UN’s Confusion on the Legality of Israel’s Blockade of Gaza

In June 2015, the United Nations issued a report highly critical of Israel’s handling of its war against Palestinian attacks. Throughout the report, the committee suggested that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was a major cause for suffering of Palestinians, rather than a result of Palestinian actions, and helped precipitate the war.

Member of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict Doudou Diene (L) gestures next to Chairperson of the Commission Mary McGowan Davis during a press conference to present their report on June 22, 2015 at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Both Israel and Palestinian militants may have committed war crimes during last year's Gaza war, a widely anticipated United Nations report said on June 22, decrying "unprecedented" devastation and human suffering.   AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

Member of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict Doudou Diene (L) gestures next to Chairperson of the Commission Mary McGowan Davis during a press conference to present their report on June 22, 2015 at the United Nations Office in Geneva.  AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

2015 UN Assertion that
Blockade was Cause for Conflict

In the section of the report that reviewed the background to the 2014 conflict, the report stated that “In the preceding months, there were few, if any, political prospects for reaching a solution to the conflict that would achieve peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis and realize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. The blockade of Gaza by Israel, fully implemented since 2007 and described by the Secretary-General as “a continuing collective penalty against the population in Gaza” (A/HRC/28/45, para. 70), was strangling the economy in Gaza and imposed severe restrictions on the rights of the Palestinians.” By way of correction and education to the reader, the naval blockade of Gaza only began in January 2009 (not 2007). The land blockade of Gaza began in 2007 after Hamas routed Fatah from Gaza and took complete control of the region.

It is important and significant to point out that this 2015 report suggested that there were “few POLITICAL PROSPECTS for reaching a solution” and that the “blockade of Gaza.. was strangling the economy” and “imposed severe restrictions” on Palestinians. This directly implied that the Palestinians were seeking a political solution and rightfully frustrated with a blockade that was imposed on them (presumably for no reason).  Therefore, since a political solution was not available, they were forced to pursue a military response.

That is outrageous on many levels.

  1. Hamas has stated clearly in its charter and in addresses by its leaders that it seeks the complete destruction of Israel and that it will never enter peace negotiations. (A fact that was never mentioned in the UN report)
  2. Hamas clearly stated that it would not pursue any “peaceful solutions and international conferences” as seen in its charter, below.
  3. Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007 is never mentioned in the UN report.

Hamas Charter Article 13: “Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters… There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

The UN report inverted reality and ignored that the blockade of Gaza was in response to Hamas’s taking over of Gaza and firing thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians.

 2015 UN Report
Call to Remove the Blockade

The UN report concluded with several suggestions which clearly placed the blame for the conflict on Israel’s actions: “The commission calls upon the Government of Israel… to address structural issues that fuel the conflict and have a negative impact on a wide range of human rights, including the right to self-determination; in particular, to lift, immediately and unconditionally, the blockade on Gaza.

This conclusion and suggestion are in stark contrast to the September 2011 UN “Palmer Commission Report” which clearly spoke of the legal nature of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and spoke to the harm and evil intent of Hamas which necessitated the blockade.


2011 UN Report
on LEGAL NATURE of Blockade of Gaza

To start, the Palmer Report correctly identified the different blockades of Gaza and the reason for them: “the tightening of border controls between Gaza and Israel came about after the take-over of Hamas in Gaza in June 2007.  On the other hand, the naval blockade was imposed more than a year later, in January 2009.”

The report continued that “the naval blockade as a distinct legal measure was imposed primarily to enable a legally sound basis for Israel to exert control over ships attempting to reach Gaza with weapons and related goods.  This was in reaction to certain incidents when vessels had reached Gaza via sea.”

The report then continued in greater detail on the “structural issues that fuel the conflict” with specific history (as opposed to simply echoing the Palestinian narrative as it did in the 2015 report): “Israel has faced and continues to face a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza.  Rockets, missiles and mortar bombs have been launched from Gaza towards Israel since 2001.  More than 5,000 were fired between 2005 and January 2009, when the naval blockade was imposed.  Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians live in the range of these attacks.  As their effectiveness has increased some rockets are now capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Since 2001 such attacks have caused more than 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries.  The enormity of the psychological toll on the affected population cannot be underestimated.  In addition, there have been substantial material losses.  The purpose of these acts of violence, which have been repeatedly condemned by the international community, has been to do damage to the population of Israel.  It seems obvious enough that stopping these violent acts was a necessary step for Israel to take in order to protect its people and to defend itself.

In regard for using a naval blockade to prevent the assault from Gaza on Israel, the report stated “The Israeli report to the Panel makes it clear that the naval blockade as a measure of the use of force was adopted for the purpose of defending its territory and population, and the Panel accepts that was the case.  It was designed as one way to prevent weapons reaching Gaza by sea and to prevent such attacks to be launched from the sea.  Indeed there have been various incidents in which ships carrying weapons were intercepted by the Israeli authorities on their way to Gaza.”

In sharp contrast to the 2015 report which cited the UN Secretary General’s comment that the blockade was a “collective penalty against the population in Gaza“, the 2011 Palmer Report concluded that “Although a blockade by definition imposes a restriction on all maritime traffic, given the relatively small size of the blockade zone and the practical difficulties associated with other methods of monitoring vessels (such as by search and visit), the Panel is not persuaded that the naval blockade was a disproportionate measure for Israel to have taken in response to the threat it faced.

The report concluded with clarity: “Israel was entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza.  With that objective, Israel established a series of restrictions on vessels entering the waters of Gaza.  These measures culminated in the declaration of the naval blockade on 3 January 2009… There is nothing before the Panel that would suggest that Israel did not maintain an effective and impartial blockade….  it is evident that Israel had a military objective.  The stated primary objective of the naval blockade was for security.  It was to prevent weapons, ammunition, military supplies and people from entering Gaza and to stop Hamas operatives sailing away from Gaza with vessels filled with explosives… It is also noteworthy that the earliest maritime interception operations to prevent weapons smuggling to Gaza predated the 2007 take-over of Hamas in Gaza.  The actual naval blockade was imposed more than one year after that event. These factors alone indicate it was not imposed to punish its citizens for the election of Hamas….  As this report has already indicated, we are satisfied that the naval blockade was based on the need to preserve Israel’s security.  Stopping the importation of rockets and other weapons to Gaza by sea helps alleviate Israel’s situation as it finds itself the target of countless attacks, which at the time of writing have once again become more extensive and intensive…  We have reached the view that the naval blockade was proportionate in the circumstances… The Panel therefore concludes that Israel’s naval blockade was legal… Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza.  The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.

Quite a different narrative and conclusion than the UN wrote up in 2015.

Related FirstOneThrough article:

Cause and Effect: Making Gaza

Gaza Blockade versus Cuban Blockade

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