Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 31, 2010.
1. A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.
2. Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law that may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.
3. A blockade may be imposed at sea, including in international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States.
4. The naval manuals of several western countries, including the US and England recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure and set forth the various criteria that make a blockade valid, including the requirement of give due notice of the existence of the blockade.
5. In this vein, it should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect.
6. Here, it should be noted that under customary law, knowledge of the blockade may be presumed once a blockade has been declared and appropriate notification has been granted, as above.
7. Under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian and enemy vessels.
8. A State may take action to enforce a blockade. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law. The US Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations sets forth that a vessel is considered to be in attempt to breach a blockade from the time the vessel leaves its port with the intention of evading the blockade.
9. Here we should note that the protesters indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade by means of written and oral statements. Moreover, the route of these vessels indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade in violation of international law.
10. Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel’s intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.
11. Israel had attempted to take control of the vessels participating in the flotilla by peaceful means and in an orderly fashion in order to enforce the blockade. Given the large number of vessels participating in the flotilla, an operational decision was made to undertake measures to enforce the blockade a certain distance from the area of the blockade.
12. Israeli personnel attempting to enforce the blockade were met with violence by the protesters and acted in self defense to fend off such attacks.
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.
This is a recognized maritime practice. 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
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.
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
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.
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
Israel has a humanitarian obligation to make sure that certain vital humanitarian
interests are met and that supplies go in. But I want to emphasize that Israel is
under no obligation to supply non-vital goods or goods that could give Hamas a
military or economic advantage. That is why Israel limits, for example, the
supply of concrete into the Gaza Strip.
Concrete could be used to mould rockets. It could be used to build reinforced
bunkers which are clearly for military purposes against Israel. I want to
emphasize that Israel supplies Gaza with large quantities of humanitarian
supplies. These include baby formula, meat, dairy products, etc. And in the last
year and a half it has supplied Gaza with over a million tons of goods.
The Israel Supreme Court constantly reviews these supplies to make sure that
Israel is in line with its requirements under both Israeli domestic law and
international law to supply vital civilian goods that are needed. And indeed, it
has confirmed that Israel has been meeting its obligations under international
and domestic law.