Monday, March 5, 2012

The Gaza Blockade and Flotilla Incident

International Legal Considerations

By Daniel M. Bernstein
Dan Bernstein is a third year student at Albany Law School and a Senior Editor for the Albany Law Review.
This paper was prepared for the International War and Crime Seminar, Fall 2011.

On May 30, 2010, six civilian ships sailed toward Gaza in an effort to breach a three-year Israeli naval blockade. When Israel’s warnings to change course went unheeded, Israeli commandos intercepted and boarded the ships. A violent confrontation ensued and eleven flotilla passengers were killed.

In response to the flotilla incident, the UN commissioned a panel to advise the international community regarding the Gaza blockade, the violent confrontation, and diplomatic considerations for avoiding future conflicts. The UN’s report was published in September 2011. This paper discusses the history of Israel’s blockade; the organization and execution of the flotilla mission; the events of May 30 and May 31, 2010; the relevant international law for blockades; and the UN report’s critique of Israel’s blockade and the flotilla incident.

Background to Israel’s Naval Blockade
Following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, disputes between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors resulted in increasing cross-border hostilities in the form of rocket attacks, military reprisals, state-approved shelling of civilians, and large-scale air and ground invasions. In Israel’s southernmost town of Sderot, more than 6,000 mortar bombs and rockets from Palestinian resistance groups posed a steady threat to the civilian population.The attacks brought “panic, destruction and occasionally death” to the town, where targets that were hit included residential homes, a school bus, and a high school.

Israel began efforts to weaken Hamas through economic sanctions and imposed new security measures including increased security checks at crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip and restrictions on the movement of Hamas officials. The Israeli military and the Egyptian government also worked to eliminate a series of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza that were used to smuggle militants, weapons, and explosives.

However, rocket fire into Southern Israel continued, and in June 2007, militants from Hamas and allied groups used tunnels to cross into Israel and kidnap an Israeli soldier.

Israel reacted by ordering a full cargo blockade of the Gaza Strip. As part of its enforcement of the blockade, no boat – civilian or enemy – was permitted to enter the blockaded area, and Israel warned that “[a]ny vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law.”*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.