Derek Graham, First Mate of the MV Rachel Corrie, said in a telephone interview from Ireland today that the ship was 35 miles off Gaza’s coast — clearly in international waters — when it was stopped and boarded by the Israeli Navy last weekend.
“As soon as the first Israeli soldier put his hand on our boat, I sent out distress signals”, Graham said. “I also stated clearly on the [open] VHF radio channel that we were not in Israeli waters but in international waters”.
UPDATE on Saturday 12 June: Derek Graham said that he is waiting for confirmation — from those international bodies to whom he sent out the distress signals — of the geographical coordinates of the MV Rachel Corrie at the moment he sent out the emergency communications, and promised to send the coordinates when he has that confirmation.
Graham said in the telephone interview that the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (and/or) Free Gaza movement would be putting out videos that show his radio exchanges with the Israeli naval warships that had come to intercept the MV Rachel Corrie, which was originally part of the Freedom Flotilla but which arrived off Gaza’s shore five days after the tragic boarding of the six other Flotilla boats further north, off Israel’s coast, but still well out in international waters.
According to Graham, the MV Rachel Corrie and all six other boats in the Freedom Flotilla are still detained in Israel’s Ashdod Port, all lined up in a row — “and the Rachel Corrie is parked right behind the Mavi Marmara”, he noted.
The Mavi Marmara was the largest vessel in the Freedom Flotilla, and was carrying over 600 passengers when it was boarded by Israeli commandos early last Monday morning. All of the nine deaths reported so far took place aboard the Mavi Marmara.
Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid reported today that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs “warned Israel Navy not to raid Gaza flotilla in international waters. In preparatory discussions, government cautioned that such an action would hamper Israel on the diplomatic and public relations front worldwide”.
The article stated that “During the government’s preparatory discussions over how to handle the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, the Foreign Ministry advised that Israel’s security forces wait for the ships to reach the country’s territorial waters – which lie within 20 miles from the coast – before launching a takeover operation”.
Now, here, Barak Ravid is certainly referring to Gaza’s maritime space, which is 20 miles out to sea, and not to Israel’s “territorial waters” — that this is an error is apparent in his material quoted below, highlighted in bold.
The Haaretz report noted that “According to a senior official in Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry diplomats said that despite the legality of overtaking the ships in international waters, such an action would hamper Israel on the diplomatic and public relations front worldwide … In discussions that preceded the flotilla’s arrival and forcible takeover, legal experts with the Military Advocate General’s Corps and the Foreign Ministry offered similar opinions which stated that there was no legal impediment to stopping a ship whose operators have already announced an intention to trespass a blockade, even if the takeover is done in international waters. The legal opinions were based on precedent-setting cases involving the American and British navies as well as citations of the San Remo international law manual of 1994. Nonetheless, Foreign Ministry officials cautioned representatives of the defense establishment that it would be difficult to justify a military operation outside of Israel’s territorial waters from both a political and public relations standpoint. Thus, according to senior figures familiar with the details of the discussions, the Foreign Ministry urged defense officials to launch their operations to stop the flotilla only after the ships had crossed Gaza’s maritime boundaries. The ministry’s diplomats repeated this request on more than one occasion. ‘If somebody breaks into your home and you shoot him after he enters the doorway, there’s no problem in justifying this action in court’, said a senior ministry official. ‘But if you attack the burglar while he is on his way to your house at a distance of two blocks away, then you have a problem … It was made clear that we can ultimately prove that we acted according to international law, but this will be very complicated and we will absorb many denunciations along the way’, the official said … While the diplomats’ warnings were understood, their recommendation was not accepted due to ‘operational reasons’. ‘The navy expressed concern that it would not be able to stop the flotilla once the ships reached within 20 miles of the coast’, said an official who had a hand in the planning of the operation. ‘The IDF was fearful that the naval forces would not have adequate time to complete the operation. The army wanted to overtake the ships gradually and at a relatively great distance from the coast’.”
The Haaretz article noted that “Defense and diplomatic officials began preparations for the flotilla’s arrival two months prior to its voyage. The efforts were led by the IDF, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the national media relations division of the Prime Minister’s Office. While officials who took part in the discussions reported full cooperation between the agencies, the National Security Council – the body legally empowered to direct the bureaucratic end of the government’s diplomatic and security policy – first held a meeting on the flotilla just 10 days prior to its journey. The NSC was not included in the primary preparations and response”. This article is posted here.