The maritime blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is motivated
by security considerations and is in total compliance with international
Military Advocate- General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday told
panel investigating the May 31 flotilla incident.
Mandelblit told the
Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010,
retired Justice Yaakov Turkel, that he had first called for imposing a
in response to the news in August 2008 that a yacht planned to reach the
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At first, the government rejected Mandelblit’s proposal,
which, he said, was also supported by the attorney-general. But a few months
later, during Operation Cast Lead, when the army heard that the same yacht
planned to reach Gaza again, it declared a maritime embargo.
allowed Israel to prevent any ship from heading towards Gaza without being
obliged to know what type of cargo it was carrying. According to international
law, the blockade was to be indiscriminate and imposed on all ships.
was still in place when the flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara attempted to reach
Gaza in May.
Mandelblit maintained that those who believe that the naval
blockade and the import restrictions imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip after
the takeover of the area by Hamas were part of the same policy were
Israel imposed restrictions on the overland import of goods in
order to wage economic war against the Hamas after declaring that Gaza was a
hostile entity in September 2007. In doing so, it wanted to pressure the Gaza
government to prevent the firing of rockets by terrorist groups into
The maritime blockade was not part of this effort. Had it been,
said Mandelblit, it would have been included in the measures announced by Israel
in September 2007. There was no need to announce a maritime blockade at that
time because Gaza did not have a port. In fact, Gaza has not had a port for many
years and therefore there was no need to declare a naval blockade, he
The question of a blockade came up for the first time in the
summer of 2008, as a reaction to the new development in which international
activists decided to attempt to sail into the Gaza Strip.
“The reason for
the maritime blockade was not economic, absolutely not,” said
“It was not mentioned in September 2007. It only came up in
2008 as a response to the reports that a yacht was on its way to Gaza. Our
concern is a narrow, security concern, to prevent weapons and terrorists from
Mandelblit added that the blockade applied by Israel met
the standards established in the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable
to Armed Conflicts at Sea and the proportionality requirement (also included in
the San Remo Manual.) “In the case of Gaza, there was no injury caused to the
civilian population because there was no port there,” he said. “There is no sea
channel to Gaza and there never has been.”
According to this thinking,
since there was no possibility to deliver goods directly to Gaza, and goods had
never been delivered by sea directly to Gaza, the civilian population did not
lose anything because it did not have it in the first place.
goods carried by the activists who tried to reach Gaza eventually arrived at
their destination after being unloaded at the ports of Ashdod or El Arish and
sent overland through the border crossings, he continued.
despite the economic war that Israel was waging against the Hamas government,
there was never a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Mandelblit
“Legally, we were obliged only to prevent the civilian
population from dying from starvation,” he said. “In practice, we did much more
According to the data presented to me, there has never been a
humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We talk about this issue at the beginning of every
meeting of the General Staff.”
When one committee member pointed out that
the International Committee of the Red Cross argues that Israel’s measures have
lead to a humanitarian crisis, Mandelblit responded, “The ICRC’s claim, with all
due respect, is incorrect.”
Mandelblit granted that “a certain degree of
suffering had been caused to the civilian population.
It’s clear that the
population suffered. But that does not mean that the measure was
The terrorists would prefer that we shoot back at the source of
fire whenever they launch a rocket at Israel. We will not do that. We will not
harm the civilian population. We will not behave like them.
suffering is a side effect of our policy. I regret it. It is not pleasant but it
happens. It happened in Yugoslavia also when civilians suffered because of the
policies of their government.”
During his testimony to the commission,
Mandelblit explained that according to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority regarding Gaza, Israel had full control over the
international waters off the coast of Gaza up to a limit of 20 miles.
International vessels were forbidden from going beyond a 12-mile limit, while
Palestinian fishermen were not allowed to sail further than six miles from
Thus, although there was no blockade until January 2009, the
agreement had restricted shipping to Gaza ever since 1993.