What is Israel doing, exactly, off Gaza's coast?

Via a Tweet [by the IDF’s own Peter Lerner, @ptrlrnr] on Twitter, our attention was drawn to an Opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times here in which the author, Amos N. Guiora, identified as a professor of law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, professor, wrote: “Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has carefully controlled the borders, and it established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“.

Well, this is a broad brushstroke.

But, before unpacking the various components of the phrase, the last part of the phrase attacks immediate attention: “Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has … established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“.

This is puzzling, and warrants close examination.

On 3 January 2009, we published a post on the formal announcement of the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, here.

After many inquiries, I was informed — some 15 months later — that it was published, supposedly on 6 January 2009, which is three days after it was announced on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Transport [controlled, of course, by the Israeli government].   This does raise some questions — especially as this notice was not published on the main global reference site, which is that of the UK Hydrology Office.

This formal Israeli Notice to Mariners (No. 1 of 2009), entitled “Blockade of Gaza Strip“, is published here.

Since then, however, there has been something new.

We first drew attention to this in a review of the situation we published on 14 July 2010, entitled “Investigation: Gaza’s maritime space”, which is posted here.

This new element is apparently unchanged.

The UK Hydrology Office is the main reference for global maritime claims, and the most recent “National Claims to Maritime Jurisdiction” posted on its website still indicates, as we’ve reported previously, as it has for at least the past year-and-a-half, that Israel claims a 12-Nautical Mile territorial sea — with a footnote: and this Footnote 17 (Israel) states that Israel’s claims are “reduced to 3M off Gaza”.

It appears that Israel is now claiming (and has been since at least the end of 2010), as part of its own territorial sea, some 3 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast. This is the area to which Palestinian fishing has largely been restricted.

The Israeli Navy would, it seems obvious, not put seas that it claims as its own under embargo.

So, if the article Tweeted by the IDF’s Peter Lerner is correct (and if we understand it correctly), then the Israeli-proclaimed maritime embargo starts at 3 miles off the coast and extends to the 20 miles designated in maps attached to the Oslo Accords and signed by the parties and witnessed by the U.S. and Russia.

This would be consistent with information about where other ships have been intercepted by the Israeli navy in the past year or so.

We have previously asked the Israeli authorities about their limits of their naval embargo, and related questions, without response.

The world’s most reputable source, the UK Hydrology Office, appears clearly to indicate here that Israel now claims 12 Nautical Miles off Israel’s coast, plus 3 miles off the coast of Gaza.

And  now, the LATimes article says that the Israeli blockade of Gaza’s maritime space is “established … three miles off Gaza’s shoreline”.

Israel should really explain this.

And, Palestinian officials should also explain what they know about this.

Meanwhile, what is completely clear is that the United Nations, its Secretary-General, major donor countries [as expressed in the last communique of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, following its meeting in Brussels in April], and Cyprus — as well as, now, Greece, do accept in some way the formally-declared Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza.

The U.S., Britain and France [all members of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee] have recently said that this Flotilla’s declared intention to run the formal Israeli naval blockade in order to “break the siege of Gaza” is dangerous and a bad idea.

They have also said that the participants should use “established” means of transferring humanitarian aid — either via Ashdod Port then Israeli-military controlled crossings, or via Egypt’s Sinai port of Al-Arish, then Rafah — a proposition that the Flotilla participants have rejected, not without reason.

But, so far, no useful legal or political challenge has yet been mounted, in the United Nations or elsewhere, to the siege on Gaza’s land crossings — other than the attempt in Israel’s Supreme Court from October 2007 to January 2008, filed by a group of ten Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations led by Tel-Aviv-based GISHA.

Sari Bashi, Director of GISHA, wrote in a statement last week that “As the flotilla approaches, Gisha warns that the focus on humanitarian aid by both flotilla organizers and the Israeli government is infuriating and misleading”.  [GISHA suggests that the Flotillas should focus on taking out goods produced in Gaza whose export is almost totally blocked, despite Israeli claims to the contrary…]

The Flotillas are intended as an at-sea, risky, costly protest demonstration against the whole situation — but they have not either intended or succeeded at all in clarifying what the situation is, exactly — other than bad for most of the people in Gaza.

[OK, as Asaf Fefen wrote in an opinion piece on YNet here, it’s also surely the case that: “If the Marmara that took part in the previous sail sought to present Israel’s brutality to the world (and managed to do so, thanks to our kind assistance,) it appears that the current flotilla was meant to present Israel’s stupidity … we can see the Israeli government’s impressive willingness to accurately reenact every critical mistake made in the previous round … The only optimistic aspect of this conduct is the hope that flotilla organizers would realize that they don’t really have to sail here and get seasick and all. Their objective – isolating Israel on the international stage and driving it mad – had already been secured”.]

And, Greece has not taken lightly the fact that the US Boat to Gaza [the Audacity of Hope] and the Canadian boat [Tahrir] yesterday defied its decision barring them from leaving Greek ports to try to reach Gaza.  This undated decision was published in English on the website of the Greek Embassy to the U.S., here.

However, as Haaretz’s Amira Hass wrote two days later, the Audacity of Hope “tried to set sail from the port of Perama without clearance from the Greek authorities” … “Before the official publication of the instructions at 4:30 P.M. on Friday”.  Hass added that “A copy of the written order was delivered on Friday afternoon to the organizers of the flotilla on the Canadian vessel Tahrir.  The orders apply to eight vessels in Greek ports: two cargo vessels (carrying almost 3,000 tons of aid, medicine, a fully equipped ambulance and cement to Gaza ), and those of the Spanish, Dutch-Italian, Canadian, French, American and Swedish-Greek-Norwegian delegations.  In addition to the eight vessels in port, there is one French ship that has been at sea for a week”.

Her article was published in Haaretz on 3 July, here.

This Greek notice, undated but posted in the last recent days, says: “Pursuant to a decision by the Minister of Citizen Protection Mr. C. Papoutsis, the departure of ships with Greek and foreign flags from Greek ports to the maritime area of Gaza has been prohibited today. By orders of the Hellenic Coast Guard Head Quarters to all local Hellenic Coast Guard Authorities, all appropriate measures are taken for the implementation of the said decision. As it is known, the Hellenic Coast Guard local Authorities have already been instructed to submit to ships Masters of ships of any flag the relevant notice to mariners that designates the area of maritime blockade by Israel. More specifically, for ships flying the Greek flag, relevant entries shall be made in the ships logbook together with the reception of the above mentioned notice to mariners as well as with the communication by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated 22 June 2011. Furthermore, the broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating in such campaign”.

However, Amira Hass, who has been with the Canadian ship [Tahrir] team in Athens, reported that the Greek government “is preventing the departure of the vessels in order to avoid a ‘humanitarian disaster’ which will result from a violent confrontation with the Israeli navy, [Greek Foreign Minister Stavros] Lambrinidis told Veronique De Keyser, a Belgian member of the European Parliament. The information was received by a member of the Belgian delegation on the vessel Tahrir, in an email from De Keyser, who is also vice chairman of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.  The foreign minister also promised De Keyser that he will continue to negotiate with the UN in order to find a solution to the flotilla crisis.  The ban applies to all Greek and foreign vessels in Greek ports heading to Gaza … The organizers of the flotilla are considering legal action to cancel the Greek ban on the departure of the ships. They are also trying to rally members of leftist parties in various countries and the European Parliament to convince the Greek government to change the orders.  Most of the approximately 300 activists are still in the ports where the ships are anchored, in the hope that they may be able to set sail for the Gaza Strip”.

The BBC is reporting, here, that the Audacity of Hope’s Captain, “John Klusmire, a US citizen, is being held in custody at police headquarters in the port of Piraeus, near Athens.  He faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of passengers”.

A similar situation played out in May 2010 in Cyprus.

Even worse, some of the participants in the Freedom Flotilla last year then decided to circumvent Republic of Cyprus restrictions on southern ports by setting sail from ports in the northern, Turkish-controlled part of the island of Cyprus, really infuriating the government recognized by most of the world — one of whose representatives railed against supporters of Palestine and of Gaza who opposed Israeli occupation policies but yet could so blithely and easily overlook the occupation in the northern part of the island.

Authorities then made known that Flotilla ships were no longer welcome in Cypriot ports.


Unpacking the rest of the sentence at the top [“Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has carefully controlled the borders, and it established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“]:

Hamas gained control in Gaza in mid-June 2007.

Israel’s control of Gaza’s “borders” has always been careful — it was punitively tightened after IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized in late June 2006, and it was tightened further after the Hamas take-over a year later.

On 19 September 2007, the Israeli government declared that Gaza was a “hostile territory”, or “enemy entity” — and authorized the Israeli military to implement this decision, without any civilian supervision or oversight by any other governmental authority.

By the end of October 2007, the Israeli Defense Ministry had devised a plan for progressively tightened sanctions to be applied against Gaza. Nothing but the strict minimum for life would be let in, and nothing would be let out. Electricity, and all fuel supplies, would be cut by 15 percent a month, ostensibly until sporadic rocket, mortar and missile attacks from Gaza were to cease entirely. In January 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court declined to intervene, saying basically that only because Israel hayd had a special responsibility for Gaza, the military must not allow a “humanitarian crisis” (it was not defined) develop.

In August 2008, the first Free Gaza Flotilla sailed from Cyprus to Gaza. At that time, the Israeli government decided that it would not allow a propaganda victory, so it would allow the Flotilla to pass. Five out of six flotillas that left Cyprus between August and December 2008 made their way with increasing difficulty, and were met with tougher Israeli responses each time.

During the IDF Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip [27 December – 18 January 2009], Israel declared a formal naval blockade of the Gaza Strip starting overnight on 3-4 January 2009. [One Free Gaza expedition during Operation Cast Lead, and one afterwards, failed to reach the Gaza Strip.]

Operation Cast Lead ended with the announcement of two separate ceasefires [one by Israel, one by Hamas], which went into effect just hours before Barack Obama was sworn into office. The Annapolis process of direct negotiations launched by the Bush Administration in November 2007, with the stated goal of having a Palestinian State by the time Bush left office, ended without the promised result. (The contacts between the Palestinians and Israelis were called off by the Palestinian leadership a few days after Operation Cast Lead was launched, and did not resume until March 2010, then were called off because of Israeli announcements of new settlements. They briefly resumed again for a day or two, then were called off again in September 2010 for the same reason.)

Despite the destruction wrought during this war, Israeli military sanctions stayed in place.

On 31 May 2010, the forceful Israeli naval interception of the largest Flotilla to date, en route to Gaza, ended with the deaths of 9 Turkish men (one an American high school student).

Since then, Israel has revised its military-administered border crossings regimes to be more “flexible”. Israel now publishes a vague list of only what is prohibited — but the Israeli military retains total control and all decision-making on this matter.

But, quite a lot of material does not get in. Most of what is produced in Gaza does not get out. And people are still under severe restrictions.

The Hamas-backed tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor at Rafah still provide much that is needed for normal life in Gaza.

The January25 revolution in Egypt which ended with the downfall of former President Husni Mubarak on 11 February 2011 appeared to lead to a new situation at the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza — but one which is also not completely clear, and which, as UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said recently, is totally and absolutely inadequate for the needs of 1.5 million people in Gaza.


One thought on “What is Israel doing, exactly, off Gaza's coast?”

  1. Mondoweiss has published a post tonight by Ira Glunts, here, denouncing the LA Times for publishing Amos Guiora’s opinion article — without revealing that Guiora “spent 18 years in command positions in the Israeli Defense Forces”.

    Is that really more interesting than Guiora’s assertion that “Since Hamas gained control in Gaza, Israel has … established the sea blockade three miles off Gaza’s shoreline“… really???

    Does the fact that Guiora was in the IDF make his assertion less — or more — credible???

    How is it that Mondoweiss does not interest itself at all in the content of Guiora’s assertion???

    Annie, in her comment on Glunts’ post about Guiora on Mondoweiss, cites this from the JCPA website: “He served for nineteen years in the Israel Defense Forces, holding senior command positions in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps including legal adviser for the Gaza Strip, judge advocate for the navy and Home Front commands, and commander of the IDF School of Military Law“.

    So, shall we just ignore what Guiora wrote, without even giving it a second thought?

    The few and far-between facts about Israel’s naval blockade of most of Gaza’s maritime space — and the surprise new element of Israel’s apparent claim to 3 miles of Territorial Sea immediately adjacent to Gaza’s coastline — are just boring and uninteresting details??? And, this is nothing, compared to the news that Guiora served in IDF command positions???

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *