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Thursday, July 07, 2011

UN flotilla report finds Gaza blockade is legal (Ha'aretz)

From Ha'aretz:

The UN committee investigating the events of last May's Gaza flotilla, headed by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Geoffrey Palmer, convened Wednesday in New York to conclude the report.

According to a political source in Jerusalem, the final findings of the Palmer Report show that the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza is legal and is in accordance with international law.
The report also sharply criticizes the Turkish government's behavior in its dealings with the committee. Palmer, an expert on international maritime law, added in the report that Israel’s Turkel commission that investigated the events was professional, independent and unbiased.

His findings on the Turkish committee were less favorable, with Palmer concluding that the Turkish investigation was politically influenced and its work was not professional or independent.

On Thursday, the Palmer Committee will present its findings to UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, yet it remains unclear if it will be made public. Turkey is pressuring the UN to delay that release of the investigation's findings, but the report is likely to be made public in the coming days.

The Palmer Committee also criticizes the IHH organization that organized the Gaza flotilla as well as its ties to the Turkish government, suggesting Turkey did not do enough to stop the flotilla.

Israel does not come out of the report unscathed, with the committee concluding that based on testimony given by passengers, the Israeli naval commandos used excessive force. Israel claimed the soldiers acted out of self defense, thereby justifying the use of force.

According to the final draft of the probe, Israel is not asked to apologize to Turkey, but the report does recommend it expresses regret over the casualties. The Palmer Report also doesn't ask Israel to pay compensation, but proposes Israel transfer money to a specially-created humanitarian fund.

Palmer says that although international law permits the interception of ships outside territorial waters, Israel should have taken control of the flotilla when the ships were closer to the limit of the naval blockade – 20 miles off the coast. Israel responded by saying that its interception of the flotilla so far from the coast was due to military and tactical considerations, following the organizers' refusal to stop.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has been quoted - even by the BBC - as saying that the blockade is illegal. However, that is not true - they said that the closure of Gaza was illegal where Israel limited the types of goods allowed in before last summer. The word "blockade" in a legal sense refers specifically to the naval blockade by Israel of an enemy territory. The Red Cross was very careful not to use the word "blockade."

Amnesty and a host of other NGOs were not as careful, as they - without citing any evidence or legal reasoning - referred to the blockade as "illegal" in a report issued last year.

The UNHRC, in its laughable flotilla report, actually tried to find legal reasonings why the blockade is illegal:

In evaluating the evidence submitted to the Mission, including by OCHA oPt, confirming the severe humanitarian situation in Gaza, the destruction of the economy and the prevention of reconstruction (as detailed above), the Mission is satisfied that the blockade was inflicting disproportionate damage upon the civilian population in the Gaza strip and that as such the interception could not be justified and therefore has to be considered illegal.
Given that Gaza has no ports to import goods, it is absurd to say that the naval blockade is disproportionately punishing Gazans!

Wikipedia summarizes the governing laws of a blockade:

According to the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 12 June 1994,[10] a blockade is a legal method of warfare at sea, but is governed by rules. The blockading nation must publish a list of contraband. The manual describes what can never be contraband. Outside this list, the blockading nation is free to select anything as contraband. The blockading nation typically establish a blockaded area of water, but any ship can be inspected as soon as it is established that it is attempting to break the blockade. This inspection can occur inside the blockaded area or in international waters, but never inside the territorial waters of a neutral nation. A neutral ship must obey a request to stop for inspection from the blockading nation. If the situation so demands, the blockading nation can request that the ship divert to a known place or harbour for inspection. If the ship does not stop, then the ship is subject to capture. If people aboard the ship are resisting capture, they can be attacked. It is still not allowed to sink the ship, unless provision is made for rescueing the crew. Leaving the crew in liferafts / lifeboats does not constitute rescue. If a neutral ship is captured, any member of the crew, resisting capture can be treated as prisoners-of-war, while the remainder of the crew should be released. A neutral nation may choose to send a convoy accompanied by warships. The warship can provide guarantees that the convoy does not contain contraband. in which case, the blockading nation does not have any right of inspection.
Israel has fastidiously adhered to all of these requirements.

It is nice to see that the UN has the ability to tell the truth once in a while. It remains to be seen if this report will ever see the light of day.