International Community Faces Acid Test on Gaza

acid test

I never thought I’d live to see a British prime minister warmly embracing a war criminal and genocidal thug like Netanyahu, go swanning around a hotel (the King David) which was used as the Jerusalem headquarters of the British Mandate aúthority and blown up by Jewish terrorists in 1946, killing 91 and wounding 45, then tell Netanyahu: “We want you to win.”

Win what, exactly? And who’s “we”? Certainly not the man-in-the-street in Britain. No, it’ll be that band of brainwashed Ziofreaks in Westminster who have shamed us for over a century.

And they (the Ziofreaks, not “we”) want Israel to win its dirty 75-year campaign of terror, illegal military occupation, dispossession, annexation, ethnic cleansing and extreme cruelty against the harshly oppressed Palestinians who are trying to defend their homeland.

I was even more infuriated to see queues of lorries carrying desperately needed aid held up for days at Gaza’s Rafah crossing into Egypt by the Israelis’ refusal to let them enter the mangled hell-hole they’ve created in the packed enclave. I hear they even bombed the crossing to make sure nothing could move.

Bypass Israel if necessary and deliver aid by sea

If the UN and the high and mighty powers wanted to, they could bypass Israeli and Egyptian cruelty and bring aid to Gaza by sea. They should have done so as soon as Israel slapped its illegal blockade on Gaza in 2006 following Hamas’s inconvenient election win. As it is, unarmed privateers have been left to try to break the siege.

In February 2003 British surgeon David Halpin chartered a small Danish cargo vessel, MV Barbara, filled her with important humanitarian items and sailed from Torquay to Ashdod, a port on the Israeli coast close to Gaza where the cargo was transferred by road into Gaza without too much trouble.

In 2008 two humanitarian vessels actually got through to Gaza. Their success in breaking the siege, and their safe arrival and departure, was due to the intervention of the British Foreign Office. Before the peace activists set sail, they asked the British government “to ensure the freedom boats’ safe and uninterrupted passage to Gaza considering these are international waters and Palestinian territorial waters”. Any attempt to stop the boats would surely infringe the right to freedom of movement to and from Gaza, and seriously breach the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Israel is a party.

The minister in charge of Middle East affairs Kim Howells later admitted that “FCO officials spoke to Israeli officials in advance of the trip and Israel allowed the boats peacefully into Gaza.”

Nearly three years later, as Gaza Freedom Flotilla II prepared to sail, Israel was determined not to let the boats reach their destination because safe arrival would drive a coach and horses through Israel’s control-freakery. This prompted the following statement by flotilla organizers to the UN Human Rights Council:

“We are determined to sail to Gaza. Our cause is just and our means are transparent. To underline the fact that we do not present an imminent threat to Israel nor do we aim to contribute to a war effort against Israel, thus eliminating any claim by Israel to self-defense, we invite the HRC or any other UN or international agency to come on board and inspect our vessels at their point of departure, on the high seas, or on their arrival in the Gaza port. We will – and must – continue to sail until the illegal siege of Gaza is ended and Palestinians have the same human and national rights those of us sailing enjoy.” – Steering Committee of the International Coalition for Gaza Freedom Flotilla II.

In the end Flotilla II didn’t sail. In all, five shipments were reportedly allowed access prior to the 2008–09 Gaza War, but after that everything was blocked by Israel.

In May 2010 the Mavi Marmara took part in a flotilla of ships operated by activist groups from 37 countries with the intention of directly confronting the Israeli blockade. While en route and in international waters Israeli Naval Forces communicated to them that a naval blockade around the Gaza area was in force and ordered the ships to follow them to Ashdod port or be boarded. The ships declined and were boarded in international waters.

Reports from journalists on the Mavi Marmara and from the UN claimed that Israeli gunboats opened fire with live rounds before boarding the ship. Passengers tried to repell the boarding parties of  Israeli commandos, and in the violent clash that followed nine were killed and a tenth died four years later of his wounds. Several dozen more were injured, some seriously. Israel claimed 10 of its troops were injured, one seriously.

The UN’s official report found Israel’s blockade of Gaza to be legal, but other UN experts, reporting to the Human Rights Council, disagreed and found it was a violation of international law.

A UN fact-finding mission, investigating the assault on the Mavi Marmara, declared that “no case can be made for the legality of the interception” and they therefore found that the interception was illegal and constituted collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus to be illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It could not even be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defence].

The Centre for Constitutional Rights also concluded that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was illegal under international law and amounted to collective punishment. “The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel. Furthermore, the flotilla did not constitute an act which required an ‘urgent’ response, such that Israel had to launch a middle-of-the-night armed boarding… Israel could also have diplomatically engaged Turkey, arranged for a third party to verify there were no weapons onboard and then peacefully guided the vessel to Gaza.”

Craig Murray, an internationally recognized authority on these matters, was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He said that Israel had tried to justify previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing an embargo under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. “San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict, and presumably does not wish to be. San Remo does not confer any right to impose a permanent blockade outwith times of armed conflict, and in fact specifically excludes as illegal a general blockade on an entire population.”

At the same time UN Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) emphasised “the need to ensure sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossings” and called for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment”.

But when MEP Kyriacos Triantaphyllides put a question to the EU Commission this was their reply:

After the organisation of a flotilla heading to Gaza in May 2010, the Quartet, of which the EU is a member, stated that all those wishing to deliver goods to Gaza should do so through established channels, so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza. It also stated that there was no need for unnecessary confrontations and that all parties should act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza….

The Commission stands by this line. A flotilla is not the appropriate response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. At the same time, Israel must abide by international law when dealing with a possible flotilla. The EU continues to request the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, including the naval blockade.

It might have been scripted in Tel Aviv and not by anyone with Christian principles. The “established channel” for delivering goods to Gaza is of course the time-honoured route by sea, which is protected by maritime and international law and therefore entirely appropriate.

There’s nothing “provocative” about unarmed vessels with humanitarian cargoes using it. The organizers had offered their cargoes for inspection and verification by a trusted third party to allay Israel’s fears about weapon supplies. They should not have to deal with a belligerent regime that was (and still is) cruelly waging a starvation war on women and children. Anyone suggesting they must do so seeks to legitimize the blockade, which we all know to be illegal and a crime against humanity.

And where are the UN when a rogue nation – also a UN member – shows contempt for their maritime Convention?

By 2018 Her Majesty’s Government had abandoned all pretence of upholding the Law of the Seas or even pursuing its 2008 policy of intervening to obtain advance clearance from the Israeli authorities. The Foreign Office appeared to have joined the Zionist conspiracy to legitimise the Gaza blockade and support Israel’s control-freakery.

Lord Ahmad for the Government, answering a written question in the House of Lords, said: “Embassy officials discussed the travelling flotilla with the Israeli authorities on 6 June….. the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to Gaza including the waters off Gaza.”

The waters off Gaza are international waters where neutral civilian vessels are entitled to free passage under the UN Conventional on the Law of the Seas. Why shouldn’t unarmed aid boats be able sail there unmolested? Is the Law of the Seas now dead? Is Britain no longer committed to keeping the sea lanes open to innocent shipping? And why is the UN not upholdings its own Convention?

In particular, what happened to the diplomacy of 2008? Why didn’t our Government arrange advance clearance as before? Or were they, by any chance, colluding to thwart this mercy mission?

In reply to a question from myself, Alister Burt, minister for the Middle East at that time, said: “Delivery of aid should be co-ordinated with the UN and Israeli and Egyptian Governments. We expect Israel to show restraint and fully respect international law. If wrongdoing has taken place we expect those responsible to be held to account…. We remain deeply concerned about restrictions on movement and access in Gaza, and the impact that this is having on the humanitarian situation. We have frequent discussions with the Israeli Government about the need to ease restrictions on Gaza. We call on Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt to work together to ensure a durable solution for Gaza.”

As if Israel ever respected international law or had ever been held to account.

So here we have a horrific humanitarian crisis where the population of Gaza (nearly half of whom are children) are badly injured, starving and bombed out of their homes, with few if any public services still functioning and with aid waiting outside and prevented from entering by Israel.

This is an acid test for the United Nations and the international community who need to show their real worth and recover the respect they have carelessly lost over the years.

They are drinking in the Last Chance saloon and this is possibly their final opportunity to prove that the world has, after all, developed moral sensibilities and emerged from the caveman era. All it takes is a mercy flotilla of ships belonging to few UN member states, not privateers, to bring the Middle East issue to a head so the root causes can finally be dealt with in accordance with international law.

In short, the lives of 2.3 million innocent, incarcerated Gazan cannot be left in the hands of a psychopath like Netanyahu. Nor can the Israelis be allowed to dictate the wider future of the Holy Land they have defiled.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.