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Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla

07 Aug

It’s been a while since I last posted a blog so I decided to comment on Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla. This is an excellent segment by The Real News Network. It shows how Israel planned its May 31st attack on the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of 9 people.

As for the raid’s legality, Douglas Guilfoyle provides a good analysis.

There are two parts of the interview that, I believe, are important to consider.

Al Jazeera: A lot of people are talking about whether or not Israel had any right to intercept [the ships].

Guilfoyle: Whether or not Israel had a right to intercept the ship on the high seas depends on whether it was engaged in a legal blockade. A blockade is a recognized tool of warfare that could allow the stopping and search of a ship on the high seas, but there are a number of requirements. There needs to be an armed conflict; the limits of the blockade need to be defined and properly publicized; and most importantly, a blockade should not proceed if it violates the principle of proportionality, if it inflicts excessive damage on the civilian population in relation to the concrete military advantage expected.

If those requirements were met, then yes, a ship could have been intercepted on the high seas, if there was a suspicion it was attempting to breach the blockade.

………………………..

Al Jazeera: When it comes to establishing this blockade, a nation had to make announcements, it had to inform the international community that this was happening, that it was at war, etc. From what you’ve been able to learn, did any of that happen as far as Israel was concerned?

Guilfoyle: It’s difficult, and I think something that commentators and international lawyers need to look at closely: whether there was proper notification of this blockade. It’s been going on for a number of years, and normally if there had been notifications to what we call neutral powers, you’d expect [them] to show up in things like instructions to the merchant fleet in potentially affected flagged states. I haven’t seen any of that; that doesn’t mean it’s not there, but it requires further investigation.

The real issue, to my mind, is the question of damage to the civilian population. If you have UN agencies saying insufficient aid is getting through to Gaza – and I’ve seen one BBC report saying what’s getting through is less than one-quarter what they need on a daily basis – that alone, to my mind, raises serious concerns about the legality of the blockade, even if the formal requirements for notification have been complied with.

As I said before in my previous blog, the blockade of Gaza is a form a collective punishment and, thus, a violation of international law. Therefore, Israel had no right to raid the flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American law professor, shares my views on this and provides a good analysis.

The Israeli government, obviously, believes differently. Immediately after the raid, the Israeli government launched a propaganda campaign to justify its actions. Israel’s main point was that it needed to raid the flotilla in order to check it for contraband and enforce its blockade on Gaza. When Israeli commandos boarded the ships (six, in total), especially the largest ship which was the Mavi Marmara (which saw the worst violence), they claimed that they were met with violence by the activists on board and needed to open fire. However, testimonies from several of the survivors claim the exact opposite — the Israeli commandos opened fire first from their helicopters before they boarded the flotilla. Just listen to the words of Osama Qashoo (a Palestinian filmmaker with British citizenship) and other activists when they came back to London.

When asked by an Australian reporter if the raid occurred in international waters (which it was, thus, further highlighting the raid’s illegality), Israeli government spokesman (which is the equivalent of a Soviet commissar), Mark Regev, said:

“Do you know, according to international law that question is irrelevant, because if you know your international humanitarian law, the San Remo memorandum states, specifically 67A, that if you have a boat that is charging a blockaded area you are allowed to intercept even prior to it reaching the blockaded area if you’ve warned them in advance, and that we did a number of times and they had a stated goal which they openly expressed, of breaking the blockade. That blockade is in place to protect our people.”

When asked if Israel complied with international law when it raided the flotilla, Israeli commissar Regev said, “100 per cent correct. If you look at international law, if someone is breaking your blockade, intends to do so, has been warned, you are allowed to intercept, and that’s exactly what we were doing.”

Let’s take a look at the 1994 San Remo Memorandum, which applies to naval warfare and is accepted as customary international law, thus, binding on all states. It is true that Article 67(a) states that merchant vessels from neutral states (in this case, Turkey, where the flotilla came from) may be attacked if they “are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture”. However, Article 68 states “Any attack on these vessels is subject to the basic rules in paragraphs 38-46.” What are these basic rules? Here they are (listed in the very same treaty):

SECTION I : BASIC RULES

38. In any armed conflict the right of the parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited.

39. Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between civilians or other protected persons and combatants and between civilian or exempt objects and military objectives.

40. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.

41. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. Merchant vessels and civil aircraft are civilian objects unless they are military objectives in accordance with the principles and rules set forth in this document.

42. In addition to any specific prohibitions binding upon the parties to a conflict, it is forbidden to employ methods or means of warfare which:

(a) are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering; or
(b) are indiscriminate, in that:
(i) they are not, or cannot be, directed against a specific military objective; or
(ii) their effects cannot be limited as required by international law as reflected in this document.

43. It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors, to threaten an adversary therewith or to conduct hostilities on this basis.

44. Methods and means of warfare should be employed with due regard for the natural environment taking into account the relevant rules of international law. Damage to or destruction of the natural environment not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly is prohibited.

45. Surface ships, submarines and aircraft are bound by the same principles and rules.

SECTION II : PRECAUTIONS IN ATTACK

46. With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:

(a) those who plan, decide upon or execute an attack must take all feasible measures to gather information which will assist in determining whether or not objects which are not military objectives are present in an area of attack;
(b) in the light of the information available to them, those who plan, decide upon or execute an attack shall do everything feasible to ensure that attacks are limited to military objectives;
(c) they shall furthermore take all feasible precautions in the choice of methods and means in order to avoid or minimize collateral casualties or damage; and
(d) an attack shall not be launched if it may be expected to cause collateral casualties or damage which world be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack as a whole; an attack shall be cancelled or suspended as soon as it becomes apparent that the collateral casualties or damage would be excessive.”

If you don’t feel like reading all of that, it basically boils down to this: do not kill civilians. And if you do attack anyone, you can’t inflict unnecessary injury and suffering (disproportionate to a legitimate military objective) and that attack cannot be indiscriminate. This is a very basic and fundamental rule that applies in all situations of armed conflict (international armed conflicts, non-international armed conflicts, and belligerent occupation). And it’s also just plain common sense and human morality. You don’t kill civilians. Israel’s attack on the flotilla is a flagrant violation of this basic rule and principle of human morality (especially since they fired at the boats first). That act is, at best, criminal, at worst, barbaric in its negligent treatment of human life.

Fortunately, activists around the world protested Israel’s massacre on the flotilla. Protests occurred at Stanford University, New York, Oxford, London, Turkey and many places around the world. Here’s a clip of a demonstrations that occurred at Oxford, where I had the pleasure of studying this past Winter (some of the people in this video are friends of mine).

The massive international outcry did create political pressure. Israel subsequently eased its blockade of Gaza, allowing more supplies in, however, this falls far short of ending the fundamental injustice of a crippling (and illegal) siege.

People around the world are becoming more aware of Israeli colonialism and the oppression of Palestinians and activism is increasing. As a result, the Israeli government is feeling the pressure and trying to curb this swelling of worldwide anger against its oppressive policies. These Real News Network segments highlight how this is playing out.

Around the same time as the Gaza flotilla massacre, a 21-year-old American art student from New York, named Emily Henochowicz, was shot in the eye by an Israeli tear gas canister during a demonstration in the West Bank. Her eye exploded upon impact and is gone forever. She recently did an exclusive interview on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gongalez to talk about her experience and why she wants to go back to Palestine. It is definitely a must-see interview as Emily reveals that she possesses a beautiful and courageous spirit.

Emily’s experience serves as a lesson for all activists committed to peace and justice in Palestine and around the world. Activism brings many difficulties and involves taking many risks (physical, emotional, spiritual). However, we must continue because, in the end, a better world is possible and a better world is needed.

——————————————————————————————-

Kenneth O’Keefe, an activist and former U.S. marine who renounced his American citizenship, was among those on board the Gaza aid flotilla. About two months ago, he was interviewed by BBC’s HARDtalk and talked about his experience. The journalist asked some very pro-Israel propagandistic questions to which O’Keefe eloquently and aggressively responded. Here is the full interview in three YouTube clips.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

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