[Published June 2010]
Any sense of perspective or calm consideration of the tragic events that took the lives of nine people and wounded scores of others has flown out the window following Israel’s interception of a flotilla of vessels attempting to break through a naval blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza.
The concept of the presumption of innocence apparently has no application where Israel is concerned - as the rapidly growing number of demonstrations now taking place around the world have already declared Israel guilty of crimes against humanity, piracy, banditry and state sponsored terrorism - aided and abetted by unsubstantiated and unverified statements issuing from many of the delegations at the Security Council.
It must be remembered that this naval blockade was part of a land and sea blockade that was implemented by Israel and Egypt in 2007 following the bloody overthrow of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza by Hamas - an organisation pledged to carry out the destruction of Israel and now in charge of an area of territory from which it was free to carry out its stated objective.
The Palestinian Authority had refused to surrender power to Hamas despite being rejected by the voters in January 2006 - a rift that still remains unhealed today.
The governments of the European Union, Israel, Japan, Canada, and the United States classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. The United Kingdom and Australia classify only Hamas’ military wing as a terrorist organization.
Israel’s reasons for justifying and imposing the blockade were to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons, armaments and war materials that could be used by it in attempting to carry out its threats to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.
Israel has - nonetheless - continued to allow the supply of food and humanitarian aid on a needs basis to the civilian population caught in the middle of this conflict. Restricting such supplies has been the subject of many complaints - especially in preventing the entry of cement and building materials which Israel considers might be used for military rather than civilian purposes.
No food shortage in Gaza
Well over a million tons of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza from Israel over the last 18 months equalling nearly a ton of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza. Millions of dollars worth of international food aid continually flows through the Israeli humanitarian apparatus, ensuring that there is no food shortage in Gaza.
Egypt’s reasons for imposing and continuing the blockade were entirely different as Egypt’s Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit explained in January 2009 in the following report:
“(Egypt) cannot open Rafah [crossing from Egypt to Gaza - ed] unless Abbas’ Palestinian Authority - which runs the West Bank - controls the crossing and international monitors are present.
He said Hamas wants Rafah opened because it would represent implicit Egyptian recognition of the militant group’s control of Gaza. Of course this is something we cannot do, Aboul Gheit said, because it would undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and consecrate the split between Gaza and the West Bank.
Aboul Gheit said Egypt had proposed that Arab foreign ministers who gathered in Cairo a day earlier request Hamas allow Palestinian Authority control of Rafah. But Syria rejected the proposal, he said”
Israel has justified its interception of the flotilla and the subsequent events that occurred as being legal in international law.
Israeli spokesman Mark Regev explained the legal basis for Israel’s claim to ABC Lateline interviewer Leigh Sales:
LEIGH SALES: Does Israel agree that this incident occurred in international waters?
MARK REGEV: 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.
LEIGH SALES: So Israel believes that it has fully complied with international law in this circumstance?
MARK REGEV: 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.
The following night Ms Sales interviewed Diana Buttu a Canadian-Palestinian lawyer and former spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization when the following exchange took place:
DIANA BUTTU: Most people are feeling both anger, outrage and also very vulnerable because this is not the first time that Israel has violated international law. The difference this time is that Israel seems to be going to extreme lengths to not only violate international law, but maintain a blockade that the world has deemed to be a crime against humanity. So, people are feeling that unless the world steps for now and actually stops Israel, that many more of these crimes can and will continue to happen.
LEIGH SALES: On this point about international law, on the program last night Mr Regev said that Israel had acted legally under international law because he said that you are allowed to intercept somebody who’s breaching your blockade or intends to do so if you have warned them. What do you say to that?
DIANA BUTTU: That’s actually incorrect; legally incorrect and factually incorrect. On the legal side of things, as Israel should perhaps know, any blockade that is imposed on a country is considered to be an act of war. So the fact that Israel has declared a blockade on the Gaza Strip is itself an act of war, and Israel should know this because in 1956 when the Egyptians declared that they were going to impose a naval blockade on Israel, the Israeli Army declared war against Egypt, backed by several nations.
But more importantly, and I think that this is the key part of this, is that Israel seems to forget that it is in occupation of Gaza. So you can’t declare war on a territory that you are already occupying. It’s actually to the contrary: Israel as an occupier is supposed to be providing the very things that they are not providing. They’re supposed to provide medical aid, they’re supposed to provide food, assistance.
Israel totally withdrew its civilian population and armed forces from Gaza in 2005. If ongoing occupation in 2010 is the only basis of questioning Israel’s legal right to impose its blockade then those crying for Israel’s blood really need to think again.
There obviously first needs to be some consensus on what the international law is and then to determine whether it has been breached by either the flotilla or Israel. Given the nature of the conflict and the conflicting parties these two simple ways forward will probably be immersed in a welter of claim and counterclaim with no positive outcome.
Such is the nature of the conflict between the Jews and the Arabs - and so will it unfortunately continue until some peaceful solution is found.