Reports are coming in that Israel plans to sell off the four mercy boats it violently hijacked on the high seas a few weeks ago. The peaceful, unarmed vessels were sailing with desperately needed medical supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip which has been illegally blockade by Israel for 12 years.
The crews and passengers of these mercy boats were arrested by the Israeli military, beaten up, thrown in jail and had their money and personal belongings stolen while in custody. Among the passengers on the al-Awda, was British citizen Dr Swee Ang, a consultant at the famous Bart’s Hospital, who susteained two cracked ribs.
The boats were intended as a gift to the people of Gaza, probably the fishermen, but Israeli intelligence officials claimed they would end up in the hands of Hamas. So the Israeli Central Court has decided sell the boats – stolen property – and hand the proceeds to Israeli families illegally squatting on Palestinian land.
When diplomacy worked
Back in 2008 two humanitarian vessels actually got through to Gaza. In an article at the time, entitled ‘Keeping the Sea-Lane to Gaza Open’, I wrote…
The success of the ‘Free Gaza’ boats in breaking the siege, and their safe arrival and departure, was due to the intervention and good offices of the British Foreign Office…
Before the peace activists set sail, the British government was asked about “action 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… has now revealed 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, the Zionist conspiracy was determined not to let the boats reach their destination because safe arrival would drive a coach and horses through Israel’s control-freakery. Earlier that year the Mavi Marmara had been assaulted with lethal force in international waters, without a care for how many they killed.
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
One of the organizers in London told me that when the British boat’s final passenger list was confirmed, the Foreign Office in London would be contacted with details and asked to “act to ensure the safe passage of their citizens”.
In the end Flotilla II didn’t sail.
Caving in to Israel’s criminal intent
Israel is clearly acting illegally by interfering with the peaceful voyages. 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 the Mission therefore finds that the interception was illegal…. and to constitute 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 Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) emphasized “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 and this was the reply:
“One year after the military action by Israel against a convoy carrying humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza, during which at least ten civilians were killed, another humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza is now being organised, the principal cargo being supplies of stationery for school pupils. Is the EU and in particular the Commission aware of the new mission that is being organised and what is its position on this matter?
“Given the participation of EU Member State nationals and the presence of MEPs, will the EU take any measures to ensure that the personal safety of its nationals is not endangered?”
“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.
“EU Member States have the responsibility to protect their citizens abroad via their consular services. This responsibility covers assistance for their citizens who might participate in a possible flotilla….”
It could 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 dirty their hands dealing with a belligerent regime that’s 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 is the UN when their maritime Convention is trashed?
Fast-forward to 2018. Her Majesty’s Government has now abandoned all pretense 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 appears 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? If our embassy was discussing the aid flotilla with Israel nearly 2 months before the 2018 hijacking, what were they talking about? Why didn’t they arrange advance clearance as before? Or were they, by any chance, colluding to thwart this mercy mission? Wouldn’t put it past them.
And in reply to a recent petition demanding a debate on Israel’s undue influence on British politics the Foreign Office says: “The UK is a close friend of Israel and we enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship. This is built on decades of cooperation between our two countries across a range of fields such as education, hi-tech research, business, arts and culture. Trade between our countries is at record levels, and Israel is an important strategic partner for the UK. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not agree with the allegation of improper influence stated in the petition.
“In 2017 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was made aware of comments made by a member of staff at the Israeli Embassy in 2017 [referring to the Shai Mosat affair] who was being secretly filmed. Following the publication of this video, the Israeli Ambassador apologised and was clear the comments made by this member of staff do not reflect the views of the Embassy or Government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”
Mosat was a senior political adviser to the Israeli ambassador. The ambassador is Mark Regev, Israel’s former propaganda chief and a notorious liar.
And in reply to a question from myself, Alister Burt, minister for the Middle East, says the FO advises against all travel to Gaza. “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.”
Burt goes on to say that he recently visited Gaza and the UK Government has announced a new £38 million pogramme for economic development in Gaza and the West Bank and £38.5 million for UNRWA to help refugees plus £2 million for clean water and sanitation in Gaza.
I had made a point of saying I did not wish to receive the usual pro-forma Foreign Office response, but that is what I got.
- “Expects Israel to show restraint and fully respect international law”? When did that ever happen?
- “Expects those responsible to be held to account”? But who’s to do it when Israel is such a “close friend”?
We’ll tweak the whiskers of the Russian Bear and slap sanctions on Iran for no good reason. But we fall over backwards to reward Israel for its never-ending evil.
Isn’t it time Government ministers stopped embarrassing us, and themselves, by telling everyone that “we” are “close friends” with a racist endeavour run by a thuggish regime that is contemptuous of international law and the norms of decent behaviour? There’s a name for people who admire that sort of thing.
And by throwing even more British taxpayers’ money at the situation instead of taking punitive action (such as suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement) we simply legitimize the blockade on Gaza and normalise the decades-long occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But that’s the whole idea, is it not Mr Burt? Or is Britain really so weak and so lacking in leverage that we cannot do a small favour for the beleaguered women and children of Gaza whose constant misery is largely due to our arrogance and stupidity?
After working on jet fighters in the RAF Stuart became an industrial marketing specialist with manufacturing companies and consultancy firms. He also “indulged himself” as a newspaper columnist. In politics, he served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and member of the Police Authority. Now retired he campaigns on various issues and contributes to several online news & opinion sites. An Associate of the Royal Photographic Society, he has produced two photo-documentary books which can be read online at Radiofreepalestine.org.uk and Paperturn-view.com