Factsheet: The Gaza Flotilla

Factsheet: The Gaza Flotilla


The Blockade

  • Israel considers itself to be in a state of war with Hamas-ruled Gaza
  • Being at war with Hamas, Israel is within its rights to enforce a maritime blockade on Gaza in order to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons and other materiel that would aid its war effort (A full list of the relevant international law is appended to this document).
  • Israel allows humanitarian aid to pass through land crossings into Gaza
  • Land crossings are used because they facilitate inspection of the goods to ensure that no military materiel is being smuggled through
  • In 2009, 738,000 tons of goods went from Israel into Gaza, which is over 2,000 tonnes per day. The flotilla carried 10,000 tonnes (equivalent to what goes into Gaza every five days).
  • Egypt shares a land border with Gaza, but does not allow people or goods to cross it.
  • The flotilla organisers were offered to oversee the transfer of the 10,000 tonnes of goods to Gaza through the conventional land crossings by Israel. They rejected this offer and refused to cooperate with Egypt, which made a similar proposal to transfer goods through the Egyptian port of El-arish. This indicates the organisers’ goal was not to deliver humanitarian aid, but to force a confrontation with Israel.


Organisers of the Flotilla

  • International Humanitaire Hilfsorganization (the IHH) is the main organisation behind the flotilla
  • In 1996 the IHH was identified by the CIA as having links to numerous Islamist and terrorist organisations. It has open links to Hamas and has been linked with global jihadi movements in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
  • In January 2004, the head of the IHH met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal[1]
  • Another of the organisations behind the flotilla, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), has gone on record saying Palestinians should pursue both violent and non-violent tactics
  • A co-founder of ISM, Hawaida Arraf, acknowledged in the Washington Post that the ISM “cooperates with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” all classified as terrorist groups by Australia.
  • Arraf co-wrote an article with fellow ISM member Adam Shapiro in which they stated, “Palestinian resistance must take on a variety of characteristics, both violent and non-violent. But most importantly, it must develop a strategy involving both aspects. Non-violent resistance is no less noble than carrying out a suicide operation.”


The Confrontation

  • Israel, being in a state of war with Hamas-ruled Gaza, enforces a maritime blockade
  • The ships were attempting to break this maritime blockade
  • Israel told the ships they were not allowed to enter, the ships announced their intent to enter, Israel then commandeered the ships
  • Five of the six were commandeered without the use of force.
  • On the sixth, the Mavi Marmara, flying under the Turkish flag, Israeli naval commandos encountered violence upon boarding. They were attacked with slingshots, knives, steel poles, Molotov cocktails, and live fire, resulting in a number of injured soldiers, two of whom were critically wounded.
  • Two guns were taken off Israeli troops and used to fire on those troops
  • Israeli troops only responded with lethal force after they felt that their lives were in imminent danger, as specified in the Israeli rules of engagement.


Video Evidence


Relevant Aspects of International Law

Justification for Israel boarding ship

San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994

Article 67: “Merchant vessels flying the flag of neutral States may not be attacked unless they: (a) are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture.”

Article 98: “Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked”

Article 100: “A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States.”

Article 103*: “If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to: (a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and (b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

* Israel delivers on average over 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian over the Gaza-Israel land border each day, which more than adequately provides for Gaza’s humanitarian needs. However, the flotilla organisers claim this is not adequate, hence the 10,000 tonnes of aid they were attempting to bring in. Article 103 informs us that even if Israel’s supply of aid to Gaza is inadequate, the flotilla was still subject to be searched by Israel.

Article 104: “The blockading belligerent [i.e. Israel – ed.] shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.”


Justification for Israeli soldiers using force

Civilians that take up arms against soldiers forfeit their civilian protection status (i.e. they become combatants)

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949 [Fourth Geneva Convention]

Article 5: “Where in the territory of a Party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention as would, if exercised in the favour of such individual person, be prejudicial to the security of such State.”


Reason Israel enforces a blockade

Humanitarian goods should be allowed to enter enemy territory, in this case the Gaza Strip. However, goods that aid in the enemy’s war effort can be blocked. The maritime blockade ensures Israel can inspect goods before they enter the Gaza Strip (across land borders), in order to prevent the importation of weapons or other materiel that would help Hamas’ war effort.

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949 [Fourth Geneva Convention]

Article 23: “Each High Contracting Party shall allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary. It shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases. The obligation of a High Contracting Party to allow the free passage of the consignments indicated in the preceding paragraph is subject to the condition that this Party is satisfied that there are no serious reasons for fearing: (a) that the consignments may be diverted from their destination, (b) that the control may not be effective, or (c) that a definite advantage may accrue to the military efforts or economy of the enemy through the substitution of the above-mentioned consignments for goods which would otherwise be provided or produced by the enemy or through the release of such material, services or facilities as would otherwise be required for the production of such goods.”