There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Here are some excerpts, which I’m recording here as notes for the record, from a discussion about the Israeli seizure of the Flotillas headed to Gaza and Israel’s continuing naval blockade of Gaza, in comments made on a post on Mondoweiss, written by Steve Fake and published on 19 July, entitled “Destination? Gaza!: The Freedom Flotilla II meets the Israeli military:, which is posted here.

What I found interesting was the exchange about legality.

Hostage wrote on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am:

The official commentary on Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions describes many of the customary prohibitions that Israel is deliberately violating regarding supplies of essential items and relief consignments to a civilian population. The convention provides that free passage of relief consignments is mandatory:
The principle of free passage, as set forth in this clause, means that relief consignments for the population of an occupied territory must be allowed to pass through the blockade; they cannot under any circumstances be declared war contraband or be seized as such by those enforcing the blockade. The obligation to authorize the free passage of relief consignments is accompanied by the obligation to guarantee their protection. It will not be enough merely to lift the blockade and refrain from attacking or confiscating the goods. More than that will be required: all the States concerned must respect the consignments and protect them when they are exposed to danger through military operations“.

The official commentary also stipulates that the safeguards for verification and supervision,
which were prescribed in the interests of the Powers granting free passage, must in no case be misused in order to make the rule [i.e. free passage] itself inoperative or unduly delay the forwarding of relief“.

France and Turkey were the parties to the landmark S.S. Lotus case in which the PCIJ ruled that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.” The US abstained from the vote on UN SC 1860. I doubt that Bibi is eager to take on a permanent member of the Security Council in an international court over the the legality of Israel’s blockade or which state owns Gaza’s territorial waters 😉

Continue reading There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

IDF to use dogs when boarding future Flotillas

A report posted overnight in the Jerusalem Post says that “The IDF’s Oketz canine unit will be used to assist soldiers in boarding Gaza-bound ships during future interceptions, a military source said on Thursday. The decision followed intensive deliberations by military chiefs on how to improve boarding techniques following the bloody confrontation on board the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31″… This is posted here.

The Israeli naval interceptions are part of Israel’s formal maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip, announced on 3 January 2009, during the IDF Operation Cast Lead [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009].

The Israeli declaration of a naval blockade appears to be aimed at stopping the various flotillas that were trying to “break the siege” — as much as at the official reasons given [interdicting possible arms shipments into Gaza or weakening the position of Hamas in the Gaza strip].

YNet reported that “The dogs will be the first to board the decks, to prevent harm to soldiers from hostile elements on board. ‘As soon as you put an attack dog in an area where soldiers are supposed to get to, it keeps the place sterile and prevents anyone from approaching’, a military source said. ‘Dogs can be placed by crane or other means. They’ll be the first, and after them, the soldiers’. Dogs from the Oketz unit are trained to immobilize an enemy by biting – the more the enemy struggles, the harder the bite. ‘Attack dogs have proved their capabilities on many occasions’, the source said. ‘They are strong and merciless, but in fact this is a non-lethal weapon that can certainly do the work (on the deck)’. The same source said dogs were involved in preparations for boarding the Turkish flotilla, but it was believed there would be no violent opposition from the people aboard the Marmara, so they were not sent onto the decks. ‘After that flotilla, we understood that this is indeed a good method and we’re improving our abilities’, he said. ‘A dog has no problem operating on a boat and can do great work’.” This is posted here.

There was violence in IDF boarding of Jewish boat heading to Gaza

Yes, we now know, there was indeed violence in the Israeli naval takeover of the Irene, the “Jewish Boat” that had audaciously sailed from a northern Cyprus port last weekend, heading toward Gaza.

Predictably, most of it was directed against “refusniks” Yonatan Shapira, who once served as an Israeli Air Force pilot, and — to a lesser extent — his younger brother Itamar.

Yonatan signed “A Pilot’s letter” with 26 other Israeli Air Force pilots in September 2003, saying “we are no longer willing to follow illegal orders”, protesting targetted assassinations in particular in Gaza, which he said were “war crimes”. He formed, with former Palestinian fighters, a group called “Combattants for Peace”, which he described in an interview on Democracy Now:

Yonatan repeated his accusation of “war crime” in an interview with the BBC on 6 January 2009, at the height of the IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza [27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009]:

The views he expresses in these Youtube videos show why it was predictable that Yonatan would have been treated with greater violence during the Israeli naval take-over of the Irene, the Jewish Boat to Gaza.

Yonatan received three strong electric shocks from a taser gun — twice, it was fired directly onto his chest, over his heart.

Continue reading There was violence in IDF boarding of Jewish boat heading to Gaza

Israeli Navy has now boarded Jewish Boat to Gaza

Haaretz is now reporting that the IDF has announced that its naval forces have boarded the Jewish Boat that wanted to go to Gaza. This is posted here.

According to Haaretz, “A navy boat shadowing the ‘Irene’ made radio contact with the activists late Tuesday morning, asking: ‘Where are you going? Where did you come from? What nationalities are on board?’ according to the [Jewish Boat to Gaza] website. The crew replied: ‘They came from Farmagusta, the nationalities on board are British, American, German and Israelis, we are going!’ the website said” …

They are reportedly now going to Ashdod.

The Jewish Boat to Gaza website says the last known location of the boat this morning was 31 47 N and 34 12 E [n.b. – in the vicinity of the pushpins labelled k4 and n on our next graphic further down, after this one]:

View Larger Map

They promise to update via google maps from their page, here.

Here is a graphic of where the Mavi Marmara was attacked and boarded on 31 May, kindly prepared for us by our friend Alethia Kallos, after the Freedom Flotilla fiasco. The interception point, then, was out on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean, at 32° 00′ 29.80 N and 33° 50′ 15.35 E:

Alethia Kallos graphic of blockaded Gaza maritime area and Flotilla intercept point

The interception point is interesting because it indicates that the Israeli military establishment has taken the advice reportedly given by the Israeli Foreign Ministry before the 31 May fiasco involving the Freedom Flotilla — which was not to intercept the Flotilla on the high seas but rather close to, if not at, the defined limitations of the declared Israeli naval blockade of Gaza Strip.

After the fiasco, there was also shocked criticism from commentors, who noted that the Israeli legal defense offered at the time was that the IDF had a right to stop, anywhere in the world, any ship intending to violate its declared blockade. This could have been interpreted to mean that Israel was effectively threatening to mount a missile attack on a ship in a Cyprus harbor before embarking for Gaza — or at an even earlier point, in fact, at any port around the world.

Continue reading Israeli Navy has now boarded Jewish Boat to Gaza

Israeli warships now escorting boat of Jewish activists who were heading to Gaza

As the Irene approached the declared limits of the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, which extends 20 miles from the shoreline straight out to sea in the eastern Mediterranean, an Israeli warship approached. Within a half hour, the Israeli Navy was reportedly escorting the small ship.

At 10h42 this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported: “The army established contact with the captain, and asked him where we are headed,” Rami Elhanan said. “The navy asked to bypass the ship from 5 miles to the right, and we complied. We said we are headed to Gaza and sailing under the British flag”” Elhanan added. Elhanan also reported that the captain was not told that the boat will be stopped. “I have no idea when, if at all, we will be intercepted,” he said. This is posted here.

UPDATE: Elhanan told YNet (see below) that “We are surrounded by at least 10 Navy ships. They are probably going to collide with us any minute. They are demanding that we stop and threatening that if we fail to do so, it may end with casualties. We are moving forward in full force, hugging each other and singing songs”…

Israeli authorities have said they intend to stick to their policy of bringing the boat to Israel’s southern port of Ashdod for “the usual”.

There are reportedly 10 activists, some of them Israeli, and a symbolic amount of cargo destined for Gaza, on board the 33-foot British-flagged catamaran.

Another option, presumably before the point of interception, would have been to say that they were going to the Egyptian port of El-Arish.

But, the Jewish Boat to Gaza wants to go … to Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reported shortly after 10 a.m. that the Captain, Glynn Secker, “says his boat is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Gaza and that expects the navy to intercept the Irene within the next hours. The Israeli military said Tuesday it would not intervene until the boat tries to breach the blockade”.

YNet has reported that “The IDF announced it would notify the captain that he will not be allowed to proceed to Gaza, and that troops would raid the small boat only if it tried to breach the blockade”. The ship’s Captain, Glynn Secker, said: “We will not obey them, we will not help them … But we will not confront them physically. We will engage in no violence”.

According to the YNet report, here, the ship would have docked in Gaza withing three hours.

Itamar Shapira told YNet “The IDF has not spoken to us yet, but we have understood that it declared it would stop us 40 kilometers from the shore“…

Reuven Moskowitz, the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who is one of the founders of Neve Shalom, an Israeli Jewish + Arab coexistence enterprise, told YNet that “We are an extraordinary people. We are only sorry that they plan to stop us and remind everyone that a true hero is one who tries to turn an enemy into a friend … In any case we refuse to recognize the IDF’s right to arrest us in Gaza’s territorial waters when all we want to do is bring them harmonicas, toys, and some medicine” …

Libyan-chartered ship is now moored at El-Arish

The drama is over.

Just as the plan indicated, the Amalthea, a Libyan-chartered Greek cargo ship carrying food and medicine destined for Gaza went to the Egyptian port of El-Arish, on the northern coast of the Sinai peninsula, east of the Suez Canal, and not very far from the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip.

The Amalthea is one of seven ships now moored off El-Arish, and it is expected to dock imminently.

However, until the last minute, officials of the Gadhafi charity which chartered the ship insisted that their destination was Gaza.

Haaretz has reported that for the final day of its trip, “Israeli naval vessels were shadowing and monitoring the Amalthea, which had been immobile for much of the night due to engine trouble. ‘We are not surrounding; we are following’, a military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said … An Al-Jazeera correspondent aboard the ship said two of the Israeli ships were on the port side of the vessel, to prevent it from changing direction and sailing to Gaza”.

Continue reading Libyan-chartered ship is now moored at El-Arish

Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz that Minister Avigdor Lieberman has contacted the Greek and Moldovan Foreign Ministers, and asked them to stop a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship which intended to sail, imminently, from Greece to Gaza.

Reports indicated, Saturday evening, that the ship had just sailed.

The voyage for this ship from Greece to Gaza is estimated to take about 80 hours.

However, Israel’s YNet website has reported that “the Greek government said it had reached an agreement with the crew according to which the ship would not try to reach the Hamas-ruled territory”. The YNet story added that the Israeli Navy will track the vessel throughout its voyage, and that an IDF officer said Saturday night: “Any deviation from the original course, which will lead the ship to Gaza, will be blocked by the Navy … In case those on board fail to follow our instructions to stop and allow the Navy vessels to escort them, we will not hesitate to employ other methods to stop them.” This is reported here.

The ship was chartered to deliver some 2000 tons of food and medical aid on behalf of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Association, headed by Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi.

Food and medicine are items which should not, at least theoretically, be on the Israeli lists of what it bans from entering Gaza. But there is a problem with some “dual-use” items which could, theoretically at least, also be used in making weapons.

Israel has just published a list based, it said, on a list agreed by some 40 nations, supplemented with extra items prohibited in specific Israeli “internal legislation” — including an unspecified number of military orders drawn up by the Israeli military’s Central Command.

According to the report in Haaretz, written by Barak Ravid, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said the ship “would dock at Egyptian port el-Arish rather than the Gaza strip”. This is published here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak “met Saturday with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and discussed the Libyan flotilla that was set to arrive in the Gaza Strip. The two discussed the possibilities of the aid ship being accepted at the Egyptian port of El Arish”. This is posted here.

These are strong and concerted steps by two men who were at each other’s throats a week ago over fallout from the fiasco of the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla at sea on 31 May which left nine men dead on board a large Turkish-chartered passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara. [Lieberman accused Barak of leaking news of a meeting that Lieberman had not been informed about between the Turkish Foreign Minister and Israeli Minister Benyamin [Fouad] Ben Eliezar].

Alternatively, an Associated Press report on Israel’s YNet website indicates, somewhat surprisingly, that according to the Libyan charity’s “head volunteer”, Adburaufel Jaziri, the group is prepared to let Israel check the cargo: “Israel ‘can check our cargo and certificates, of course they are free to do this’,” Jaziri said. ‘If we cannot deliver the aid, we will let (Israel) deliver it … Our job is to help anyone who needs it. We don’t care if they are Catholics or Muslims or whatever. Now we are helping the people of Gaza who are suffering”.

YNet added that “The Israeli military would not comment on the Libyan ship. Israel’s policy has been to offer ships of this type the option of docking at an Israeli port, after which Israel will screen the goods aboard and transfer them into Gaza by land”. [According to this AP report, there will only be 27 people on board [15 volunteers, almost all Libyan, and a 12-member crew from several countries] not hundreds, or thousands…] This YNet report is published here.

This was something that neither the Free Gaza movement, nor the coalition of groups on board the Freedom Flotilla, were prepared to allow.

Continue reading Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Investigation: Free Gaza strategy document

Thanks to a comment made elsewhere on this blog, my attention has been drawn to the publication of a document — that appears to be quite authentic — prepared by the Free Gaza movement as part of the strategic planning for the Freedom Flotilla that met a tragic end as it sailed toward Gaza when it was the target of an Israeli naval assault at sea on 31 May.

The English-language document is published on a Hebrew-language page, here, of the Terrorism Info website, [see Note at bottom of this page] which is said to have close relations with the Israeli military and other branches of the Israeli government and state apparatus.

UPDATE (Sunday 27 June): This whole page is now published in English here. It says the documents presented were “found on the Mavi Marmara” — and that “found on one of the computers seized aboard the Mavi Marmara was the draft of an inside document (“not for distribution”) dated March 7, 2010″. The Mavi Marmara was the large passenger boat charted by the Turkish relief organization IHH, and carrying over 600 people participating in the Freedom Flotilla — where 9 men were shot during the Israeli naval assault on 31 May. This page also states that “It therefore appears that the term ‘non-violent resistance’, which appears in the instructions of human rights organizations which took part in the flotilla, was open to interpretation by the various organizations and the various activists, who were eager to confront the IDF soldiers”

The Terrorism Info website began to classify the Freedom Flotilla as a terrorist threat from early April.

Continue reading Investigation: Free Gaza strategy document

Investigation: Israeli Navy Commander next to Mavi Marmara during sea assault

Haaretz has a story today reporting a new detail concerning the 30 May Israeli assault at sea on the Freedom Flotilla heading toward Gaza, during which at least nine passengers (all Turkish, one also an American dual citizen) were killed.

The article reports that “The officer who commanded the flotilla raid from its onset was Israel Navy chief, Admiral Eliezer Marom, whose command formulated the plans and was the person presenting them, in most cases, to government officials. Maron was situated in a small special-forces naval vassal alongside the Mavi Marmara as the takeover was taking place, in accordance with Israel Navy protocol, which stipulates that the top officer present should have a line of sight, as much as possible, to the event itself. Radio recordings of the operation document Marom giving out specific technical orders to the special-forces team during the flotilla takeover” …

Continue reading Investigation: Israeli Navy Commander next to Mavi Marmara during sea assault

Haaretz report: Abbas is against lifting Israel's naval blockade on Gaza

Well, that’s it.

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports today that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to lifting the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip because this would bolster Hamas, according to what he told United States President Barack Obama during their meeting at the White House Wednesday. Egypt also supports this position”.


And incomprehensible — to those who haven’t closely followed Palestinian and sub-regional politics.

Now, what is the source of this information?  It is at least third- or fourth-hand. A close reading of the Haaretz article indicates it is not an American, nor a Palestinian — rather, the source appears to be a member of the entourage, or staff, of Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair (perhaps even Blair himself, possibly, though he doesn’t seem to bother with background briefings for journalists…).

Ravid’s article says that “The issue of the Gaza flotilla and lifting the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was the main topic of discussion between Obama and Abbas last Wednesday night.  European diplomats updated by the White House on the talks said that Abbas had stressed to Obama the need of opening the border crossings into the Gaza Strip and the easing of the siege, but only in ways that do not bolster Hamas.  One of the points that Abbas raised is that the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the Strip should not be lifted at this stage…

This report may be even more damaging than the repeated claims of Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that President Abbas asked Israel not to stop its unprecedented three-week military operation in Gaza (from December 2008 to 18 January 2009) until Hamas is toppled.

UPDATE: Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, issued a statement through his office denying the Haaretz report — and others — as “false”, and even “fabricated”: “President Abbas has been demanding complete and unconditional lifting of Israel’s illegal siege over Gaza, which he reiterated during his recent meetings with World leaders,” the statement said. It also added that Dr. Erakat said “It is absurd how a baseless so-called report, which lacks any credible source, can be so irresponsibly published”.

Israel declared a formal naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space on 3 January 2009, as we reported at the time here. That was the day Israel also started the ground operation phase of Operation Cast Lead.

The required public notification of this blockade is published as a Notice to Mariners from the Israeli Navy which can be found on the Israeli Ministry of Transportation website, here. [Note: It is not entirely clear, however, that this Notice to Mariners was actually published in January 2009, or whether it could have been rather more recently… In addition, I have not located notification of the Israeli naval blockade on the website of the UK Hydrographic Office (, which is one of the main world-wide reference sites for Notices to Marines, particularly for one of this significance.]

Continue reading Haaretz report: Abbas is against lifting Israel's naval blockade on Gaza