Many media, academic and political responses to Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010 were characterized by inaccurate language and factual errors that misrepresented the “Freedom Flotilla” confrontation and supported an unwarranted delegitimization of Israel.
Despite overwhelming video and documentary evidence of the flotilla activists’ radical agenda and their affinity for violence, all too many commentators asserted that the flotilla of Gaza-bound vessels sailed on a purely “humanitarian” mission, and Israel’s interception on the high seas was in violation of international law and the maritime laws of war. Bona fide scholars of international law supported Israel’s actions and debunked the anti-Israel accusations.
The basis for the legality of Israel’s interception of the blockade runners was the fact that Hamas, the ruling force in the Gaza Strip and an organization condemned as an illegal enemy terrorist entity by the US Department of State and the European Union, was in an active state of war with Israel. In wartime, blockades are legal according to international law.
Hamas officials have repeatedly declared publicly that the goal of their terrorism is the obliteration of Israel. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and since its very inception, Hamas has declared war on Israel and has mercilessly attacked Israeli soldiers and civilians. When Israel unilaterally and unconditionally evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas declared a victory for terrorism and a commitment to maintaining the terror war against Israel. Hamas matched its words with suicide bombers, sniper attacks, RPG attacks, kidnappings and thousands of Qassam rockets. Given Hamas’ commitment to Israel’s destruction, and its relentless terrorist attacks, one must conclude that Hamas is at war with Israel.
Some have argued that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority are yet “state actors” and the maritime laws of war apply only to “state actors.” Thus, Israel’s blockade, being against non-state actors, is in violation of maritime laws of war. But this is a deeply flawed argument, comparable to declaring that since terrorists do not wear uniforms, they must be treated as civilians rather than combatants.
In response to Hamas’ endless and relentless terrorist war, Israel’s blockade is a legitimate restrained and defensive military action; and thus Israel’s interdiction of the Mavi Marmara in May, 2010, was rational, legal, and moral. International law acknowledges that all sovereign nations have the right to defend against aggressors, and Israel has a moral duty to protect its citizens.
Now, just a bit more than a year later, we are witness to a rerun of this same anti-Israel endeavor. Originally planned for departure in August, 2010, this retread of the “Freedom Flotilla” promises to be bigger and better and more impactful. As though no one learned anything from the first flotilla fiasco, this next generation of “human rights activists,” including a host of American participants on a boat bearing a resonant American name, has launched a new and improved Gaza flotilla 2. As did their predecessors, today’s blockade runners position themselves as “peace activists” bent on rescuing the oppressed Arabs of the Gaza Strip by breaking Israel’s “illegal” blockade, averting a looming humanitarian crisis with desperately-needed medical and food supplies, and helping to end Israel’s “illegal occupation” – all pure fiction.
Thanks to the persistence, courage, and sagacity of one lone law firm, the legality of Israel’s blockade and of its defensive actions against blockade runners are now so well established that Greece, Turkey, and international insurance companies are having second thoughts about support for, and maritime insurance of, this new Gaza flotilla. Even the first flotilla’s most ardent supporter, the Turkish terrorist organization IHH, has withdrawn support, perhaps under Turkish government pressure due to the events in Syria. It seems that flotilla 2 may also be in violation of U.S. law, thus rendering participants and material supporters vulnerable to legal action. Ms. Darshan-Leitner’s legal arguments have found agreement and support in other quarters. Secretary Clinton and the U.S. Department of State have issued a stern warning to the flotilla participants, indicating that they may face arrest, prosecution and deportation by Israel. Two members of Congress asserted that American flotilla members could face prosecution in the USA.
As a result, at least one third of the original participating ships have withdrawn from the flotilla and will not try to breach Israel’s blockade.
But what about the flotilla’s putative mission to avert a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip? Poverty does exist in the Gaza Strip. There is no perceptible economic development, no industry other than smuggling and the manufacturing of rockets, and there is little opportunity. But the deprivation that Gazans suffer is by no means a humanitarian crisis. Socio-economic data show that Gazans enjoy a higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the world average.
On April 20, 2011, well in advance of flotilla 2’s departure, the International Red Cross agreed. Ample photos show shops filled with food and bazaars over-flowing with fruits, vegetable and meats. Some of these photos are published in Arab news sources as well as in American ones.
Recent reports indicate that two new luxury hotels are set to open on the Gaza beach, thousands of new cars ply the roads, there are two new shopping malls, hundreds of new homes are under construction, and the hot-houses left intact by Israel when it evacuated all Israelis from the Gaza Strip in 2005 are now run by Hamas and produce enough fruits and vegetables that Israeli imports are tapering off. Even Palestinian Authority officials have exposed Hamas’ ruse, acknowledging that 56% of the PA budget goes to Gaza, and branding the “humanitarian crisis” as a fabrication of Hamas propaganda to provide an excuse for smuggling war materials into the strip.[i]
Moreover, established and efficient mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. The border between Egypt and Gaza is now open, so cargo could be off-loaded at the Egyptian port of el-Arish, just west of the Gaza Strip. Assistance can also be delivered at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where cargo can be off-loaded and inspected, and then delivered to Gaza. Far from prohibiting the entry of food, water, medicine and humanitarian supplies, Israel facilitates the daily transfer of thousands of tons of aid that residents of Gaza should receive for free, except that Hamas officials confiscate and sell them for money that they then use to buy weapons for their terrorist activities. Hamas’ aid theft became so blatant that even the UN had to step in on behalf of the deprived and impoverished Gazans.
In sum, Israel’s blockade is legal. Breaching that blockade is a violation of international maritime law and an act of war entailing considerable risk of physical harm and legal prosecution. There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the poverty and privation there is in large part due to the depredations of the Hamas terrorist government against its own people. So if the aim of the flotilla were to help the residents of the Gaza Strip, they could do so by docking at el-Arish or Ashdod, without perpetrating an act of war against Israel by breaching its legal blockade of the Gaza Strip. And if these “human rights activists” were really concerned about privation and suffering, why are they not aiming their flotilla at Syria where thousands have died in the past few months as president-for-life Bashar el-Assad drowns his “Arab Spring” in the blood of unarmed Syrian protesters, or at Sudan or Iran or Iraq or Arabia where human rights violations are galactic in scope and severity?
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