International Humanitarian Law: The Siege on the Gaza Strip
Since the declaration of Gaza as a “hostile entity” in September 2007, Israel has employed a strategy which aims to politically cripple Hamas into submission at the expense of the 1.5 million innocent Palestinians who populate the Gaza Strip. Israel justifies its actions by asserting that Hamas is an Islamic group which refuses to recognize Israel and is intent on destroying it by launching homemade Qassam rockets into southern Israel.
Although Israel claims that it no longer bears the responsibilities of an occupier since its withdrawal from Gaza in September 2005, Israel still controls the borders, the airspace and the sea of the 365km2 area, exploiting this fact to impose a blockade on Gaza. Israel periodically releases resources on a drip and fails to provide adequate amounts of fuel, food and medical supplies. This isolation has plunged the area into a dire humanitarian crisis, with commentators describing Gaza as “the largest open air prison in the world”.
By collectively punishing the Palestinians to ensure political gain, Israel is in complete violation of international humanitarian law, a fuller discussion of which will now follow.
What is International Humanitarian Law?
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a branch of International Law which seeks to mitigate the impact of wars and armed conflicts on the lives of human beings and to minimize their suffering. Generally, IHL can be defined as a set of rules that are applicable in armed conflicts; supposedly a device by which a balance can be struck between humanitarian concerns and military requirements.
International Humanitarian Law consists of two branches, first of which is the law of armed conflict. The aim of this law is to regulate the parameters under which combat may be engaged, with an emphasis on preventing the deliberate targeting of civilians and also on the principle of proportionality, which seeks to prevent disproportionate injury to civilians. Secondly, the law of occupation, which applies to a foreign power that is effectively in control of an area whilst at the same time, owing obligations towards the civilian population under its control.
Generally speaking, a major part of IHL is contained in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, which are international treaties containing the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war. This factsheet will also examine the Hague Regulations annexed to the 1907 Fourth Geneva Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
The legal status of these conventions is a contentious issue, although it has been deemed that the Hague Convention is part of international customary law. This ultimately means that it is binding on all states, even if they have not voluntarily agreed to accept its principles. The Geneva Conventions are generally accepted as having customary status, although there is some debate surrounding the status of some additional sections.
The Fourth Geneva Convention is of particular importance when analysing the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Particular attention should be paid to the following obligations:
Updated 24 July, 2017
First Edition 29 April, 2008