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ABC Mini-Encyclopedia

GAZA - Gaza and International Law *


Gaza or the Gaza strip is a small territory (360 sq. km) located between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, densely populated by 1.0 to 1.4 million Palestinian Arabs. Gazans are the only ones who are regarded by the UN as refugees, and have been generously funded for the last 60 years, although they are mostly the second or third generation of actual Palestinian Refugees from Israel in 1948. Never has a similar definition of refugees been applied, anywhere. The original 800,000 thousand Arab refugees in 1948 grew to 4 to 4.5 million by today.

The same number of Jewish refugees from the Arab countries who fled to Israel never had a refugee status, but were absorbed as fast as possible in Israel by then rather poor Israel, with the help of the world's Jewry.

Since Israel withdrew its last soldier and citizen from Gaza in August 2005, Palestinians have de facto autonomy there. However, their election of Hamas, a terrorist organization by all standards, to govern, and their military aggressions (like attacking Sderot with Kassam rockets thousands of times) make Gaza a ‘ticking bomb'. A recent ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas may keep Gaza silent for a while, but, alternatively, may lead to an Iranian-backed military build-up in Gaza similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.


Hamas should be held fully responsible for what happens in Gaza, but, ironically, they still blame the "Israeli occupation" - which de facto ceased in 2005 - for all wrong. The truth is that:

  • There is no legal basis for regarding Gaza as ‘Occupied territory' (see more there). Before 1967 Gaza was administered by Egypt, which illegally occupied Gaza in 1947. And there is no logical basis either: Israel withdrew its last soldier and citizen of Gaza.
  • International law authorizes Israel to initiate military countermeasures in Gaza. If Gaza is seen as having independent sovereignty, then Israel's use of force is permissible as self-defense. If Gaza is seen as lacking independent sovereignty, then Israel's use of military force is permissible as in other non-international conflicts.
  • Israel's imposition of economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip would be a legitimate means of responding to Palestinian attacks, Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or anything else with Gaza. Gaza could get its supply from its Egyptian Arab brothers too. However, Israel doesn't use this option but supplies all the needs of Gaza - except the military one.
  • Israel does not use collective punishment. It is forbidden to impose criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another's guilt, but a scrutiny shows that none of Israel's actions against Gaza imposed criminal-type penalties.
  • Fighting in Gaza has been characterized by extensive commission of war crimes and acts of terrorism by Palestinians, while Israeli countermeasures have complied with international law. International law requires - not only allows - states to take measures against terror; like to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice and to block their funding

Since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, by March 2008 Palestinian groups had launched over 4000 rocket attacks at Israel, practically all at civilian targets. Kassam attacks have killed 14 residents and affected thousands, struck schools and kindergartens (three 4-year old children were killed). Three-quarters of the children of Sderot between the ages of 7 and 12 suffer from post-traumatic anxiety.

Legally this is casus belli, but Israel exercises utmost constraint and minimizes its military involvement, only to give a chance to the fragile peace process. However, Israel has a right to self-defense.


* Based partly on a paper by Dr. Avi Bell, JCPA   http://www.jcpa.org/    

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