On 7 May, the Turkish relief organization IHH posted these remarks on its website [in a post entitled “Israel Is Acting Like Pirates”]:
“Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH, said ‘If they harass the flotilla, what is left to separate the state of Israel from the pirates of Somalia?’ noting that the convoy will not even draw close by Israel’s territorial waters, in his response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s threats of attacking the ships, should they sail near the Gaza territory.
IHH administration said ‘We will not even pass close by the Israeli waters. If they attack us regardless, what is the difference between them and the pirates of Somalia?’, in their response to the threats by Israeli Foreign Ministry regarding the humanitarian aid ships to Palestine, saying ‘We will strike on the ships if they sail near Gaza’.
Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH (The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief) , said ‘Let them come and attack us, we have no preparation to strike back. Whether they fire down on us, bomb us with airplanes, we will not let them onto our ships. They can attack, yes, but they will not be let onboard. We are not carrying weapons to Palestine, we are carrying humanitarian aid only’.
Yildirim went on to say ‘As a requirement of international laws, 12 miles off the shores belong to the territorial waters of countries. It applies to Israel as well. Our flotilla will be sailing 80 miles off of Israeli coast. We will never enter Israeli waters. We will take a 90 degrees turn just before entering the Egyptian territorial waters. Therefore, Israel have no right to claim ‘They have entered our territorial waters.’ They have no authority there. If they decide to attack us regardless of this fact, then, there is no difference left between Israel and the pirates of Somalia’.”
This statement is posted here.
There is no mention whatsoever on the IHH website — or in any of the organization’s statements that I have been able to locate so far — of the formal declared Israeli Naval blockade [which was announced on 3 January 2009, as the Israeli Army lauched the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead], though this should have factored into the Freedom Flotilla’s strategic planning, and though in fairness and full disclosure all passengers who joined the trip should have been made aware of the implications.
It is, however, also true, as we have reported here many times, that Israel did not go out of its way to clarify its naval blockade of Gaza [until after the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla that resulted in 9 deaths on board the Mavi Marmara, the largest passenger ship in the convoy].
Spokespersons for the IDF and for the Israeli Ministry of Defense did not answer my several inquiries about this formal naval blockade during the month of May — including my request for confirmation of whether the naval blockade was still in effect, or not…
I was only able to locate the formal publication of the declared Israeli naval blockade from a tip left by an informed but anonymous commentor on this blog. As we have reported earlier here, the required formal notice is published only on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Transport [which is, of course and obviously] controlled by Israel. It is dated 3 January 2009, but the posting date listed is 6 January 2009 [three days after it went into effect]. This formal notice was not cross-posted on the UK Hydrologic (UKHO) Office website — a standard reference — or for that matter anywhere else that I have been able to find.
This IHH statement, published on their website on 7 May, does note, however, that “Yavuz Dede, Vice President of the Foundation, noted that they sense a state of panic within Israel, [and] added ‘Despite the standard limit of 12 miles, they are now trying to impose their own limit of 40 miles. We are not combat-ships. We are not carrying weapons. We now have 8 ships. In coming days we will purchase another cargo ship. A donor who wished to remain anonymous has donated another ship. The flotilla will consist of 9 ships in total. We will be sailing off from near Cyprus in the end of May. We will be delivering 6,000 tons of cement, 2,000 tons of iron, medicines and medical equipment to Gaza no matter what’.”
This reference, to a “standard limit of 12 miles”, is only to Israel’s territorial claim of 12 miles off its own coast. This is published on the UKHO Office website — a standard reference. We have reported this earlier here.
We have also pointed out that the Israeli claim of a 12-mile territorial sea has been amended, according to the UKHO, by a footnote saying that this has been amended to “3 miles off the coast of Gaza” — an interesting and significant development, which has not yet been either refuted or explained.
[It does have one clear implication, however: that for the first time since its of trumpeted unilateral “disengagement” in 2005, Israel is now admitting that it is, indeed, occupying the Gaza Strip. However, this status would, however, undermine the legal argumentation of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the naval blockade is justified because there are “hostilities at sea”. However, this striking wording may indicate that the Israeli MFA may well mean there are “hostilities at sea” not with Gaza, but perhaps with others … and perhaps even including Iran].
The IHH official’s mention that “they [Israel] are now trying to impose their own limit of 40 miles” is unclear, though it was reported elsewhere at the end of May, just after the Freedom Flotilla was finally getting ready to sail to Gaza on 29 or 30 May.
It is not clear how far Israel is actually claiming, now, or on what basis — and indeed, no new Israeli claims are yet posted, either on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Transport, or on the website of the UKHO. I have seen undocumented mention, in the Israeli media, of new expanded Israeli claims of 60 miles, and even 80 miles.
The Mavi Marmara was intercepted by the Israeli Navy at sea at a point 73 miles straight off the coast of Netanya, according to a graphic in a new document posted today on Ali Abunimah’s website, here.
Israel could, but it has not yet, claimed 100 miles of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the Law of the Sea Convention, which Israel signed — as an observer, just like the P.L.O. — but which Israel has not yet ratified (though it was reportedly tempted to do so, and was reportedly considering, in recent years).
Gaza’s maritime space, however, is defined by the Oslo Accords, as a 20-mile zone for “fishing” and “economic activities”, and published in a map appended to the Oslo Accords in 1994 that was signed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat [with a hand-written notation that there is a separate letter on the matter, that nobody has yet produced] and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The map is witnessed by the then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and the then-Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, and also by an Egyptian official.
The Israeli naval blockade covers the area defined as Gaza’s maritime space.