Executive Summary

  • The economic measures that Israel uses against the Hamas proto-government in Gaza fall under legitimate uses of economic sanctions, and conform to the requirements set forth in Article 50 of the 1899 Hague Regulations; Articles 23, 43, 51, 54, 57, 59, 69, and 70 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Article 75 of the Additional Protocol I to the Fourth Geneva Convention; and Article 4 of the Additional Protocol II to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
  • Other global organizations and countries, including the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations routinely impose similar economic sanctions without being criticized. In fact, United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1373, 1456, and 1566 require that Israel prevent Hamas from obtaining funding and supplies that it could use for terrorist purposes. It should be kept in mind that Hamas, together with its sponsors, is among the entities included on the United States’, Europe’s, and others’ lists of proscribed organizations.
  • Many of those who claim Israel perpetrates collective punishment do the same or worse themselves. Over seventy years ago the Arab League began a boycott against Jews in what would become Israel along with those who did business with them, and many countries still enforce this ban. Israel is scathingly rebuked for limiting border crossings into and out of Gaza, but the world has remained silent as Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have completely barred Israelis since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Egypt, which also borders Gaza, has stricter restrictions on its crossing than does Israel, yet this fact is often ignored when Israel is accused of ‘choking’ Gaza.
  • Many supposed ‘human rights’ organizations that condemn Israel for committing war crimes do so out of bias rather than a true search for justice. The manner in which they single-mindedly focus on Israel’s misdeeds, no matter how trivial, and downplay other countries’ atrocities, shows their partiality. The NGOs’ misuse of their roles is most glaring in the fact that they often must twist the definition of ‘war crimes’ or ignore legal safeguards in order to make their arguments.
  • While no one questions that Gazan residents suffer hardships, the fault lies with Hamas, not Israel. Every Israeli soldier, civilian, and tourist left the Strip in 2005, giving Gaza the opportunity to build a thriving society and economy. Instead Hamas came to power through a combination of elections and violence, and diverted the area’s resources toward further unprovoked attacks against Israel.
  • The current sanctions were only put in place after nothing else stopped attacks from Gaza. Rather than being punitive measures against the general population, they specifically focus on items that can be used for military purposes for kidnapping and attacking Israelis. At times this does make life more difficult for civilians, as the same concrete and steel that are needed to build schools are also used to build tunnels for attacking Israelis.
  • Israel regularly relaxes the restrictions, allowing larger quantities and a wider variety of items into Gaza, even violating United Nations Security Council resolutions in order to do so. Despite these attempts to improve the lives of Gazans, the new supplies are regularly stolen by Hamas and then used to attack Israeli civilians. Even ostensibly nonmilitary items, such as cement, are used to build tunnels into Israel.


Israel’s policy of economic sanctions has been condemned by numerous UN bodies6 and NGOs7 as the imposition of ‘collective punishment,’ a term that carries very serious implications under international law, particularly within International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Among the negative ramifications this accusation creates, labeling Israel’s conduct as ‘collective punishment’ opens a Pandora’s Box that can lead to unjustified accusations of war crimes, distract from true cases of collective punishment, and undermine the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel’s supporters, notably human rights lawyer Anne Herzberg,8 have argued that these charges represent abuses of the legal system for use as a weapon against Israel.9

Within the framework of the laws of war, collective punishment is never tolerable. When such charges are repeatedly laid against Israel, the country is placed in the difficult position of having to constantly explain that its conduct is justified. At the same time, governments around the world use similar tactics to put pressure on other countries, but under the label of ‘economic sanctions,’ an accepted tool of diplomacy. Despite any spin that governments use to justify their actions or to castigate other governments, the two terms have distinct meanings. With an apt understanding of precisely what constitutes collective punishment, it will be much easier to explore and understand the concept of economic sanctions.10

Most of the controversial economic actions that Israel has taken focus on the Gaza Strip and its administering authority, Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas won the majority of seats in Gaza’s 2006 election, then forcibly evicted the rival Fatah faction, and has since remained in sole control of the Strip. It is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States State Department,11 the European Union (EU),12 Israel,13 and many others.