Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit testified Thursday before committee investigating the events of an Israeli raid aboard a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, saying that Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip was entirely legal.
On May 31, Israeli navy commandos boarded a Turkish aid ship headed for Gaza in violation of an Israeli naval blockade. The ship was one of eight boats aiming to deliver aid to Gaza as part of a flotilla. The commandos were met with violence and killed nine Turkish activists in the ensuing clash. An Israeli committee, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, has been interviewing top military and government officials as part of its investigation of the incident.
In his testimony, Mendelblit addressed two main issues: the legal justification for the initial blockade on the Gaza Strip, and the legal aspects of the military action taken to prevent Turkish ships from violating the blockade.
He told the panel that the naval blockade, imposed by Israel in 2007 after Hamas violently seized power over the coastal Palestinian territory, was in keeping with international law and was imposed due to "pure military considerations" and not as a part of "economic warfare" against Hamas.
Mendelblit added that even before the blockade was imposed, all supplies were transferred to the Strip by land because Gaza has no port. He stressed that despite the naval blockade, all the supplies aboard the Turkish ships were eventually transferred to Gaza by land.
"Every step taken, be it part of classical warfare or economic warfare, aims to bring the other side to do what we want it to do. We want Hamas to stop launching rockets at our citizens. We have no desire to punish the civilian population [in Gaza]," he said. "As an indirect result, the civilian population does suffer, and that is why we have checked the legality [of the blockade]. We've consulted with the attorney general and with the Supreme Court, and found that it is legal and permitted."
The advocate general stressed that the suffering of Gaza civilians did not constitute a humanitarian crisis, since Israel allows supplies to enter the Strip. He said that Hamas' intent, in shooting rockets, was to get Israel to fire back, but "we won't fire in an unguided manner into a civilian population. That is exactly what Hamas want. The alternative is to respond with economic warfare," he said.
Mendelblit explained that the blockade was imposed "long before anyone ever heard of flotillas" and that no one in the IDF would think to violate international law.
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