article in full more more examples.

  21. I said get back to us when Egyptian military kills civilians. Not when you get your blindly pro-Israeli panties bunched up. When Egypt kills civilians with their military, I’ll take on Egypt. Until then, your simply a pantsload trying, as Mike put it, the “Johnny’s doing it too” defense. You must be some lawyer, sport.

    Israel broke the law when they killed civilians and their blockade is in violation of the Geneva Convention whereas Egypt – the silent partner – only broke it by endorsing the action. Much like the US is breaking the Geneva Convention in tacitly endorsing the blockade action. If you’re going to tar Egypt along with Israel, you better get out the same brush to use on Washington for their part in the war crime. Not to mention the whole torture thingy. Guilt in a conspiracy to commit a crime is often relative, counselor. Some parties play bigger parts and hence earn greater punishment when brought to justice. You want Egypt held accountable for their part? Fine. See you at the Hague. I guarantee it’ll work out better for Egypt than Israel. Why? Because Israel killed civilians in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention. Not Egypt. Israel used indiscriminate rocket attacks on Gaza and white phosphorus shells on Gaza – both violations of the accord. Not Egypt.

    War crimes are war crimes. There’s enough to go around.

    Plain and simple.

    But Israel shot, essentially executed, foreign nationals from ally countries in international waters in furtherance of the illegal blockade. That’s murder in furtherance of a war crime.

    Why don’t you address that first, counselor. Instead of accusing me of disinformation.

    Because I have chunks of troll tougher than you stuck in my teeth.

  22. Buddah- again, thank you for proving my point that Israel’s critics resort to petty name calling, hyperbole and taunting rather than facing up to the issues and attempting to deabte in a rational manner. If I’m blindly pro-Israel, than your posts have shown that you are just as blindly anti-Israel.

    BTW I’m in no way “blindly” pro-Israel, my second post clearly noted by agreement w/ you that the deaths were tragic; I’m more than willing to admit when Israel is wrong, I just see the problem being w/ the specific enforcement of the blockade on this occasion, not the blockade itself.

  23. Having decided that the Red Shield of David (Mogen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) is not fit to be part of their international club because it incorporates “inflammatory symbolism” (the Jewish star that has been the symbol of the Jewish people for over 2000 years), I think the IRC lacks any moral authority when it comes to Israel or the Jews. Fuck them.

  24. Buddah- come again? I specifically addressed this issue, yet apparently you didn’t read it or ignored it. To reiterate, I wrote:

    “As to deaths, of course they are tragic and I wish that it didn’t happen; no one disputes that. However, the Israeli soliders were enforcing a JOINT blockade, the soliders first came on the boat w/ paint guns, and they were then attached by these “civilians” and only then did the Israeli forces use more force in their self-defense. As usual, Israel’s critics reserve for themselves and the Palestinians the right to self-defense but reject any such self-defense by Israelies.”

    It was self-defense, not murder. The fact the Israelies first came armed w/ paint guns shows that their intent was not to kill but to stop the attempt to break the blockade.

    Also, I’ve held my tongue and not resorted to petty name calling such as referring to me as a “troll,” all I ask is the same respect in return.

  25. And you’re late for this argument. Read the thread.

    And I’ll call you any damn thing I like. You act like a troll and I’ll call you one.

  26. And by the way, “counselor”, your assertions don’t equate to facts. There are other reports that completely contradict the “we came in peace” line of bullshit.

    The UN has asked the blockade be ended.

    The EU has condemned it.

    But you believe the propaganda stance that Israel can do no wrong.

    It’s kinda funny in a pathetic lap dog way.

  27. Wuz zat?

    Egypt’s doin’ it too!

    Except . . .

    They aren’t killing civilians. Indiscriminately. With chemical weapons. And on the open seas.

  28. Listen, sport.

    Some of my best friends, even here, are Jewish. I recognize their right to exist and even the need for it, but statehood comes with responsibilities too. Responsibilities lined out in the other thread to which they are failing miserably. In statesmanship, failure has costs. Isolation for being a bad neighbor (and the subsequent hatred it breeds) being one of them.

  29. So come on.

    Tell us again how Egypt is to blame for Israel’s bad actions because they happened to endorse one of the many bad Israeli actions against Gaza.

    I love Jews. I think the state of Israel are warmongering fuck-pigs as demonstrated by their recent history. Much like our own government.

    But please.

    Let’s hear again how it’s not their fault people are dead. Dead people is what you get when you bring guns to a knife fight. And don’t tell me all those hours and hours of Krav Maga training and those commandos couldn’t disarm people with knives and clubs without shooting them in the head. I’ll tell you flat out that’s simply bullshit too.

  30. I am a Troll. I am Not a sport. We are not hunted like snipes. We are here and we are proud. What’s your President going to do about it? When is he going to clean up the mess in the Gulf that happened under his watch? Loser.

  31. Yes, Obama is a loser, Troll.

    But even a broke clock is right twice a day.

    Run along now. There are no children for you to eat.

  32. I am back. I have come back to life. I knew the genie in Green would bring me back to life.

  33. DJM & Buddha,

    I agree with Buddha that the fact that Egypt was also participating in the blockade doesn’t change the analysis of Israel’s culpability. That said, I’ve also noticed that some sources don’t even mention Egypt or treat Egypt very differently. One article that Jill linked from Al Jazerra I remember went out of their way to distinguish why the arguments they were making for Israel didn’t apply to Egypt. While Israel and Egypt aren’t identically situated, I do think it’s interesting that Egypt is largely forgotten about.

  34. James M.,

    I urge you to listen to the original voices of the protesters. They most certainly spoke up against the Arab states including Egypt, for not responding to their own people in general, and regarding the Palestinians in particular. Because we were inundated with Israeli/American propaganda concerning the flotilla, we did not get to hear what people were actually saying. It is incumbent upon citizens of the US to go to original sources in order to strike out from the well managed news we are fed here.

    I would also like to correct something you implied in your posting. Egypt was not being “forgotten” about. The al jazeera articles were a discussion on the ICRC’s statement about Israel. Thus it did not give an in depth analysis of Egypt in the articles, not because there isn’t any of that on al jazerra, but because it was a group of articles specifically addressing the ICRC report. I hope you will look up al jazerra’s many articles on Egypt. I think you would be surprised at the analysis as you seem to believe there is only criticism of Israel. This would not be correct.

  35. Jill,

    I didn’t mean to imply Al Jazeera was doing that in all their coverage. I was mostly referring to domestic US coverage, e.g. on the NBC Nightly News. However, after DJM alleged a disparity in treatment, the Al Jazeera example did take on a different significance in retrospect.

  36. For evidence that anti-semitism is alive and well, one need only read a recent insightful article in the NY Times, and of course, the comments section of this very website.

    “In a recent book, ‘Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World’ (Yale), the historian Jeffrey Herf shows how Nazi propagandists literally taught Arab audiences the language of anti-Semitism through popular radio programs in Arabic. Nazi ideology bears many resemblances to that of contemporary Islamic extremism, some the consequence of careful teaching. That teaching is still present in the Arab world, amplified by political leaders and imams, often annexed to denigrations of Jews taken from Islamic sources.”

    “The result, [Anthony] Julius and [Robert S.] Wistrich recognize, has been one of the most historically noxious forms of anti-Semitic mythology, which has also fed into political debates in the West and cannot be overlooked or easily dismissed. It is easy enough to discern when responsible criticisms of Israel veer into something reprehensible: the structure of anti-Semitic belief is not subtle. There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — it’s very presence — is the problem. Mr. Julius writes, ‘Israel is the only state in the world whose legitimacy is widely denied and whose destruction is publicly advocated and threatened; Israelis are the only citizens of a state whose indiscriminate murder is widely considered justifiable.'”

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