Israel’s Contempt For Law Of The Seas – OpEd


By Stuart Littlewood

In 2008 two humanitarian vessels got through to Gaza. In an article entitled ‘Keeping the Sea-Lane to Gaza Open’, I wrote:

“The success of the ‘Free Gaza’ boats in breaking the siege, and their safe arrival and departure, was due to the intervention and good offices of the British Foreign Office…

“Before the peace activists set sail, the British government was asked about ‘action to ensure the freedom boats’ safe and uninterrupted passage to Gaza considering these are international waters and Palestinian territorial waters’. Any attempt to stop the boats would surely infringe the right to freedom of movement to and from Gaza, and seriously breach the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a party.

“The minister in charge of Middle East affairs Kim Howells… has now revealed that ‘FCO officials spoke to Israeli officials in advance of the trip and Israel allowed the boats peacefully into Gaza.’

“Bravo. Our chaps in London lift the phone to their chaps in Tel Aviv and – hey presto! – it’s all fixed. That’s diplomacy…”

Yet here we are nearly three years later going through the same sorry process while ruthless foreign interests still relentlessly expand their influence by stealth, by subversion and by intimidation to persuade the rest of the world to let them do as they please in the Middle East and beyond.

In the UK and the EU we are losing control fast and will soon become abject Zionist stooges like America. It will soon be impossible to take back our country without organizing serious insurrection.

And on the high seas Israeli warships and helicopters assault and hijack vessels of other nations with impunity in order to maintain their illegal blockade of Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the German Left Party has issued a resolution prohibiting its parliamentary representatives from taking part in the upcoming Gaza Flotilla in an attempt to buy off criticism that the party is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. They will not participate “in Middle East conflict initiatives that call for a one-state solution for Palestine and Israel and boycotts of Israeli products, as well this year’s Gaza Flotilla.”

An expert on left-wing anti-Semitism called Alex Feuerherdt told the newspaper that “it goes without saying” that participation in the Gaza Flotilla action is a “military attack on Israel”.

Such are the lengths to which the Zionist conspiracy will go to control the thoughts and actions of ordinary, decent people.

And this is the background against which the Gaza Freedom Flotilla II sets sail. The conspirators don’t want the boats to reach Gaza because their safe arrival would drive a coach and horses through the Zionists’ control-freakery. So they shriek and squawk and threaten dire consequences like last year when they assaulted the Mavi Marmara with lethal force in international waters, not caring how many they killed.

This has prompted the following statement by flotilla organizers to the UN Human Rights Council a few days ago:

“We are determined to sail to Gaza.  Our cause is just and our means are transparent.  To underline the fact that we do not present an imminent threat to Israel nor do we aim to contribute to a war effort against Israel, thus eliminating any claim by Israel to self-defense, we invite the HRC or any other UN or international agency to come on board and inspect our vessels at their point of departure, on the high seas, or on their arrival in the Gaza port. We will – and must – continue to sail until the illegal siege of Gaza is ended and Palestinians have the same human and national rights those of us sailing enjoy.” — Steering Committee of the International Coalition for Gaza Freedom Flotilla II

One of the organizers in London tells me that when the British boat’s final passenger list is confirmed, the Foreign Office in London will be contacted with the details and asked to “act to ensure the safe passage of their citizens”.

Did the UK have a right to mount a general naval blockade of the Republic of Ireland in response to IRA terror?

Israel is clearly acting illegally by interfering with the flotilla’s peaceful mission, so what are the chances that Britain and other countries will provide necessary protection?

A UN fact-finding mission, dealing with the assault on the Mavi Marmara, has already declared that “no case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal.”

As for Israel’s naval blockade, it is “considered by the Mission to constitute collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus to be illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”. The action by Israel’s military in intercepting the Mavi Marmara on the high seas was “clearly unlawful” and could not be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defense].

And let’s remember that Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) emphasizes “the need to ensure sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossings” and calls for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment”.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights has also concluded that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is illegal under international law. “Due both to the legal nature of Israel’s relationship to Gaza – that of occupier – and the impact of the blockade on the civilian population, amounting to ‘collective punishment’, the blockade cannot be reconciled with the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law. It is recalled that the international community, speaking through both the United Nations and individual States, has repeatedly and emphatically called for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel. Furthermore, the flotilla did not constitute an act which required an ‘urgent’ response, such that Israel had to launch a middle-of-the-night armed boarding… Israel could also have diplomatically engaged Turkey, arranged for a third party to verify there were no weapons onboard and then peacefully guided the vessel to Gaza.”

Craig Murray was deputy head of the teams which negotiated the UK’s maritime boundaries with France, Germany, Denmark (Faeroe Islands) and Ireland. As Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he was responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments. He is therefore an internationally recognized authority on these matters.

Referring to the participation of an American boat in Flotilla II, he says: “Right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident which takes place upon a US flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas…

“Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.”

“There are however fundamental flaws in this line of argument. It falls completely on one fact alone. San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict, and presumably does not wish to be. San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.”

He acknowledges that Israel suffers from sporadic terrorist attacks from Gaza but this does not come close to reaching the bar of armed conflict that would trigger the right to impose a naval blockade. When the UK suffered continued terrorist attack from the Irish Republican Army, sustaining many more deaths than anything Israel has suffered in recent years from Gaza, it would have been ridiculous to argue that the UK had a right to mount a general naval blockade of the Republic of Ireland.

So Israel doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Therefore “all good men and true” should rally to support these brave voyagers and ensure their governments back their play.

But here’s a question put by MEP Kyriacos Triantaphyllides and the answer from the EU Commission:

“One year after the military action by Israel against a convoy carrying humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza, during which at least ten civilians were killed, another humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza is now being organised, the principal cargo being supplies of stationery for school pupils. Is the EU and in particular the Commission aware of the new mission that is being organised and what is its position on this matter? Given the participation of EU Member State nationals and the presence of MEPs, will the EU take any measures to ensure that the personal safety of its nationals is not endangered?”


“After the organisation of a flotilla heading to Gaza in May 2010, the Quartet, of which the EU is a member, stated that all those wishing to deliver goods to Gaza should do so through established channels, so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. It also stated that there was no need for unnecessary confrontations and that all parties should act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza.

“In the same spirit, the Chair’s Conclusions of the 13 April 2011 meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) on donor coordination for Palestine reiterated a call on all international supporters to make use of the existing land crossings to channel their support to Gaza, and abstain from provocations.

“The Commission stands by this line. A flotilla is not the appropriate response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. At the same time, Israel must abide by international law when dealing with a possible flotilla. The EU continues to request the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, including the naval blockade.

“EU Member States have the responsibility to protect their citizens abroad via their consular services. This responsibility covers assistance for their citizens who might participate in a possible flotilla. As in May-June 2010, the EU Delegation in Tel Aviv stands ready to function as a hub for information and to coordinate the efforts of the consular services of EU Member States.”

So there your have it… the contradictions we have come to expect from this unelected body, including advice that Member States have a responsibility to protect their citizens AFTER they’ve been murdered.

The “established channel” for delivering goods to Gaza is of course the time-honoured route by sea, which is protected by maritime and international law and therefore entirely appropriate. There’s nothing “provocative” about it. The organizers have offered their cargoes for inspection and verification by a trusted third party to allay Israel’s fears about weapon supplies. They should not have to dirty their hands dealing with the belligerent regime that’s cruelly turning the screws on civilians with an illegal blockade. Anyone suggesting they must do so seeks to legitimize the blockade, which we all know to be illegal and a crime against humanity.

Members of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee include the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel, so no wonder it bends over backwards to accommodate Israel’s criminal action.

– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to

Palestine Chronicle

The Palestine Chronicle publishes news and commentary related to the Middle East Peace Conflict.

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