Questions about the Flotilla from Uri Avnery

Here is the list of questions that Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery asks, in his weekly article sent around by email, concerning Israel and the the Freedom Flotilla that was intercepted at sea on 30 May (the MV Rachel Corrie stopped a week later), as the ships were in international water in the Eastern Mediterranean, but headed toward Gaza:

“1. What is the real aim of the Gaza Strip blockade?

2. If the aim is to prevent the flow of arms into the Strip, why are only 100 products allowed in (as compared to the more than 12 thousand products in an average Israeli supermarket)?

3. Why is it forbidden to bring in chocolate, toys, writing material, many kinds of fruits and vegetables (and why cinnamon but not coriander)?

4. What is the connection between the decision to forbid the import of construction materials for the replacement or repair of the thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged during the Cast Lead operation and the argument that they may serve Hamas for building bunkers – when more than enough materials for this purpose are brought into the Strip through the tunnels?

5. Is the real aim of the blockade to turn the lives of the 1.5 million human beings in the Strip into hell, in the hope of inducing them to overthrow the Hamas regime?

6. Since this has not happened, but – on the contrary – Hamas has become stronger during the three years of the blockade, did the government ever entertain second thoughts on this matter?

7. Has the blockade been imposed in the hope of freeing the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit?

8. If so, has the blockade contributed anything to the realization of this aim, or has it been counter-productive?

9. Why does the Israeli government refuse to exchange Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, when Hamas agrees to such a deal?

10. Is it true that the US government has imposed a veto on the exchange of prisoners, on the grounds that it would strengthen Hamas?

11. Has there been any discussion in our government about fulfilling its undertaking in the Oslo agreement – to enable and encourage the development of the Gaza port – in a way that would prevent the passage of arms?

12. Why does the Israeli government declare again and again that the territorial waters of the Gaza strip are part of Israel’s own territorial waters, and that ships entering them “infringe on Israeli sovereignty”, contrary to the fact that the Gaza Strip was never annexed to Israel and that Israel officially announced in 2006 that it had “separated” itself from it?

13. Why has the Attorney General’s office declared that the peace activists captured on the high seas, who had no intention whatsoever of entering Israel, had “tried to enter Israel illegally”, and brought them before a judge for the extension of their arrest under the law that concerns “illegal entry into Israel”?

14. Who is responsible for these contradictory legal claims, when the Israeli government argues one minute that Israel has “separated itself from the Gaza Strip” and that the “occupaton there has come to an end” – and the next minute claims sovereignty over the coastal waters of the Strip?

Continue reading Questions about the Flotilla from Uri Avnery

Investigation: the MV Rachel Corrie

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. 

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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”. 

Continue reading Investigation: the MV Rachel Corrie

Investigation: IDF-doctored audio

Just for reference:
On 31 May, the IDF posted this 1’05”-long video mainly to show the audio exchange between the Israeli Navy radio control and the Freedom Flotilla just prior to the start of the disastrous IDF assault at sea (as of mid-afternoon on 9 June, this IDF  Youtube video/audio had 396,331 views):

[Dialog reported in this “edited” video included remarks from two unidentified male voices making remarks that can only be described as hate language, and incitement. See our earlier post here. The female voice has been identified as Free Gaza member Huwaida Arraf, but she has since reportedly claimed that she did not make these remarks on board the Freedom Flotilla on 30 May — but perhaps on some one of the earlier eight Free Gaza expedition by sea, only some of which managed to reach Gaza.  (*See footnote below)…]

A day later, the IDF responded to criticism about this “edited” version — which it eventually removed from its website several days later — by issuing a Clarification/Correction Regarding Audio Transmission Between Flotilla and Israeli Navy on June 5, 2010 at 18:09 in the evening. This IDF Clarification/Correction is posted here.

This IDF Clarification/Correction contains what it admitted was the “edited” (27-second) version of the audio exchange, plus a new offering which it said was an “unedited” version of the exchange, which is 5’58” long:The now-admittedly IDF-“edited” 27-second version is on Youtube here, and as of the afternoon of 9 June it has been viewed 285,305 times:

The IDF’s longer “unedited” 5’58”-second version is on Youtube here, and as of the afternoon of 9 June it has been viewed only 37,305 times:

On the “unedited” 5’58” audio tape, which is an Israeli Navy warship hailing the Defne or Dafne Y (on open VHF channel 16, on which any other ship in the vicinity can also speak), there are among others several interesting moments (among others):
a.) Unidentified male voice with funny accent saying “Shut up, go back to Auschwicz!” is at approximately 2’08”
b.) Free Gaza’s Huwaida Arraf (who was on board the Challenger) speaks from 3’27” to 4’09” (*footnote: in this tape, she does indeed say, “Israeli Navy, this is the Freedom Flotilla … We do not carry anything that constitutes a threat to your armed forces. Therefore you are not justified in using any force against us. The blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law. We have permission from the Gaza Port Authorities to enter...
c.) Unidentified male voice saying [“You’re” or “We’re“, it is not clear] “helping Arabs go against the U.S. — don’t forget 9/11, guys!” is at 4’03”.

Also of interest —
d.) It appears that a U.S. Navy warship may also have been speaking (with a funny accent), or perhaps somebody was mentioning a U.S. Navy warship nearby, on this radio channel, on this audio tape, at 0’28″…
e.) A polite, calm, apparently Israeli naval officer speaking English with a Russian accent asks one ship if it is prepared for boarding, and asks that the captain have one “off-signer” [?] on board lined up alongside the gangway with their luggage and passports ready — and saying at the end of his comments: “Thanks a lot for your nice cooperation“, at approximately 4’34 to 4’59”.

Gaza's Maritime Space – the Olso Map

A beautiful clean clear version of the Oslo Accords map of Gaza’s maritime space — where Israel has declared a formal naval blockade that went into effect on 3 January 2009, as the IDF began its ground offensive during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, from the U.S. State Department archives, here:

Many thanks, again, to Aletheia Kallos for kindly posting this.

The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio

Yesterday, the IDF posted a 29-second Youtube version of an audio exchange– not long before an assault at sea, and part of the set piece of theatrics that had to take place for this drama to play out according to script — between Israeli Navy radio officers and what the IDF initially said was the Mavi Marmara, the large Turkish passenger ship (chartered by IHH, a Turkish humanitarian relief NGO with a distinct Islamist character that has opened it to accusations of having “terrorist” ties) that had least 600 trusting souls on board.

The IDF Youtube appeared to be clearly doctored — a crude, adolescent attempt at triumphalist propaganda.

The Mavi Marmara was by far the largest of the six boats in the Freedom Flotilla travelling in convoy towards Gaza to “break the siege” and deliver humanitarian aid there. It was way too large to be disabled at sea, apparently. (And then what would you do with the 600 people on board?)

Because some of those on the top deck were unaware of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs legal argument that the badly-announced and poorly-clarified Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space could be enforced virtually anywhere, certainly on the high seas, they were somehow shocked and surprised when a large Israeli naval force — including three Saar missile boats — suddenly appeared on the horizon just before midnight.

They were still several hours away from Gaza, and the night was still young.

Continue reading The IDF posts "unedited" version of "doctored" audio

Saturday morning: IDF intercepts MV Rachel Corrie

LATEST UPDATE: IDF spokesperson tweeted just after 12:30 pm that “The crew of the Rachel Corrie has permitted IDF soldiers to board” … “IDF soldiers boarded the Rachel Corrie with permission by sea, no helicopters used” … “The Rachel Corrie will be brought to the Ashdod Port where goods will be inspected + transferred to Gaza via land xings” … “IDF boarded the Rachel Corrie with permission of the crew, did so by sea, no helicopters no reports of violence” …

The IDF has just tweeted: “difference btw today and monday: monday IDF was facing radicals with ties 2 terrorism who had prepared attack”

The Free Gaza organization tweeted earlier, asking rhetorically, “Were guns involved in this alleged granting of permission to board?”

The answer must, of course, be: Yes. Of course. Ca va sans le dire..

Continue reading Saturday morning: IDF intercepts MV Rachel Corrie

Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie

We are waiting for news on Friday afternoon about the fate of the MV Rachel Corrie, a ship wholly owned by the Free Gaza movement which has made 8 expeditions by sea to Gaza (with mixed results, but some initial success).

There have been all kinds of contradictory reports today

UPDATE’: The Irish Times is reporting tonight, here, that Irish “Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has again called for the MV Rachel Corrie to be allowed to proceed to Gaza after it emerged that an agreement allowing it to dock at the port of Ashdod in Israel, was turned down by those onboard the boat … In a statement issued this evening Mr. Martin said an understanding had been reached with the Israeli government earlier today whereby the Irish-owned aid ship would have been allowed to approach the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to Ashdod. Once there the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of the Department for Foreign Affairs and then transported to Gaza. Under the deal, two representatives from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez. However, the proposal was turned down by those on board the ship who are still en route to Gaza despite the Israeli government stating that it is not willing to allow any breach of its naval blockade. ‘As the Rachel Corrie continues to approach Gaza, the Government’s primary concern is the safety of Irish citizens and others on board. We are also conscious of the urgent need to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Gaza, the desirability of reducing international tensions following the violent storming of humanitarian supply vessels by Israeli commandos earlier this week, and the obligation of States to respect the right to peaceful protest’, said Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin urged the Israeli authorities to demonstrate restraint if it intercepts the MV Rachel Corrie, saying that those onboard the ship have made clear their peaceful intentions and stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. ‘Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the Rachel Corrie’, he said. Mr. Martin also urged the Israeli Government to ensure the transfer to Gaza of the entire cargo of the ship, including cement which is urgently needed for the reconstruction of Gaza. ‘The Government continues to call on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Pending that, Israel should immediately facilitate the import into Gaza of all goods, other than weapons’, he added.

Continue reading Waiting for news about MV Rachel Corrie

Israel's Naval Blockade of Gaza – cont'd

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

Aletheia Kallos has, once again, very kindly agreed to plot out the coordinates of the Israeli Naval Blockade, as published in a Notice to Mariners posted on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Transport — as compared to the Oslo Accords map of Gaza’s maritime space — and then added estimated point (x) where the Freedom Flotilla was interdicted by the Israeli Navy, assaulted, boarded and then finally deviated to Israel’s Ashdod Port.

    x marks the estimated interception point, according to the last coordinates communicated by the Freedom Flotilla, where the Israeli Navy attacked took place;
    n, s, e, w are the four corners of the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, declared during Operation Cast Lead on 3 January 2009 and still in effect;
    m4, k4 are the Mediterranean limits of Gaza’s agreed maritime space as defined in the Oslo Accords – slightly different from the coordinates given for the Israeli naval blockade, perhaps due to geographic or datum shifts in the past 16 or 17 years (the land limits are apparently the same as those of the Oslo agreement).

The Israeli declared and publicly-announced naval blockade of Gaza appears to be almost — but not quite — exactly co-terminal with the Gaza maritime space as allocated and agreed in the Oslo Accords (delineated by a 1994 map signed by very major historical figures.

Continue reading Israel's Naval Blockade of Gaza – cont'd

Wildly entertaining debate from a U.S. blog

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed below are not necessarily the same as mine.

This is an extended excerpt from wildly entertaining comments on a post on a blog:

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  • If the Gaza embargo is legal (I’m not an international law expert – it would be if Gaza were an independent state, but Gaza’s status is kind of sui generis so I’m not sure) then intercepting the flotilla on the high seas was legal
  • That doesn’t follow. Speed limits on American highways may be legal, but that doesn’t mean that American cops can go to Canada and enforce them. Borders exist; the represent the limit of a nation’s sovereignty. You’re saying that Israeli sovereignty exists throughout the world and we are all subject to it, regardless of where we live.

    Well, I don’t get to vote in Israel, so I reject their sovereignty over me.

    — Chet · Jun 2, 01:51 PM · #

    Chet, I think the contention is that when a ship is notified of a blockade, and then it plainly attempts (or indicates an imminent attempt) to break the blockade, it is at that point legal for the country in question to to intercept the ship, even in international waters. like Noah I don’t know so much about international law, so I don’t know whether what I’ve just described is actually true, but that’s the argument being made.

    — max · Jun 2, 03:23 PM · #

    Chet, my guess is you don’t even think the blockade is legal in Israeli or Palestinian waters, but once you grant Noah’s point that it is, then international law grants Israel the right to enforce the blockade in international waters. Hamas is at war with Israel, and by setting up a flotilla to run the blockade, the flotilliers were joining that war.

    Now the specific response (placing Israeli soldiers one by one in a potentially hostile crowd, aimed with paint guns) was brain-dead. I would think it would be fairly simple to jam the ship’s propellers and just tow it where you want it, but I guess I’ve never looked into it, so I may be wrong.

    — J Mann · Jun 2, 03:59 PM · #

    I think I recall correctly that Hamas has announced a ceasefire.

    This would suggest, then, that the blockade should be lifted, as the legitimate government of the territory has agreed to stop doing what ostensibly provoked its imposition, yes?

    Or is the blockade really just a punitive measure designed to keep the Palestinian people in a state of perpetual poverty and despair, as its critics would contend?

    — Travis Mason-Bushman · Jun 2, 05:45 PM · #

    “Sending armed heli-borne commandos to storm a unarmed ship carrying peaceful cargo in international waters is an inherently violent act of provocation by Israeli forces.”

    No. Neutral ships approaching a blockaded port are REQUIRED to submit to search by the naval forces of the blockading party. That search may be conducted in international waters. Obviously the ships must be unarmed and carrying peaceful cargo: if they were warships carrying weapons they wouldn’t be stopped and searched, they would be blown out of the water without warning. This is Maritime Law 101.

    There is no “right of self-defense” by merchant ships against blockaders. They MUST submit to search. Of course, they may choose to become belligerents. The first step in that process would be to relinquish their Turkish flag, and assume some other, since Turkey has not become a belligerent.

    — y81 · Jun 2, 05:50 PM · #

  • Chet, I think the contention is that when a ship is notified of a blockade, and then it plainly attempts (or indicates an imminent attempt) to break the blockade,

  • C’mon. Nothing is “imminent” when you’re 72 miles away. What you’re saying is that Israel could have fired on the ships as they were steaming out of their Turkish port – for that matter, as they sat at anchor being loaded up with wheelchairs and portland cement. Does that make sense to you? That Israel somehow has the authority to kill people no matter where they may be, all to interdict a shipment of musical instruments and used clothing to the people of Gaza?

    — Chet · Jun 2, 07:46 PM · #

    Continue reading Wildly entertaining debate from a U.S. blog

    IDF on Israeli naval blockade

    Israel has a new respect for international law.

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it has to be said, led the way, with its legal background paper on Israel’s blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

    Today, the military has weighed in.

    The Israeli Defense Force’s Military Advocate-General’s office has now published its own material on its website.

    Among other things, the IDF paper says this regarding “The Treatment of Personnel on Board a Vessel captured in breach of a blockade”:

    Generally speaking, according to International Law, people on board a vessel captured in breach of a Naval Blockade should be repatriated as soon as possible.   On this matter, Article 7.10.2 of the U.S  Navy’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations’ notes that:  ‘The officers and the crews of captured neutral merchants vessels and civil aircrafts [sic] who are nationals of a neutral nation do not become prisoners of war and must be repatriated as soon as circumstances reasonably permit’.  In practice, since the vessel itself is caught on the high seas, people on board should be brought to a safe place (i.e. a harbor of the capturing State) and repatriated as soon as possible.  In this context, due regard needs to be given to theirs safety and basic needs (including food and water, medical treatment if needed and reasonably sanitary conditions).  The State of Israel has fully implemented the above obligations regarding the people on board the ships which have been captured. Foreign nationals are being treated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to provide for their repatriation, and the wounded were evacuated to hospitals in Israel, some of then by helicopter. Nevertheless, activists suspected of attacking IDF soldiers will be investigated and the necessary legal measures will be taken against them”.

    The entire new IDF paper on its naval blocade of Gaza is posted here .