Never mind the 'Freedom Flotilla.' Is Israel's Gaza blockade legal?
Israel has laid out a meticulous legal justification for its fatal raid on a Turkish-flagged boat, which was sailing in international waters as part of the 'Freedom Flotilla.' But most countries have focused on whether Israel's Gaza blockade is legal.
Israel’s raid of a “Freedom Flotilla” of activists that ended with nine deaths brought a global firestorm of protest, dimmed the chances for a peace deal, and threatened Israel’s relations with Turkey, its closest ally in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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Both sides immediately claimed the protection of international law, with Israel citing legal justification for effectively extending its naval blockade into international waters where the flotilla was heading for Gaza. Yet for most Western governments, with the exception of the United States, the question is not so much the legality or illegality of Israel’s action. Rather, European countries from Germany to Britain are focusing on the broader legal context of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and the suffering of civilians there.
Lists of items forbidden to enter under the blockade include everything from canned fruit and fishing rods to musical instruments, donkeys, and nutmeg. A ban on concrete and iron, carried by the “Freedom Flotilla,” aims to stop the building of rocket-proof bunkers – but has hampered reconstruction in the wake of Israel’s 2009 offensive to stop Hamas rocket fire.
Three reports last month assessed the damage a year after the offensive ended. The United Nations Development Program said three-quarters of the damage “remains unrepaired and unreconstructed.” The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted some 40 percent of Gazans lack adequate food, while American Near East Relief found 8 in 10 people need aid. In addition, pools of untreated sewage have grown as large as 100 acres in recent months.
Why some say legality of flotilla attack is a moot point
Indeed, living conditions in Gaza are so bad that by some readings of international law, the legality of the flotilla attack is a moot point.
“There is a clear link between conditions in Gaza and international law that is relevant this week,” says Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association in London. “At the heart of humanitarian law, the laws of war, and human rights law is a need to ensure that civilians are protected and do not disproportionately suffer from the actions of a state.