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.
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“Right now, every objective assessment is that Gazans are suffering. The elephant in the room in flotilla-attack legal debates is the blockade. The real need is a focus on the legality of the conditions of people in Gaza.”Skip to next paragraph
Israel: International law not mature enough to deal with Hamas threat
Israel sees it differently. Its justification for the flotilla attack and its Gaza policy rests on two pillars: First, Israel maintains – in the face of intense international disagreement – that Palestinians are not unduly suffering in Gaza. Second, it argues that international law is not mature enough to handle Israel’s unique security problems; Israel lives in a rough neighborhood with a threat from Hamas too severe for law professors to grasp, and it must rely on its own interpretation of international law.
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, told Fox News that the flotilla raid was “perfectly legal, perfectly humane,” and that “Israel acted in accord with international law.... Any state has the right to protect itself, certainly from a terrorist threat such as Hamas, including on the open seas.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted on June 2 that Hamas continues to smuggle rockets and that “there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week an average of 10,000 tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. So our naval personnel had no choice but to board these vessels.”
The World Food program has said that 400 trucks are needed in Gaza per day, or 2,800 per week, to meet basic nutritional needs. According to Israeli data (PDF), an average of 371 truckloads of food products were delivered per week in 2009 and 310 per week so far in 2010.
Israel's legal argument for flotilla raid
Confusion remains over whether Israel extended its naval blockade from 20 to 68 miles into the open sea – or whether Israel never extended but simply intercepted the ships on grounds they had intent to bust the blockade.
Israel claims its flotilla raid was legal under the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. Israel says the law entitles it to enforce a blockade, even in international waters.
Clause 67 of San Remo does allow interdiction of neutral ships in a war among states if, as the clause spells out, the ship is “reasonably” suspected of “breaching a blockade.” Yet San Remo is not a consensus treaty or legally binding, according to the Red Cross; moreover, it doesn’t offer authority for extending military jurisdiction into open seas without a formal conflict.