Israel's Naval Blockade

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent around a fuller explanation of Israel’s current maritime blockade of Gaza.

The Israeli government and military have been extraordinarily closemouthed about this blockade. It has been difficult even to get information that it still was in effect (it was officially announced on 3-4 January 2009, as the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead got underway).

Military officials have indicated, rather casually, that it extends 20 miles out to sea, and is identical to what is Gaza’s maritime space, as agreed in the Oslo Accords and defined by an official map drawn up in 1994, which can be viewed on the MFA website here.

It has been unclear if that was still the exact area covered by the Israeli naval blockade — the IDF informed the Freedom Flotilla yesterday that the no-go zone had been extended from 20 to 48, 60, or 68 miles, depending on the report. This notice was given just hours before the Israeli military launched an attack on the Freedom Flotilla that, yes, did say it was heading to Gaza to break the Israeli blockade. (The Free Gaza movement said the same thing, months before the naval blockade was declared).

Among the things that are still unclear about Israel’s naval blockade are: exactly where and when it was published, and the exact current dimensions of the zone.

Here is what the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent around tonight:

“1. A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea.

“2. Maritime blockades are a legitimate and recognized measure under international law that may be implemented as part of an armed conflict at sea.

“3. A blockade may be imposed at sea, including in international waters, so long as it does not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral states.

“4. The naval manuals of several western countries, including the US and England recognize the maritime blockade as an effective naval measure and set forth the various criteria that make a blockade valid, including the requirement of give due notice of the existence of the blockade.

“5. In this vein, it should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect.

“6. Here, it should be noted that under customary law, knowledge of the blockade may be presumed once a blockade has been declared and appropriate notification has been granted, as above.

“7. Under international maritime law, when a maritime blockade is in effect, no boats can enter the blockaded area. That includes both civilian and enemy vessels.

“8. A state may take action to enforce a blockade. Any vessel that violates or attempts to violate a maritime blockade may be captured or even attacked under international law. The US Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations sets forth that a vessel is considered to be in attempt to breach a blockade from the time the vessel leaves its port with the intention of evading the blockade.

“9. Here we should note that the protesters indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade by means of written and oral statements. Moreover, the route of these vessels indicated their clear intention to violate the blockade in violation of international law. [n.b. – this last phrase, “in violation of international law”, could be debated.]

“10. Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel’s intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.

“11. Israel had attempted to take control of the vessels participating in the flotilla by peaceful means and in an orderly fashion in order to enforce the blockade. Given the large number of vessels participating in the flotilla, an operational decision was made to undertake measures to enforce the blockade a certain distance from the area of the blockade.

“12. Israeli personnel attempting to enforce the blockade were met with violence by the protesters and acted in self defense to fend off such attacks”.

This legal backgrounder from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is posted on their website, here.

There are very loosely-sourced reports that Turkey will send the next humanitarian flotilla via sea to Gaza accompanied by Turkish military escorts. There were rumors that this was what they were going to do this time — but they didn’t…

Overwhelmed with grief

Grief. Grief. Too much grief.

They didn’t think Israel would do it — they didn’t believe Israel would use overwhelming force against the Freedom Flotilla.

The Israeli Navy reportedly intercepted the Freedom Flotilla in international waters — it’s last reported position (at 04:30 GMT) before the IDF attack, was at Latitude:32.64113, Longitude:33.56727

Does it do any good to hold demonstrations now? These protests should have been going on for the past few days — demanding that the Flotilla ships get through to Gaza with their passengers cargo in safety.
AP says the largest number of deaths in the storming of the ships were Turkish (six killed). Five were Israeli citizens — Israeli Arab Palestinians, from Haifa, on board the Flotilla. Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern Islamic Front movement, a figure particularly loathed by the Israeli political echelons, is in very serious condition after being shot in the head. He underwent surgery at Tel Hashomer hospital. Later Israeli reports contradicted this news, and said Sheikh Salah received only minor injuries.

Israeli Arab communities will hold a general strike on Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning.

Turkey called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (Turkey is presently one of the non-permanent Council members), and for a meeting of NATO.

UPDATE: The Turkish Foreign Minister went to UNHQ/NY to present his country’s case at the UN Security Council meeting.

Turkey recalled its Ambassador from Israel, and Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan and Egypt were among the countries which summoned the Israeli Ambassadors in their capitals.

AP reported that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “It should be known that we are not going to remain silent in the face of this inhumane state terrorism”, and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey was canceling three joint military drills and that a Turkish youth soccer team currently in Israel would be brought home.

According to another report by AP, “The White House said in a written statement that the United States ‘deeply regrets’ the loss of life and injuries sustained … and was ‘currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy’.”

Meanwhile, yet another AP story reported that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli naval commandos who raided a Gaza aid flotilla “were under attack and acting in self defense … Netanyahu says Israel wanted to check the cargo to ensure it contained no weapons. He says this was done successfully with five ships, but the sixth did not cooperate. He says hundreds of people on board that ship beat, clubbed and stabbed soldiers, and there was a report of gunfire”. This news report is posted here.

Netanyahu was due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, but the meeting has been cancelled as Netanyahu, who was in Canada, is flying back to Israel to deal with the crisis that followed this Israeli attack.

He said before leaving that “we regret the loss of life”, and he wished a speedy recovery to those injured — including four Israeli soldiers, he said. He said, rather disingenuously, that Israel tries to bring in all kinds of humanitarian goods – “any kind of goods meant for peace” — to Gaza, while keeping out weapons that could be used against Israel.

The IDF later reported that seven of its soldiers were wounded.

Commentators have noted that the Freedom Flotilla — and the tragic denouement of its mission — have put the spotlight on Israel’s policy of restricted supplies to Gaza, and on Israel’s restrictions of movement into and out of the Gaza Strip.

Americans for Peace Now (APN) has joined its “sister organization”, the original Israeli Peace Now, in “expressing outrage at the way Israel’s government is dealing with people who challenge its policies”. The two organizations calleerd “for an end to the radicalization of the Israeli government’s language and policy.”

“It is becoming increasingly common for Israeli officials and pundits to refer to challenges to its policy as ‘terrorism’ – we hear terms like ‘economic terrorism’ used to describe a Palestinian Authority effort to boycott products made in Israeli settlements, ‘popular terror’ to describe non-violent protest, and ‘cultural terror’ to describe pressure on international artists to cancel appearances in Israel. This past week we heard terms like ‘violent propaganda’ to describe the Gaza flotilla, even before any clash when it acts in genuine self-defense. It also makes almost inevitable the kind of tragedy that is unfolding today”, said an APN statement issued Monday, which can read in full here.

There are very contradictory reports of how events happened this morning.

Flotilla participants said that shots were fired at the ship even before Israeli commandos rappelled down to the deck from hovering helicopters. But, when the commandos landed on the ship, they said they felt their lives were in danger — see the IDF Youtube video here — and then greater force was used. But, what did the IDF think would happen when those first commandos dropped from the sky?

All of the deaths reportedly were on on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying at least 600 people.

Out of 80 people taken from the boats on shore at Israel’s Ashdod Port at last report, 16 were already transferred to Beersheva Prison for “non-cooperation”. UPDATE: Haaretz is reporting that at least 32 of the Flotilla participants have been jailed.

UPDATE: Israeli Arab MK Haneen Zoabi, of the Balad (country”) party, who was also on board the Mavi Marmara, has reportedly “been removed from her boat” and is unharmed. [Was she released?] Yesterday, right-wing Knesset members said Zoabi should be arrested and tried for treason…

Three Israeli human rights organizations — Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel — have filed a habeas corpus petition with the Israeli Supreme Court concerning the Flotilla Participants who are being held either in tents at Ashdod Port pending deportation or at Beersheva prison, asking for the names of those who have been killed or injured, and the names and locations and status of those who are detained.

Another Israeli human rights organization, GISHA, said in a statement that it “expresses sorrow at reports that dozens of civilians have been killed or injured during the Israeli military’s interception of boats bound for the Gaza Strip, carrying humanitarian assistance and hundreds of foreign and Israeli activists, including elected representatives. This incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea. Gisha notes that Israel cannot maintain such control while at the same time renouncing responsibility for its effects on the 1.5 million human beings whose access to the outside world has been cut off nearly hermetically for the past three years. International law requires Israel to permit the kind of access necessary for Gaza residents to live normal, dignified lives. It would be better for all concerned – Israel, Palestinian residents of Gaza, and those seeking to visit Gaza – if Israel would allow the regular and free passage of people, raw materials for industry, building materials, and export goods in and out of Gaza, subject only to concrete, individual security checks”.

Freedom Flotilla stormed at sea

The reports began to come in at first light.

Israeli naval commandos stormed the Freedom Flotilla at sea. There were some reported deaths on board, and many casualties. At least 50 persons have been admitted to Rambam hospital in Haifa.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israeli Army Radio (the most popular radio station in Israel) says Flotilla passengers tried to wrest weapons from Israeli soldiers. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers involved on some of the ships. Overwhelming force doctrine being used.

Mondoweiss tweet: (before 8:30 am) the Israeli cabinet has expressed regret at the casualties.

The Flotilla ships are being driven to Israeli ports (Ashdod? Haifa?)

But reports indicate that it is not over yet on board all the Flotilla ships, and casualties may rise.

Though it is way too late, the Turkish government is holding an emergency meeting.

Protests are escalating in the streets in Istanbul and Ankara.

Though it is way too late, participants and supporters are calling for worldwide the protests.

UPDATE: Reuters flash news – Israeli TV is reporting 10 persons killed, possibly more.

See Amira Hass story in Haaretz today, written as this catastrophe was looming, but focussed on the bigger picture, here: “The adjectives ‘non-violent’ or ‘violent’ presume that the occupation is a natural state of affairs, whose violence is permitted, a civilized norm meant to tame its subjects. ‘A non-violent struggle’ therefore diverts attention from the fact that forced rule is based on the use of violence. Every soldier at a roadblock, every camera on the separation fence, every military edict, a supermarket in a settlement and an Israeli diaper factory on Palestinian land – they are all part of the nonstop violence”…

Mavi Marmara still live streaming at 0325 Monday

At 3:25 am Jerusalem time, there is a Turkish TV interview being conducted — and shown in the live web streaming from the Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara.

Bulent Yildirim, head of IHH, the Turkish humanitarian relief organization that has been the major force behind this Flotilla, is being interviewed. Then two women from the U.K. (without headscarf) and one from Indonesia (with full headscarf) talk to the interviewer, a Turkish woman (with headscarf).

One of the British woman says she’s afraid — there are helicopters overhead, and warships all around, she says. There is a very young baby on board, she notes.

The Indonesian woman says they have no business with any other country, they just want to go to Gaza and deliver their supplies, then leave…

News agencies are reporting that hundreds of people are out in the streets of Istanbul at 3 am, protesting the harassment of the Flotilla.

The Jerusalem Post reported at 0239 that Flotilla participants had been “told by the navy they had two options: Either be boarded or follow the navy in to Ashdod harbor to be processed there”.

Watch Freedom Flotilla live

The tone has changed on board the Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara, with the announcement that journalists reported the departure of three Israeli Navy missile boats from Haifa port at 9 pm.

At 11:18 pm in Jerusalem, calm, smiling people on the Mavi Marmara are being organized to put on life vests.
Some were holding gas masks. Someone on board reported that some people were praying, while others were smoking.

IDF Radio made contact with the Flotilla ships (at coordinates 33.32754,33.59765, according to Free Gaza) and Israeli naval vessels were visible.

Watch what can be watched, until the probable cut-off of the transmission, here:

Watch live streaming video from insaniyardim at


The lists of passengers travelling with the Freedom Flotillda expedition have just been published on the Free Gaza website, here. The lists are not very long, and are apparently not complete. The Turkish passengers are not listed, nor are those of several other nationalities.

Just after 11:30 pm, the transmission went down — then it came back on again. Turkish-language TV transmission going on…

Report from Flotilla: Israel has extended maritime no-go zone

PRESS TV has just reported, in a live stand-up from on board the Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara — a passenger ship now sailing toward Gaza with some 600 or more passengers– that Israel has announced an increase in its declared maritime no-go zone to 48 miles off the coast of Gaza.

Other reports indicate that the newly-declared no-go zone is 60 miles deep.

Israel declared a 20-mile naval blockade in January 2009, just as it started the ground invasion during Operation Cast Lead.

Earlier Sunday afternoon, organizers on board the Mavi Marmara reportedly confirmed receipt of a fax from the Israeli military.

The head of IHH, the Turkish humanitarian relief organization which is spearheading the Freedom Flotilla excursion, has said that this is “ironic” because there are dozens or more commercial ships which are now in this newly-expanded no-go zone.

The Flotilla reportedly finally sailed toward Gaza on Sunday evening.

Perhaps the delays were not due to “technical glitches”, but to this: “After almost 48 hours of playing hide-and-seek with Cypriot police and long, drawn out negotiations with Cypriot and Turkish authorities, author Henning Mankell, M.D. Victoria Strand, and Swedish Member of Parliament Mehmet Kaplan were finally allowed to leave Cyprus and, by way of some smaller boats, join the Freedom Flotilla, whose ships are waiting for them on international waters”. This was posted on the Ship to Gaza website, here.

UPDATE: The Foreign Press Association (FPA) has just sent out this pool report to its members:
“Three Israeli navy missile boats left the Haifa naval base a few minutes after 9 p.m. local time, planning to intercept the flotilla of ships sailing toward Gaza with pro-Palestinian activists and 10,000 tons of supplies. Three missile boats are a Saar 5, a Saar 4.5 and a Saar 4. Reporters on board were told to turn off their cellular telephones just before the boats left the base”.

UPDATE TWO: The Only Democracy blog has just published an open letter to the Israeli Jewish public by human rights activist Jeff Halper, who was one of the participants who went into Gaza with the first Free Gaza expedition in August 2008 (and was arrested at Erez crossing when he came out, and jailed for a day).
He wrote: “If we were not Israeli Jews, if the nine ships bringing 800 peace-makers from 40 countries would be sailing with humanitarian aid to an imprisoned population of a million and a half to, say, Haiti, the flotilla now on its way to Gaza would be hailed as a monumental event. The government of Israel would donate another 50 tons of food and materials and a brigade of army volunteers from the rescue corps. But we are Israelis, and the fact that such an operation is being launched against a siege we imposed on a civilian population three years ago – actually, the blockade goes back to the late 1980s – should cause us all to reflect upon how we and our country have arrived at this sorry state – how the ‘light unto the nations’ has become one of the most oppressive states on earth, subject to international protests like this one … The siege is absolutely illegal in international law, and for those of us who believe that the rule of law and human rights is the only recipe for a better world, it is incumbent upon us to join the flotilla’s call to lift the siege. Civilians cannot be the object of military and political attacks, as is the case in Gaza (which the Goldstone Report roundly criticized), nor can they be collectively punished for the policies of their political leaders. The very idea that people can be brought to their knees and forced to accept being permanently controlled and dominated, which is the thrust of Israeli policy, is both unconscionable and counter-productive“. The full open letter is posted here.

The Gaza Song

This song has been playing on the IHH live streaming website when there is not something live happening, or when journalists on board the Freedom Flotilla are not doing their live stand-ups.

It is very stirring. The Gaza Song was written and is performed by Los Angeles musician Michael Heart — he released the song in February 2009, just after Israel’s unprecedented 22-day Operation Cast Lead.

Continue reading The Gaza Song

Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?

After some confusing statements Saturday evening – possibly deliberately misleading – the Freedom Flotilla is moving towards what will almost certainly be a confrontation somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean with Israeli Naval forces that the Israeli Government has ordered to stop the Flotilla.

Israel still has time to change its mind, however. But, it has been busy bombing Gaza — including the already-damaged-to-the-point-of-inoperability, and only, Palestinian airport which is located near Kerem Shalom.

Continue reading Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?

Where the last Free Gaza expedition was probably intercepted by Israeli Navy in June 2009

In late June 2009, the last Free Gaza expedition, composed of only one ship, the Spirit, was intercepted by the Israeli Navy at the point shown on the graphic below, very kindly and obligingly prepared by Aletheia Kallos: 

Site where Free Gaza ship, the Spirit, was intercepted by Israeli Navy in late June 2009
Site where Free Gaza ship, the Spirit, was intercepted in late June 2009 - graphic map by Aletheia Kallos


[A note of caution from AK:  “the geodetic datums for the several pushpin positions are unknown & tho they were plotted with as much care & precision as possible they are still not necessarily in exact agreement with the wgs84 datum used by google earth so a slight datum shift among the depicted features is possible..] 

To put this into political context, here is the map of Gaza’s maritime space as delineated in the Oslo Accords, from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, here

[The little hand-written note, in Arabic, above the late Yasser Arafat’s name indicates that there is a separate “letter” related to this matter...] 

Late last June, the Free Gaza’s Spirit was interdicted by the Israeli Navy at the point indicated on the first graphic map above, boarded, directed to Ashdod port, and expedition members detained and deported.  Most of it humanitarian cargo was then forwarded to Gaza through Israeli-controlled land  crossings (the blood products were reportedly spoiled for lack of refrigeration)… 

This interdiction happened, it appears (from coordinates published by the Free Gaza movement) about one mile inside area L, which is Gaza’s designated maritime space for fishing and economic activities [see the second graphic map above].  This maritime space extends from the coastline straight out 20 miles directly out to sea.  This delimitation was agreed between Israel and the Palestine  Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Oslo Accords — and witnessed by the United States and Russia. 

Israel’s formally-declared naval blockade of Gaza was announced on 3-4 January 2009,  just as the Israeli ground operation in Gaza began during Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009) — and it was not extinguished after the two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’) went into effect at the end of that massive military operation.  

Though the formal official notification of the blockade has not yet turned up, Israeli statements indicate that it corresponds exactly to Gaza’s maritime space (fishing and economic activity zone) as agreed in the Oslo Accords… 

I did find this week, here, and posted something about this earlier on my blog, here, what appears to be a new (2009) Israeli claim to a 3-mile slice of Gaza’s territorial water, which is very surprising.  It would mean, of course, that Israel’s denials it is still occupying Gaza are false and misleading.  It would also mean that there can hardly be any argument that Israel has full responsibility for the well-being of the 1.5 million souls trapped there.

Free Gaza Movement announces that Freedom Flotilla is moving toward Gaza

After saying for two days that the Freedom Flotilla would not travel at night, the Free Gaza movement announced Saturday night that it is on the move.

The Israeli Navy sailed from Haifa port on Friday night to intercept the Flotilla.

IMEMC has reported that the Israeli military mobilization is named “Operation Sky Winds”.

A post on The Only Democracy Blog here says that Gaza has been blockaded, actually, since 1957…

It also writes that: “An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has no problem saying ‘We have to remember: These people are entering Israel illegally’ … In other words, when convenient Israel claims it ‘does not control’ Gaza, but when push comes to shove it regards Gaza’s waters as its own, in plain view of the world … In 2010, there is no major government in the world really willing to put any political dime next to its cheap ‘remove the siege’ talk. Why, even Obama formally asked Israel to remove the Gaza siege. Talk is indeed cheap … During this decade, increasingly, Israel has become allied with the world’s political and economic elites, and oblivious, even hostile, to global public opinion … Coincidentally, last year a new government coalition came into power in Israel, its most right-wing coalition ever. Previous governments knew they must give the world some lip-service about peace, to help ally governments divert attention from the Occupation so as not to get into trouble with their constituencies … Israeli pundits call the new diplomatic approach ‘Pissing into the Pool from the High Jump’: if we’ve got the power and all powers-that-matter keep doing our bidding, then we couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks, and we might as well do it out in the open. In Bibi’s books, the strategy is working well. Why, only a few weeks ago Israel was admitted to the OECD, reportedly thanks to some behind-the-scenes arm-twisting from the Obama administration.  Beyond that, the sad fact is that Israel’s government and its military leadership do genuinely think and act like dictators, and at this point seem unable to even start thinking differently. Rather than sit back, let the modest flotilla sail in, make a few speeches and sail back – they are willing to risk a major PR catastrophe, and employ violence so as to deny Gazans anything except what they prescribe for them“… This blog post can be read in full here