Interviewer: Today we are with Sarah Weiss Maudi, the Israel Foreign Ministry's expert on maritime and humanitarian law. Sarah, can you explain to us please why Israel may stop ships from entering Gaza?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: Sure. The reason why ships cannot enter Gaza currently is because a maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. When a maritime blockade is in effect no ships can enter the blockaded area. This includes both enemy vessels and civilian vessels. The reason why there is a naval blockade in effect off the coast of Gaza is because Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza. The Hamas regime has bombarded Israeli communities in Israel, Israeli civilians in Israel, with weapons that are smuggled to Gaza by various routes, and one of these routes is the sea. Under international law a maritime blockade is a recognized and legitimate tool that can be used during an armed conflict. Various naval handbooks of western states, including the naval handbook of the United States and of the UK, recognize the blockade as a legitimate tool during maritime armed conflict.
Interviewer: So this is a regular maritime procedure?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: This is a regular, recognized maritime procedure. Under international law there are various criteria that need to be in place in order for the blockade to be valid. One of these, for example, is the grant of due notice. Israel has granted due notice and has publicized via the international professional maritime channels the exact coordinates of the maritime blockade.
Interviewer: So this blockade shouldn't surprise anyone.
Ms. Weiss Maudi: Exactly. Due notice has already been granted.
Interviewer: Okay. Now what about Israel controlling overland supplies in and out of Gaza?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: I think to answer that question we have to look back at the recent history in the Gaza Strip.
In 2005, Israel implemented what is called its disengagement plan and under this disengagement plan Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip – meaning that there is no longer any Israeli military or civilian presence in the Gaza Strip. This ended Israel's effective control of the area after about 40 years of effective control.
Interviewer: Does this mean that Israel no longer occupies Gaza?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: Correct. Gaza is no longer under Israel's effective control. What exists today is a state of armed conflict, as I said. Basically, what happened was that Israel had hoped that the disengagement plan would serve as a springboard towards more positive relations with its neighbors in Gaza. Unfortunately, the opposite happened and the Hamas regime, a terrorist regime, seized control of Gaza and stepped up its attacks on civilian targets in Israel proper, in communities and towns adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
So Israel, in response to these attacks on its civilians, undertook a number of measures. And one of these measures was the imposition of economic sanctions against the Hamas regime in Gaza.
Interviewer: Is this a common practice, economic sanctions?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: The imposition of economic sanctions on a terrorist or other regime is a very common practice that has been used many times in modern history. Some examples are the US implementation of economic sanctions on Syria or on Libya. Basically this is a tool to exert economic pressure on a problematic regime. This is not an act of collective punishment. Rather, again, this is a legitimate tool that is used under international law to exert pressure on a regime such as the Hamas regime, which is a terrorist regime.
Interviewer: So how does Israel make sure that while it is pressuring the regime, the citizens don’t get hurt?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: There are certain obligations under international humanitarian law that apply to armed conflict. Basically, Israel must ensure that vital humanitarian goods are supplied to the citizens of the Gaza Strip. Israel supplies vital humanitarian goods on a daily basis – these include baby formula, meat, dairy products etc. and in the last year and a half for example, over a million tons of goods have been transferred to the Gaza Strip.
Interviewer: So everything is transferred?
Ms. Weiss Maudi: No, not everything is transferred. Under international law, a state that is imposing economic sanctions does not need to transfer non-vital goods. This means that goods that would give Hamas a military or economic advantage are not transferred. This is why, for example, Israel limits the transfer of concrete to Hamas. Concrete could be used to cast rockets or it can be used to build reinforced bunkers, and certainly those things would give Hamas a military advantage.
Interviewer: So how are we sure that Israel is implementing these economic sanctions in a way that doesn't hurt the civilians?
Mr. Weiss Maudi: The Israel Supreme Court constantly reviews the transfer of humanitarian goods to Gaza and makes sure that Israel is meeting its obligations under international law. There have been several Supreme Court cases where they have checked and made sure that Israel meets its obligations both under Israeli domestic law and under international law.
Interviewer: Okay. Thank you very much.
Ms. Weiss Maudi: You're welcome. Bye.