On the same day that Naftali Bennett lashed out at the President of the European Parliament for the implied allegation that Israel is laying siege to Gaza, calling it “preposterous”, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office respond to statements made by the Turkish president at a press conference, saying (Hebrew) that lifting the Gaza closure was “out of the question”. The truth is that there is no contradiction between these two statements, because as far as international law is concerned, Bennett is right. There is no siege on Gaza, but there is something entirely different.
A “siege” consists of surrounding a certain area in order to compel armed forces within it to surrender. International law permits laying siege to an area, provided that the siege has a specific military purpose and that it ends once this purpose is attained. Moreover, under international law the besieging forces must allow humanitarian aid to enter the area and let civilians leave. Since Israel is not attempting to subdue the Gaza Strip and does not allow civilians to leave, its policy on Gaza cannot be referred to as a “siege”.
So what term should we use for Israel’s policy on Gaza? We use the term the Israeli military uses, closure. Whatever you may think of this definition, the facts are indisputable: Israel allows almost no goods originating in Gaza to be sold in the West Bank or in Israel; It severely limits the ability of Gaza residents to exit and enter the Strip; It still prevents fishermen from sailing more than six nautical miles off-shore; It does not permit the construction or functioning of sea ports or airports and continues to enforce severe restrictions on the entrance of construction materials into Gaza. You can argue about the semantics and about whether or not these measures are necessary for security, but one thing is clear, as European Parliament President Martin Schultz said last week, this policy harms Gaza’s economy and its 1.7 million residents.
Just by chance, on the same day this all went down, statistics on unemployment in Gaza for the last quarter of 2013 were also published. According to these figures, 29,400 people joined the ranks of Gaza’s unemployed, many of them individuals who were formerly employed in the construction sector and who were laid off due to limitations on the entrance of construction materials to Gaza. So, Gaza is not under siege, it’s under a closure, which has proven itself to be ineffective, harmful and destructive. We would be glad to be able to say there isn’t a closure either.