How ironic. It is Jeremy Corbyn’s misfortune to be surrounded by witless blabbermouths whose unbridled remarks are a gift to Israel lobby propagandists.
And while mainstream media in the UK were, as usual, whipping up an anti-Semitism ruckus orchestrated against the Labour Party leader, Israel was busy committing yet another outrage on the high seas against a humanitarian aid vessel peacefully carrying urgently-needed medical supplies for the desperate citizens of blockaded Gaza.
SOSjustfuture4Palestine issued a statement saying: “The Israeli Occupation Forces violently attacked our Norwegian flagged boat Al Awda (‘The Return’) as she was in international waters…. Armed, masked soldiers boarded Al Awda without permission. They assaulted several unarmed participants by hitting them and using tasers.”
Reuters (Oslo) reported that the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry demanded the Israeli authorities clarify the circumstances around the seizure of the vessel and the legal basis for the intervention. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
British media and Government are playing deaf, blind and dumb to the enormity of the situation despite the fact that aboard the Al Awda were unarmed activists from 16 nations, including 69 year-old British surgeon Dr Swee Ang who has helped medical teams in Gaza on many occasions. And it’s the duty of governments to protect their citizens wherever they may be, especially when they are attacked in international waters.
Early reports said there was blood on the decks and Dr Swee was hit and tasered by Israel’s military thugs. She is now back in the UK after 2 days in Girvon prison but many others are still locked up. Dr Swee has just sent this message: “I was deported from Israeli prison this morning and arrived back at London.
“The Israeli Army have stolen my two mobile phones, my camera and most of my clothes and belongings so it is not possible to communicate by phone until I get a new one. But email is still working and I have just arrived home. I have made an audio of the events of 29 July onwards and how our unarmed boat with US$ 15,000 of gauze, wound dressings and antibiotics was abducted from International Waters while on our way to Gaza and taken by force to Ashdod in Israel by the Israeli Army where all 22 participants were subjected to multiple strip searches and then put in Givon prison. There are still participants in prison as I send this to you.”
Meanwhile the British Government doesn’t seem in the least bothered by Israel’s breach of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Of course, both Israel and the UK have ‘form’ and we’ve been here many times before. Nine years ago (July 2009) I found myself writing this:
Britain’s foreign secretary David Miliband – or rather, someone on his behalf – has written to me about the government’s response to Israel’s hijacking of the mercy ship Spirit of Humanity on the high seas and the outrageous treatment of six peace-loving British citizens (including the skipper), en route to Gaza not Israel, who had their gear stolen or damaged and were thrown into Israeli jails. The letter contains the usual meaningless expressions like ‘deplore’ and ‘press’ and ‘raise the issue’, which are the familiar hallmark of Foreign Office mentality.
- Miliband’s spokesman says: “The Israeli Navy took control of the Spirit of Humanity on 30 June, diverting it to Ashdod port in Israel. All those on board, including six British nationals, were handed over to Israeli immigration officials. British consular officials had good access to the British detainees and established that they were treated well. The Israeli authorities deported the detainees on 6 July.”
Treated well? That’s not what the peaceful seafarers say. They were assaulted, put in fear of their lives and deprived of their liberty for fully a week – a long time in a stinking Israeli jail.
- Miliband’s spokesman: “The Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 30 June that it was ‘vital that all states respect international law, including the law of the sea. It is also important to say that we deplore the interference by the Israeli navy in the activities of Gazan fishermen.”
Such fine words. Where is the action to back them up?
- Miliband’s spokesman: “When the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on 1 July he raised the issue with him and asked for clarification about whether or not the Spirit of Humanity had been intercepted in international waters. We will continue to press the Israeli authorities for clarification.”
It’s well over a week and Lieberman hasn’t clarified anything. Was the Israeli ambassador in London summoned and given a dressing down? Has London demanded compensation for the Britishers’ losses and damage? Has the boat and its cargo been returned? Have arrangements been made for the aid to be delivered? Our Zionist-leaning government apparently takes pleasure in Britain’s repeated humiliation. Not long ago the British consul-general in Tel Aviv (a woman) was strip-searched by Israeli security perverts.
- Miliband’s spokesman: “We regularly remind the Israeli government of its obligations under international law on a variety of issues, including with respect to humanitarian access to Gaza as well as Israel’s control of Gazan waters and the effect this has on Gaza’s fishing industry.”
Ever get the feeling they’ve switched off their collective hearing aid? What is the point of obligations if they never have to be met?
- Miliband’s spokesman: “As I said on the phone, our Travel Advice makes clear that we advise against all travel to Gaza, including its offshore waters; that it is reckless to travel to Gaza at this time…. The UK has been unequivocal in its calls for Israel to lessen restrictions at the Gaza crossings, allowing the legitimate flow of humanitarian aid, trade and reconstruction goods and the movement of people. This is essential not only for the people of Gaza, but also for the wider stability of the region.”
“Unequivocal”? “Essential”? More splendid but empty words. The needs of the crushed and devastated and half-starved people of Gaza have been urgent for 3 years, ever since Britain ganged up with the Zionist axis to bring Gaza to its knees.
- Miliband’s spokesman: “Recent events in Gaza are a tragic reminder of the importance of progress on the peace process.”
No kidding……. They are also a tragic reminder of the West’s perverse failure in its duty to enforce compliance with international law, human rights and UN resolutions.
- Miliband’s spokesman: “The UK, with the support of our international allies, will continue to pursue vigorously a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution, involving a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.”
But never vigorously enough. The world is still waiting….
That was 9 years ago. Why does London perpetuate the blockade of Gaza by colluding in Israel’s unlawful conduct? Where are the consequences and penalties for breaching international law and all codes of human decency?
Part of the problem is the Interim Agreement signed in 1995 that allowed the Israelis to weave a tangled web of security zoning in Gaza’s coastal waters leaving Israel in charge and dictating what happens off-shore and who comes and goes. It’s the sort of agreement no Palestinian would have signed unless under extreme duress.
Being ‘interim’ these restrictions were not expected to last beyond 1999. But they were still in force in 2009 and they are still in force in 2018. Why?
Gaza blockade illegal, illegal, illegal
“Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law… the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade.” That was the conclusion of the UN’s Palmer inquiry under its then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
It is completely at odds with what other experts have said. The UN itself had already accepted that Israel’s blockade is illegal. One of its own fact-finding missions declared that it constituted collective punishment of the people living in the Gaza Strip and thus was illegal and contrary to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The action by Israel’s military in intercepting the aid ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in 2010, an assault in which 10 crew and activists were killed, was “clearly unlawful” and couldn’t be justified even under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations [the right of self-defence]. “No case can be made for the legality of the interception and the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal”.
The Centre for Constitutional Rights also concluded that the Israeli blockade is illegal. “Due both to the legal nature of Israel’s relationship to Gaza – that of occupier – and the impact of the blockade on the civilian population, amounting to ‘collective punishment’, the blockade cannot be reconciled with the principles of international law, including international humanitarian law… The flotilla did not seek to travel to Israel, let alone ‘attack’ Israel… Israel could 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 also knows a thing or two about such matters, having headed the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He was responsible for giving political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, to enforce the UN authorised blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments. He commented: “Right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas… Israel has declared a blockade on Gaza and justified previous fatal attacks on neutral civilian vessels on the High Seas in terms of enforcing that embargo, under the legal cover given by the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.”
But, he explains, San Remo only applies to blockade in times of armed conflict. “Israel is not currently engaged in an armed conflict… 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.”
Furthermore, Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) emphasizes “the need to ensure sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossings” and calls for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment”. Israel has imposed a land blockade for decades and still has a hand in keeping Gaza’s land crossing with Egypt closed. The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between the Palestinian Authority and Israel is also ignored. So the only sensible channel for “unimpeded provision and distribution” is by sea.
The Palmer inquiry was about as warped as it could get. The Terms of Reference said it was “required to obtain its information from the two nations primarily involved in its inquiry, Turkey and Israel, and other affected States…. The information for the Panel’s work came primarily through its interactions with the Points of Contact designated by Israel and Turkey.”
The 4-man panel included a representative each from the governments of Turkey and Israel, and was headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Chair) and Alvaro Uribe, 58th president of Colombia. Palmer was the 33rd prime minister of New Zealand if that’s any consolation. Note the absence of anyone to represent the views of the party targeted by the blockade. Ban Ki-Moon didn’t think it necessary to invite someone from (horror of horrors) the government of Gaza.
Consequently the inquiry’s findings included this gem:
“It would be illegal if its imposition [i.e. the blockade] was intended to starve or to collectively punish the civilian population. However, there is no material before the Panel that would permit a finding confirming the allegations that Israel had either of those intentions or that the naval blockade was imposed in retaliation for the take-over of Hamas in Gaza or otherwise. On the contrary, it is evident that Israel had a military objective. The stated primary objective of the naval blockade was for security. It was to prevent weapons, ammunition, military supplies and people from entering Gaza and to stop Hamas operatives sailing away from Gaza with vessels filled with explosives… The earliest maritime interception operations to prevent weapons smuggling to Gaza predated the 2007 take-over of Hamas in Gaza. The actual naval blockade was imposed more than one year after that event. These factors alone indicate it was not imposed to punish its citizens for the election of Hamas.”
Palmer’s report oozes bias and makes sickening reading. For example it refers to “the takeover of Gaza” by Hamas when Hamas, as everyone else knows, was democratically elected in 2006. And Israeli gunboats were already shelling Gaza and shooting up Gazan fishing boats when I was there in 2007.
Then this warning from Palmer…
“Once a blockade has been lawfully established, it needs to be understood that the blockading power can attack any vessel breaching the blockade if after prior warning the vessel intentionally and clearly refuses to stop or intentionally and clearly resists visit, search or capture. There is no right within those rules to breach a lawful blockade as a right of protest. Breaching a blockade is therefore a serious step involving the risk of death or injury.
“Given that risk, it is in the interests of the international community to actively discourage attempts to breach a lawfully imposed blockade.”
So a green light to the rogue state to violently assault any humanitarian vessel approaching Gaza’s waters. What does this whitewash mean for the Palestinians’ bid for statehood? Must the newly fledged state begin its young life with a land and sea blockade in place because Palmer and Uribe say it’s all legal and above-board and Israel’s security comes first? Let us not forget that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are under blockade too.
As for Israel’s constant claim that the primary purpose of the blockade is security, a Wikileaks cable from 2008 reads: “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to [U.S. embassy economic officers] on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” Israel wanted it “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis”.
And according to documents released under a Freedom of Information petition by Gisha, an Israeli law centre, Israel operated “a policy of deliberate reduction” of basic goods in the Gaza Strip. Gisha’s director accused Israel of “paralyzing normal life in Gaza”. The documents confirmed that the siege was not for security reasons but aimed at keeping Gazans at near-starvation level. Since around half the population are growing children this act of collective punishment has meant that hundreds of thousands are undernourished.
And the civilised world stands idly by.
© Stuart Littlewood, 2 August 2018
In view of earlier reports Dr Swee has been asked to clarify whether she was tasered. She replies: “I was not tasered. The three persons tasered were all men. They pushed me (in fact all of us around) and my chest hit something hard. I am sure I have at least 2 fractured ribs. I had been too busy to have it attended to, but paracetamol helps. – Swee”