By Franklin Lamb – Beirut
Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney returned home today after 6 days being held by the government of Israel while attempting with 21 colleagues to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza on the vessel, the Spirit of Humanity.
"Don’t sign Miss Cynthia don’t sign!" So chanted a boisterous group of Palestinian teens and pre-teens in Beirut’s Shatila Refugee Camp demonstrating support for the Freegaza Humanity boat abductees on the 4th of July.
The students understood that those illegally arrested while in International waters had been offered a “get out of Jail Free” pass if they confessed in writing to violating Israel’s territorial waters.
The Spirit of Humanity boat, trying to bring emergency humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, was the topic of a lively discussion during a Sabra Shatila Foundation summer school civics lesson on “International law and the Question of Palestine”. The students were interested in the plight of some of their relatives and countryman in Palestine and the continuing siege of Gaza. Some had just finished their Baccalaureate exams and were wondering how they could continue their education given the severe impediments the government of Lebanon places on Palestinian civil rights, and their post exam relief seemed to energize them for the discussion.
A couple of the students had met Cynthia during her recent visits to Lebanon. When they learned that as a Congresswoman, she had introduced articles of impeachment against Bush, was a consistent anti-war voter during her twelve years in Congress, and that no member in Congress had achieved a more consistent, principled, voting record of issues of civil and human rights, including Palestinian rights, they really connected with the subject of the Freegaza aid boat, the Spirit of Humanity and her travails. “Those supporters of Palestine should not accept a false confession and should stay in Jail if necessary. They are patriots” was a commonly expressed sentiment.
The students understood that in refusing to sign the Israeli government prepared “acknowledgement/confession” the Freegaza group acted consistent with International Law. They learned that territorial waters, as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a belt of coastal waters extending at most twelve nautical miles from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state. The territorial sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships (both military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it. They learned from media reports that in any case the Humanity was in International waters and that consequently Israel had no right to molest it.
The class adjourned sharing a general consensus that the Spirit of Humanity, enjoyed and will continue to enjoy on every subsequent humanitarian voyage, these freedoms as well as other internationally lawful uses of the sea within contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones, and on the high seas. Needless to report, were it possible for them, the whole class would like to be on the next Freegaza boat.
Dershowtiz Discussed the Spirit of Humanity
On July 2, 2009 Harvard Law School Professor and Israeli legman Alan Dershowitz, explained plenty to the Jerusalem Post. Alan now has his special blog featured by the JP called “Double Standard Watch” (similar is some ways to Campus and Media Watch) that is instantaneously sent out to hundreds of pro-Israel organizations so defenders of Israel and its US Amen chorus can all be singing from the same Hymnal sheet when critical political and legal matters relating to Israel are raised.
Dershowitz has also blasted the “appalling ignorance” of those who say Israel committed Piracy or Kidnapping. In the likely forthcoming litigation resulting from Israel’s attacks on Freegaza.org boats this past year, Israel’s legal team, Israel may well skate from under current piracy and kidnapping claims. Israel is unlikely to be found to have engaged in piracy or common law kidnapping against the Humanity group. Under customary international law, pirates were considered "hostis humani generis" or "the enemy of mankind" and any country could arrest and try them under their jurisdiction. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as illegal acts of violence, detention, or depredation (plundering, robbing or pillaging) committed for private ends by a private ship on the high seas, i.e. outside the jurisdiction of any country.
The law is fairly clear that ‘piracy” applies to non-State actors unless a State can be shown in court to have employed non state actors in a criminal enterprise.
Kidnapping, as Israel learned in the July 2006 war, applies normally to children and not to soldiers who are captured but not kidnapped. Those on the Humanity were abducted, falsely arrested, assaulted and some battered, and all falsely imprisoned but not kidnapped.
Preparing for the 4th of July, Deschowitz spoke of “phony war crimes investigations of Israel”, tells his readers that “the UN Human Rights Council is a scandal”, claiming it has condemned Israel more times than all the other 191 UN member states combined”, complains that many consider that Gaza is still occupied due to the blockage and siege “despite Israel having withdrawn in 2005”, asserts that “the very idea of the UN Council conducting an "independent" or objective investigation Israel is preposterous”.
He endorsed Richard Kemps oft repeated statement that “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when an army has made more efforts to reduce the civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF is doing today in Gaza."
Finally, Alan condemned Richard Goldstone, recently appointed to lead a Human Rights Council high-level investigative mission to Gaza for allowing himself “to be played” because as a Jew well connected to Israel, it will make it hard for Dershowitz and Israel to condemn his findings. Dershowitz calls on Goldstone to resign to clear the way.
Alan’s July 4th eve celebration JP article was just for warm-ups. At an Independence Day eve gathering at Society Ohabei Shalom Synagogue on Beacon St., Brookline, Massachusetts, Dershowitz blasted critics of Israel and presented a heated and spirited defense of Israel’s June 30, 2009 actions against the Freegaza boat, the Spirit of Humanity. The increasingly shrill AIPAC shill, is reported to consider former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney “dangerous and misguided.”
What may have got Dershowitz off to a crumply July 4th was a spate of critical reports this week concerning Israel’s brutal occupation and its continuing strangulation of Gaza. Among others were the following:
• Amnesty International issued a major report claiming that Israel inflicted "wanton destruction" in the Gaza Strip in attacks that often targeted Palestinian civilians during an its 22 day war this past December and January. Among other conclusions, Amnesty said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Gaza guerrillas deliberately used civilians as "human shields," but it did, however, cite evidence that Israeli troops put children and other civilians in harm’s way by forcing them to remain in homes taken over by soldiers. Accusing Israel of "breaching laws of war," Amnesty said: "Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity."
• A UN human rights mission investigating alleged violations committed during the war in the Gaza Strip at the turn of the year resumed its public hearings on 7/7/09. The two-day session in Geneva follows hearings in the Gaza Strip last week that included gruesome testimony of Palestinians caught under Israeli shelling during the 22 day offensive. The session at the UN’s human rights headquarters in Switzerland is meant to allow those who were not able to travel to Gaza to provide public testimony, notably witnesses from Israel who were targeted by rocket attacks.
The mission has a broad scope to investigate alleged violations committed by all sides during the offensive in December and January, which Israel said was aimed at stemming rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. The mission headed by Richard Goldstone, former war crimes prosecutor for both ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has not been allowed into Israel or been given access to the occupied West Bank, according to the United Nations.
The hearings are to allow "victims from all sides in the conflict as well as experts on its consequences to speak directly to the international community of their experiences," said the UN human rights office. Although this kind of public testimony is a novelty for the world body, Goldstone, insisted on it when he accepted to take up the probe. A former South African judge, he wanted to apply some of his experience from post-apartheid South Africa.
• Special UN Rappatour, Richard Falk, condemned from Geneva Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza. that "Such a pattern of continuing blockade under these conditions amounts to such a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions as to constitute a continuing crime against humanity. Falk, said Israel’s two-year blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza restricted vital supplies such as food, medicine and fuel to "bare subsistence levels".
Falk called Israel’s seizure of the Freegaza boat, Humanity, carrying relief aid for the Gaza Strip "unlawful" and said its blockade of the territory constituted a "continuing crime against humanity". The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories said the move was part of Israel’s "cruel blockade of the entire Palestinian population of Gaza" in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting any form of collective punishment against "an occupied people".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a Report this week in which it claimed that Israel was also halting entry to Gaza of building materials and spare parts needed to repair damage from its 22-day invasion late last December.
Alan Defends Israel’s Actions against the Spirit of Humanity
Israel unsuccessfully sought (since no one apparently signed) to avoid international capability for its criminal conduct against the Humanity group by getting their victims to sign a statement agreeing that they violated Israeli territorial waters.
Dershowitz, wasted no time coming to Israel’s defense. He asserted on July 3, 2009 that “The Palestinians agreed and the International agreed to a blockade of Gaza to prevent arms smuggling.”
In fact, that agreement never happened. No Palestinians have agreed nor did the international community agree to a blockade of Gaza by land or Sea. Nor could they have without an International Convention on the subject because other countries have equal (mare librum) rights to use the world’s seas and could not be deprived of those rights without explicit consent.
Dershowitz also argues that the Humanity had been warned while at sea that it would not be allowed to enter Gazan waters "because of security risks in the area and the existing naval blockade." This assertion also finds no support in the principles, standards or rules of International law. Indeed, accepting for sake of argument that the Humanity group was given such a warning, it had no legal effect and created no legal obligation on the Humanity group. If given, the warning or order was invalid on its face because Israel’s Gazan blockage itself is illegal and there were no “security risks in the area” other than the one created by the Israeli navy.
In addition, the Israeli navy force intercepted, boarded and took control of the Greek registered Humanity with full knowledge that Cypriot authorities had searched the boat for weapons at the group’s request before its departure, and that the Humanity was in international waters heading for Gazan coastal waters from which Israeli vessels are legally barred, and forced the Humanity inside Israeli territorial waters and into the Israel port at Akka (Ashdod). These actions make Israel’s claims that it was trying to prevent weapons and suicide bombers from entering Gaza appear disingenuous.
Israel’s new raft of legal problems include numerous common law and statutory crimes against all those on board the Humanity including, but not limited to false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious destruction of property, conversion of personal property, assault and battery, abduction, theft, for beginners.
The Israel/Dershowitz’ claim that the Humanity was sailing in a “closed military zone” is also bogus. Since its 1967 aggression, Israel has used an obscure 1858 Ottoman Lands Law to create “closed military zones” in order to steal thousands of acres of Palestinian land using complex ‘legal’ and catch-22 bureaucratic measures. These ‘special security areas (SSAS) were designed to meet Israel’s expansionist goals and are now being applied by the Israeli government to International waters. The Humanity had every right and indeed responsibility to reject Israel’s transparent efforts at expanding its control of the high seas. The freegaze boat, the Humanity, enjoyed and will continue to enjoy on every subsequent humanitarian voyage, these freedoms and other internationally lawful uses of the sea within contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones, as well as on the high seas.
Reflecting this obligation, the LOSC reserves the high seas for ‘peaceful purposes’. Only Military activities that are consistent with the UN Charter are allowed within the ‘peaceful purposes’ for which the high seas are reserved. Israel’s actions on June 30, 2009, reflecting its three year siege of Gaza, clearly did not meet the international standard of ‘peaceful purposes’ and its crimes against the Humanity boat group are part and parcel, as Professor Falk noted, of its continuing crimes against Humanity itself.
Israeli Violations of the Rights of Journalists on Board the Humanity
Israel’s false arrest and false imprisonment of Journalists on board the Humanity contravened its international legal obligations, imposed by international customary law as well as statutory enactments. The Johannesburg Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of 1995, an amalgam of general principles of international law and customary international law, states that the government of States that would interfere with the work of Journalists bares the "burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction.” The blanket ban instituted by Israel in November 2008, as its prepared its assault of Gaza and its response did not meet this standard nor did the arrests of Journalists on board the Humanity, including Al Jazeera’s Othman Al-Battiri and cameraman Mansour Al-Ibbi, and Press TV’s Cynthia McKinney.
Israel was required to give the journalists on board the Humanity respect for their life, property and personal dignity based on General principles of the international law relating to the protection of human rights including Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols as well as international practice of States and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Journalists on the Humanity were civilians and they share the rights of any member of the civilian population and must be treated as such. Abducting, falsely arresting and falsely imprisoning a journalist is prohibited as are acts or threats of violence, psychological pressure and intimidation in order to pressure them into signing ‘confessions’ or summary ‘convicted’ without a due process court proceeding. Israel’s treatment of journalists on the Humanity grossly violated these international norms.
The International Covenant for the Protection of Journalists (ICPJ), an NGO based in Geneva, condemned the Israeli arrest of Humanity’s journalists and International Lawyers Sans Frontiers has asked the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Arab Federation of Journalists (AFJ), as well as the Palestinian Syndicate of Journalists and the Israeli Association of journalists to start an immediate investigation into the Israeli arrest of the journalists.
Cynthia Mckinney, without support from her own government, stood up for the principals on which her country was founded 233 years ago and spent Independence Day inside a foreign jail. All people of peace and good salute her and her colleagues who sailed the Freegaza Spirit of Humanity with the universal message of self determination.
– Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.