The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Updates: Aftermath of flotilla attack during the second day

with 5 comments

Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza yesterday. Photograph: Pool/Reuters Hat-tip: Guardian

For anyone not yet up to speed, a flotilla of vessels carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza with the aim of lifting the blockade imposed by Israel was intercepted and attacked by Israeli commandos yesterday which resulted in 9-19 deaths (depending on which reports you believe, Israel still has not released an official list of names of those killed). To get up to speed on developments yesterday check out my first and second posts.

More news has come today, kicking off with a marathon UN Security Council meeting called by Turkey with the aim of eliciting an official response from the Council. The bulk of the meeting went on behind closed doors but reportedly it constituted mostly a back-and-forth between the Turkish and American representatives, the latter refusing to allow the Security Council to officially single out Israel for condemnation.

Turkey proposed a statement that would condemn Israel for violating international law, demand a United Nations investigation and demand that Israel prosecute those responsible for the raid and pay compensation to the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.

The Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship. [NYT]

Reportedly the Israeli army will be transferring the humanitarian aid found on the boat to Gaza.

Here’s a very interesting piece of news from the excellently-run Al Jazeera English liveblog:

11:37am: His wording is far from conclusive, but the Jerusalem Post seems to think Israel’s deputy defence minister, Manan Vilna’i, hinted that Israel sabotaged some of the ships in the Gaza flotilla.

When asked during an Israel Radio interview whether it might not have been possible to stop the ships in a more sophisticated manner, Vilna’i responded, “Every possibility was considered. The fact is that there were ten less ships in the flotilla than were originally planned.”

Hosni Mubarak has opened the Rafah border and, according to this Arabic source, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to enter and exit. Would be interesting to see some reports on traffic there. Also, the EU and Russia have released a joint statement condemning Israel’s use of force and calling for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. (Hat-tip: AJE liveblog again on both).

The MV Rachel Corrie, another ship that was supposed to be part of the original flotilla but the  departure of which was delayed due to mechanical malfunction has reportedly set off for Gaza and is due to arrive within 48 hours. In a response that can now only be viewed as ominous, the Israeli Navy has stated that it is ‘ready’ to receive her. The ship is a joint Irish/Malaysian vessel.

As far as the mainstream media’s reporting has been, I would like to direct you to WashPo’s fairly extreme piece by Scott Wilson on the Free Gaza Movement. What the hell kind of lead paragraph is this:

Once viewed only as a political nuisance by Israel’s government, the group behind the Gaza aid flotilla has grown since its inception four years ago into a broad international movement that now includes Islamist organizations that Israeli intelligence agencies say pose a security threat to the Jewish state.

Clearly WashPo has missed the memo. Most of the mainstream media is treating this event with a lot more caution. I normally consider the FP a fairly reliable weathervane. I certainly wouldn’t consider it a liberal newspaper and yet it has included condemnation of the attack from Stephen Walt, Mark Lynch and its own editor-in-chief Blake Hounsell, all essentially calling for the blockade to be lifted.

So if the mainstream is not exactly lining up behind Israel, what does that mean for the defenders of this monstrosity. I direct you to the following tweet by Middle East expert (though she can’t see it from her house) Sarah Palin:

Assume u WON’T get straight scoop on Israeli flotilla incident via mainstream media;PLEASE read Krauthammer,Horowitz,et al 2learn other side

Palin has long been a shrill critic of her perceived unfair treatment at the hands of the supposedly pro-liberal mainstream, but what this shows is the increasing radicalisation of the pro-Israel-at-all-costs lobby and the increasingly ridiculous sounding hasbara that is being thrown up to defend the atrocities committed by the State. Witness this tweet from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:

Participants on the armada of hate had ties with global Jihad and Al Qaeda and used live weapons against our troops

Apparently tying any Muslim you don’t like to al Qaeda and ‘global Jihad’ hasn’t really worked since the whole thing about how Saddam Hussein didn’t quite have anything to do with 9/11, but clearly Mr. Ayalon and his Islamophobic friends missed that memo. I also like how the activists on the Turkish-flagged vessel used “live weapons” (as opposed to, presumably, dead weapons) against “our troops” (ie. elite commandos who stormed their boat in international waters). Wow? It doesn’t take an undergraduate degree to sort the BS out of that one.

Speaking of the legality of the raid, I’m going to paste this in its entirety, thanks to Mondoweiss and Craig Murray, ex UK Ambassador and one time Foreign Office specialist on maritime law:

“A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Meanwhile, Blake Hounsell for FP:

It already has the makings of a huge international fracas that will make the Goldstone Report look like small potatoes by comparison.

and

There’s a huge unwillingness on the Israeli right to face reality — that Israel is fast losing friends and allies in the world, and that this government in Jerusalem has only accelerated the shift. It’s not hard to imagine boycott campaigns gaining momentum, damaging the Israeli economy and isolating the country diplomatically, especially in Europe.

While I’m still skeptical of how much damage exactly boycott campaigns will actually have and whether the ‘friends and allies’ are actually going to be lost (all I’m seeing so far are spirited statements, as usual), I think that Hounsell makes a good general point: the tide does appear to be turning, as evidenced by how increasingly shrill and crazy Israel’s defenders currently sound.

I’m going link some great pieces by Stephen Walt and Arabist at the bottom of this post to save me having to essentially paste them in its entirety (especially Arabist, his post was that good) but here are my thoughts.

If we are to accept the Israeli narrative of events – that the activists on the Flotilla attacked Israeli troops with sticks, knives and deckchairs, thus provoking them to respond and unfortunately kill some of them – as the truth, the argument still has massive, gaping holes.

First of all, the boat was in international waters and Israel had no legal right to storm the boat with commandos, some of the best soldiers in an army considered already to be one of the best in the world. Since the boat was raided by soldiers, the occupants of the boat surely had the right to defend their vessel. The fact that they supposedly did so with a ragtag assortment of improvised weapons and were shot at with automatic weapons as a means of self-defense makes about as much sense as napalming a mosquito. This is pretty much the antithesis of proportionality and anyone who buys this is clearly deluded. Moreover, “the most moral army in the world” and certainly one of its best would surely have been able to manage a situation involving sticks and knives a little better than in such a way that resulted in at least 9 fatalities. Oh yeah, shal I remid you again? Commandos vs. Civilians. Proportional? No. This. Does. Not. Hold. Water.

Also, to those pundits that suggest that Israel’s main mistake was to board the boat in international waters and not in “Israeli territorial waters” appear to be missing the point. The boat was headed for Gaza, not Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (and still claims political kudos for doing so). Yes, Gaza is not recognised a state but that doesn’t make Israel’s siege of Gaza legal, nor does it just hand jurisdiction over Gaza’s territorial waters to Israel as a sort of parting gift. It is obviously not that clear cut.

Oh yeah, and the blockade. Need I remind you people how cruel and barbaric it is? No I don’t, because Stephen Walt will (if Glenn Greenwald didn’t in the post I linked last time). One final note to those supposedly hyper-realist defenders of Israel’s rights as a state: stop glorifying the State. There is no good reason why I, as an Australian (or any self-respecting national of any other country), should take Israel’s security any more seriously than the security of the people of Gaza. Right now, the biggest threat to their ‘security’ is not Hamas (as is often claimed by the Zionist lobby) but an Israeli blockade that is causing death by starvation and lack of medical attention, that is robbing the Gazans of the right to rebuild their shattered economy destroyed by air raids and Operation Cast Lead, and that is conducting a crude campaign of national humiliation and collective punishment. Oh, but the activists on the boat constituted a ‘threat to Israeli security’.  Time to wake up.

And here’s that piece of gold by Arabist, read it.

5 Responses

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  1. also another good post is from Matthew Yglesias who talks specifically on how this is bringing much needed attention the blockade, which has long been ignored:

    “I can’t keep up with the claims and counterclaims about the Gaza relief flotilla and the attack on it, but obviously the idea behind the flotilla was not just to deliver supplies but to try to elevate the level of attention being given to the actual situation in the Strip. As this recent human interest piece on Gaza’s surfers reminded us in early May before this particular controversy “[u]nder an economic embargo enforced by the Israeli government, only basic foodstuffs and humanitarian supplies are allowed into Gaza.” The intention of this is to make economic conditions unbearably bad and it’s been a big success!

    Gaza doesn’t contain nearly enough arable land to support the Strip’s population as subsistence farmers. Which of course is true of many other places on earth. But the effect of the embargo is to make meaningful commercial activity in Gaza nearly impossible, pushing living standards down to what would be a below-subsistence level were it not for the trickle of aid that flows in. The Hamas authorities exercise some fairly rough justice over the area, extremist groups burn down summer camps and Israel launches airstrikes periodically sometimes injuring dozens sometimes hurting no one. The overall situation is incredibly bleak. Construction supplies aren’t allowed into the area, so it’s been impossible to rebuild since the war there from a couple of years back, and all the physical infrastructure is just degrading over time. Israel is attempting to defend itself from the sporadic rocket fire that’s emanated from the area since the IDF abandoned trying to directly administer it during Ariel Sharon’s administration, but the level of human suffering—we’re talking about a place where 1.5 million people live—being inflicted is just staggering.

    http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/05/gaza.php

    Nisha Chittal

    June 2, 2010 at 1:53 am

    • Yes I’m liking all these pundits reminding everyone that this is about the situation in Gaza, not just the flotilla.

      alexlobov

      June 2, 2010 at 2:51 am

  2. few facts:

    Israeli’s did not use automatic weapons, they had paint ball guns. they only used backup handguns as last resort self-defense against the lynch mob.

    The official order to switch into live ammo came 40 minutes into the raid, after they realized that the “peace” activist were not very peaceful and their intention was to lynch the soldiers.

    Under the San Remo Manual blockades are a legitimate tool in armed conflicts. Of particular relevance here, paragraph 98 states that merchant vessels that attempt to run a blockade can be not just boarded but actually attacked, ie fired upon:

    98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.

    Though within its rights to attack the vessels, Israel did not do so. Instead it put its own soldiers at risk in trying to board and take control of the ships.

    Here is the relevant portion of the full section on blockades:

    SECTION II : METHODS OF WARFARE

    Blockade

    93. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States.

    94. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline.

    95. A blockade must be effective. The question whether a blockade is effective is a question of fact.

    96. The force maintaining the blockade may be stationed at a distance determined by military requirements.

    97. A blockade may be enforced and maintained by a combination of legitimate methods and means of warfare provided this combination does not result in acts inconsistent with the rules set out in this document.

    98. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.

    99. A blockade must not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States.

    100. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States.

    101. The cessation, temporary lifting, re-establishment, extension or other alteration of a blockade must be declared and notified as in paragraphs 93 and 94.

    102. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if:

    (a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or

    (b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.

    103. If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to:

    (a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and

    (b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    104. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.

    In addition, under Section IV, paragraph 60 (e) enemy merchant vessels become a legitimate military target after

    refusing an order to stop or actively resisting visit, search or capture;

    This is exactly what the Gaza-bound vessels did, thereby rendering themselves military targets.

    ziggy

    June 2, 2010 at 5:05 am

    • ziggy

      June 2, 2010 at 5:09 am

    • Hi ziggy, thanks for your thoughts. There have been several competing narratives (and different videos, and different conspiracy theories about which videos were doctored, etc.) presented about what actually went down on the boat. I wasn’t on it so I’m going to go with my gut as to which one I believe, I trust you’ll also go with yours.

      The basis for your legal argument relies on a number of things which I disagree with. I don’t consider the blockade to be legal because I consider Israel to be an effective occupying force in Gaza, despite its claims of disengagement in 2005. I also find legal arguments based on traditional maritime embargo law to be flawed because this is not a conflict between two nation-states, as Israel denies Gaza statehood and denies the Hamas government legitimacy. I also don’t believe the Israeli claims that sufficient humanitarian aid is reaching the strip, I am more inclined to believe Human Rights Watch and the UN, etc. (That affects points 103 and 104 in what you posted above.)

      Since we believe two very different narratives about the truth on the ground, there isn’t much point in carrying on this discussion.

      alexlobov

      June 2, 2010 at 6:50 pm


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