Yesterday, a criminal barrister in London @CrimeCounsel asked me on Twitter my opinion of the Israeli action against the pro Palestinian flotilla.
I responded immediately that it was in violation of international law and morally indefensible.
For those cruise fans who are not current on international news, two days ago Israeli commandos boarded a cruise ship in international waters. The ship is the M/V Mavi Marmara passenger ship, formerly owned and operated by a Turkish ferry company and now owned by a Turkish Islamist charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. The Mavi Marmara, with around 700 Palestinian supporters, was sailing with food, toys and relief supplies for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel boarded the ship to enforce an embargo of Gaza.
Passengers on the cruise ship, called "activists" in many press accounts, attacked the commandos after they rappelled from a helicopter. Watch the video below. When the violence ended, Israeli forces had killed 9 passengers and injured 60 others. The passengers injured 10 Israeli soldiers, 2 critically.
My opinion remains that this was a clear violation of international maritime law. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea entitles vessels "free passage" on the high seas. It was also a morally indefensible attack on citizens in international waters. I received a lot of flak for my opinions. There are few people in the U.S. based cruise industry or courthouses in Miami who have much sympathy for the Palestinian cause, particularly after 9-11. The U.S. is preoccupied with fighting the war on terror and, in the process, every Arab relief agency is labeled as a tool for Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah.
But putting politics aside, this is a straight forward issue. International law prohibits the boarding of vessels in international waters. Attacking a relief ship in this manner is as illegal as engaging in piracy off of the coast of Somalia.
Some argue that Israel has the right to enforce the embargo and make certain that humanitarian shipments into Gaza do not include weapons. This may sound good, but it presupposes that the embargo is legal. The siege of Gaza is wrong and severely punishes Palestinians by depriving them of food, medical supplies and basic services. The U.N. told Israel to end the embargo in the first place.
International law also requires that only "proportional" force may be used in the face of violent resistance. Yes, the commandos were met with violence when they illegally boarded the vessel on the high seas. You can see this clearly in the video. But shooting protesters in the head with automatic weapons is not "proportional" or morally defensible, particularly when the commandos had no right to board the ship in the first place.
June 2nd Update:
There remains considerable debate regarding the legality of Israel's conduct, much of it turning on the issue whether the embargo itself is legal. 99% of the countries in the U.N. believe that its illegal (count me in on that issue) The U.S. and Israel disagree. Here are some articles to consider:
Huffington Post: Israel's Actions on the High Seas: Part Justified and Part Chutzpah
Media Monitors: From Klinghoffer to the Gaza Flotilla
Guardian: Gaza flotilla activists were shot in head at close range
Christian Science Monitor: Was Israel's raid on Gaza Freedom Flotilla legal?
Huffington Post: Justice for All? A Tale of Two Victims: Leon Klinghoffer and Furkan Dogan
Christian Science Monitor: Britain calls Israel's Gaza flotilla raid unacceptable
The Atlantic: If You Attack Aid Flotillas, the Terrorists Will Have Won
Dallas Morning New: Israel's maritime attack raises big issues
The Guardian: Was the Gaza flotilla raid legal?
U.K.'s Telegraph In cold blood: Why Israel's state thuggery must be stopped
Agree? disagree? Have a point to make? Leave a comment below.
For additional coverage: "Israel Attacks Gaza Flotilla - Live Coverage"
Photograph top AP Photo / Israel Defense Force
Photograph bottom Reuters
Video top Hula
Video bottom Al Jazeera