By Stephen Lendman
On May 31, under cover of darkness, Israeli commandos conducted a premeditated act of state terrorism against civilian aid activists trying to deliver thousands of tons of essential to life aid to besieged Gazans. Israeli radio reported that 19 were slaughtered, dozens more injured, and according to Earth Times.org:
"About 480 foreign activists who were stopped by Israel on the high seas while sailing to Gaza were transferred overnight to a prison in the southern city of Beersheba, Israeli Radio reported (June 1)." About 48 others were deported. Other reports had over 600 arrested and an Israeli-imposed news blackout.
Those held now face grueling interrogations, followed either by deportation or detainment ahead of prosecution, Israel’s customary practice – blaming victims, absolving state terrorism, repeatedly committed, claiming it’s to safeguard national security.
Or by Israeli logic, its attack was self-defense. Linked to "global Jihad, Al Qaeda and Hamas," humanitarian activists were an "armada of hate and violence (engaging in a) premeditated and outrageous provocation," according to Israel’s deputy defense minister, Danny Ayalon.
Not according to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Canceling scheduled military exercises with Israel and recalling his ambassador, Oguz Celikkol, he said:
"It is no longer possible to cover up or ignore Israel’s lawlessness….This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism. Nobody should think we will keep quiet in the face of this."
Nor should anyone let Israel get away with a crime this grave, its latest example of lawlessness, this time in international waters in violation of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas and 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Relevant International Law
Under UNCLOS’ Article 101, maritime piracy includes "any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation….against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State (and) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating (such) an act."
Usually it refers to robbery or criminal violence committed by private parties. Broadly interpreted, it can apply to states committing lawless acts. UNCLOS lets them interdict at sea to prevent illegal arms and drug smuggling, the slave trade or terrorist activities – not applicable to Flotilla activists despite Israel’s accusations.
Its mission was humanitarian. Inspected before departure, its cargo included food, medicines, educational, construction, and other materials, not weapons, munitions or anything threatening Israel. Under UNCLOS, its commandos had no right to interdict or attack activists on board, especially in international waters.
Under customary maritime law, ships have "innocent passage" rights through all international and coastal area waters, subject to certain restrictions.
UNCLOS defines "innocent passage" as expeditious, continuous passage through waters in ways not "prejudicial to the peace, good order or the security" of a coastal state.
America’s Defense Department defines it as:
"The right of all ships to engage in continuous and expeditious surface passage through the territorial sea and archipelagic water of foreign coastal states in a manner not prejudicial to its peace, good order, or security. Passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only if incidental to ordinary navigation or necessary for force majeure (a natural or unavoidable catastrophe) or distress, or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships, or aircraft in danger of distress."
Israel’s brazen slaughter constituted a crime of war and against humanity, punishable under international law. Claiming it an act self-defense is bogus, reprehensible and laughable on its face.
The Legitimate Right of Self-Defense
As reported on Ma’anNews.net, Mahmoud Abu Rahma, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, explained that:
"In international waters, the crew of a ship has the right to prevent others from boarding their ship without their permission, including by resorting to violence," if, in fact, it was used by whatever means activists managed to employ.
Further, states may only act within its 12 nautical mile limit, not in international waters for any reasons other than what UNCLOS permits, with verifiable evidence to prove it.
Abu Rahma also raised other considerations, including "whether Gaza is occupied or not. If not, then Israel has absolutely no right to act inside or outside its nautical jurisdiction," but in either case, the right of self-defense applies.
As for Israel claiming it, the UN Charter’s Article 51 is clear. It’s allowed against an attack or an impending one "until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security." In other words, justifiable self-defense is permissible. Charter Articles 2(3), 2(4), and 33 absolutely prohibit any unilateral threat or use of force not specifically allowed under Article 51 or authorized by the Security Council.
Three General Assembly resolutions concur, absolutely prohibiting "non-consensual military intervention," precisely what Israel used.
Abu Rahma also said that "Military or police forces may not use force except to the extent necessary to deal with a certain situation, (but) given the very high number of casualties and injuries," clearly extreme lethal measures was used.
A final issue pertains to the rights and sovereignty of states "under whose flags the ships were sailing when they were attacked," particularly since the incident was in international waters.
Global Condemnation Following Israel’s Premeditated, Unconscionable Slaughter
Haaretz writer Gideon Levy called the attack a "Mini Cast Lead. Like its larger, losing predecessor, this operation had it all: the usual false claim that is was they who had started it…." They committed "the first act of violence," not heavily armed commandos facing unarmed civilians. We acted in "self defense….they lynched us," but all the dead are theirs. "Yesterday there was no one on the planet, not a newsman or analyst, except for its conscripted chorus, who could say a good word about the lethal takeover."
As usual in America, the "chorus" had its regular participants, the major media’s paid liars.
Haaretz writers offer both sides, Bradley Burston, for example, headlining, "A Special Place in Hell/The Second Gaza War: Israel lost at sea," saying:
"We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the (indefensible) siege, which is itself becoming Israel’s Vietnam," another protracted illegal war.
Displaying a brave face, US media reports covered the attack, the subsequent international outrage, and disturbing unanswered questions while largely supporting Israel. On May 31, New York Times writer Isabel Kershner headlined, "Deadly Israeli Raid Draws Condemnation," citing global protests, then stating:
"Israel said the violence was instigated by pro-Palestinian activists who presented themselves as humanitarians but had come ready for a fight," mindless of an accusation so bogus it begs the question why a legitimate journalist would even suggest it. Nor quote vice admiral Eliezer Marom saying his forces "had to open fire in order to defend themselves. Their lives were at risk." Or deputy defense minister Danny Ayalon claiming the siege is "aimed at preventing the infiltration of terror and terrorists into Gaza," when clearly it’s an illegal act of collective punishment against 1.5 million civilians, guilty only of being Palestinians – a high crime for Israeli authorities and in much of the US media.
In her article titled, "Israel Murders Human Rights Workers Delivering Humanitarian Aid," Law Professor and former National Lawyers Guild President, Marjorie Cohn, denounced the attack as "a clear breach of international law," called for an investigation, and said "Israel must end its illegal blockade of Gaza which constitutes unlawful aggression under General Assembly Resolution 3314 (1974)," including blockades in its definition.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) "strongly condemn(ed)" Israel’s crime by using "excessive and lethal force" against nonviolent, unarmed activists delivering humanitarian aid. Calling the attack "characteristic of a long series of war crimes and grave violations….against civilians," PCHR said international community silence and failure to comply with international law provides "an open invitation for (Israeli forces to) continue to commit crimes against civilians" and inflict collective punishment against 1.5 million besieged Gazans.
The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) "strongly condemn(ed) Israel’s barbarous early-morning raid, carried out in international waters, on a maritime humanitarian convoy," calling it an "act of piracy" and murder.
Professor Francis Boyle is a distinguished international law expert. In his December 31, 2008 article, titled "An Israeli War Crimes Tribunal (ICTI) May be the Only Deterrent to a Global War," he said:
"The United Nations General Assembly must immediately establish an (ICTI) under UN Charter Article 22 (to) investigate and prosecute Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine (to) provide (them) some small degree of justice…."
Earlier, Boyle called for "immediately" suspending Israel "throughout the entirely of the United Nations System, including the General Assembly and all UN subsidiary organs and bodies." It’s justified legally as follows:
"As a condition for its admission to the United Nations Organization, Israel formally agreed to accept General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) (1947) (partition/Jerusalem trusteeship) and General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) (1948) (Palestinian right of return), inter alia."
Thereafter, Israel repudiated its obligation under dozens of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, condemning and censuring its actions, demanding they end, but stopping short of taking action.
Key is America’s abstention as an "honest broker." It "invariably side(s) with Israel against the Palestinians," so what’s needed is "some type of international framework to sponsor (honest) negotiation(s) where (those representing) Palestinians will not be subjected to the continual bullying, threats, harassment, intimidation and outright lies perpetrated by the United States government" under Obama like his predecessors.
On June 1, Boyle reported that Israel’s Flotilla attack "violated the SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts) Convention, to which Israel, Turkey and the USA are all parties." SUA followed "in reaction to the (1985) Achille Lauro Hijacking and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer." It’s "one of the Conventions adopted by the UN and its affiliated organizations to deal with the phenomenon of international terrorism," precisely what Israel committed this week and does all the time.
The US-Israeli Relationship
On June 1, Haaretz writer Natasha Mozgovaya asked "Will the Gaza flotilla attack affect US-Israel ties," noting hundreds of angry Americans in front of the White House "demanding (Washington) cut ties with Israel." Earlier, Israel’s embassy was "besieged" by protesters, demanding its ambassador’s expulsion, cutting US aid, and stopping Israeli piracy funding.
Suggesting a "deep rift" between them, however, overlooks realpolitik. Public displeasure masks rock-solid relations, the power of the Israeli Lobby cementing them, besides each side needing the other as allies, a longstanding relationship for decades.
UN Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting
On June 1, the Security Council called for an impartial investigation into the attack, stopping short of demanding an end to the siege, as well as accountability and criminal prosecutions for those responsible for cold-blooded murder.
Expressing deep regret for "the loss of life and injuries," the Council "condemn(ed)" the action, "request(ed) the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel….and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination."
France, Russia and China called for the siege to be lifted. America hinted about an easing, but stopped short of requesting it, US deputy permanent representative, Alejandro Wolff, saying only that Washington was "deeply disturbed by recent violence and regrets tragic loss of life and injuries," no matter its partnership and support in all Israeli initiatives.
On June 1, the Free Gaza Movement reported that Israel-licensed attorneys filed two habeas briefs. One asked for the release of all passengers and ships, and their aid to be delivered to Gaza. The other requested information on all passengers and lifting of Israel’s news blackout.
Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi on board the Flotilla said:
"It was clear from the size of (Israel’s assault) force (that) the purpose was not only to (abort the mission) but to cause the largest possible number of fatalities (and other casualties) in order to stop such initiatives in the future."
Some Final Comments
Two remaining Flotilla ships are still heading to Gaza, including the MV Rachel Corrie with two internationally renown figures on board among others:
— Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace laureate and co-founder of Northern Ireland’s Peace People; and
— Denis Halliday, former Iraq Humanitarian Program head, who resigned in protest saying he was asked to commit the equivalent of genocide, killing 5,000 children a month.
Israel announced both ships will be interdicted and taken to the port city of Ashdod.
On June 1, in the wake of world condemnation for its attack, the Palestinian News Network (PNN) reported that:
"Three Palestinian fighters were killed by Israeli shelling targeting the northern part of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday afternoon," two others as well in a ground incursion. On the same day, Israeli tanks shelled residents’ homes in Khan Younis, then invaded Al Qarrara village, bulldozing lands near the borders according to residents.
These type attacks happen repeatedly, but go largely unreported in the US media. For them, only Israeli deaths and injuries matter, and once outrage over the Flotilla attacks subsides, the fate of the activists, ships and supplies will be ignored.
So too will Lebanon and Syria’s accusations of Israel’s warmongering, following weeks of threatening its northern neighbors and conducting provocative military exercises requiring its citizens to flee to bunkers and safe rooms in response to a simulated missile attack.
Earlier this year, Israel deployed troops to its northern border, suggesting a planned military operation would follow, and in May, the Obama administration requested an additional $205 million in military aid to support its "Iron Dome" rocket shield system.
Reports now say Israel will deploy three nuclear-armed submarines in the Persian Gulf near Iran (one already there), and won’t participate in a 2012 conference on establishing a nuclear-free Middle East, an idea first endorsed in the mid-1990s but never pursued.
All Israeli belligerent acts are joint IDF-Pentagon initiatives, including the Flotilla attack, unlikely to have been undertaken without approval, joint planning, funding, weapons and munitions from Washington, Israel’s paymaster/partner in crime.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.