The Gaza flotilla clash occurred on May 31, 2010, in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, when Israeli naval forces seized a flotilla of six ships carrying international activists, known as the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, who were planning to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and allegedly deliver humanitarian supplies. According to Israeli sources, IDF soldiers boarded the flotilla after it had declined to change its course to the port of Ashdod, where Israel had promised to inspect the aid and deliver non-banned items to Gaza. Of the six ships, aboard one, the Mavi Marmara, violence had ensued. Between nine and sixteen of its passengers were reported killed by Israeli soldiers who landed on the ship, 10 Israeli soldiers were seriously injured. Israel defended its actions, saying its soldiers were attacked with knives and metal bars. There were strong international reactions. Official responses varied from deep concern over the killings to strong condemnations. The UN Security Council formally condemned “those acts which resulted in the loss of lives”. Many countries have called for international investigation. The debate below will focus on whether or not Israel was justified in seizing the flotilla that was allegedly carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
“Regarding international law, blockades are quite legal. The United States and Britain were at war with Germany and Japan and blockaded them. I can’t remember international lawyers saying those blockades were illegal—even though they took place on the high seas in international waters. There would be a general violation only if the hostile actions against the ships took place in waters under the jurisdiction of another sovereign state. Thus, for example, if the Israelis stopped the ships in Egyptian waters, that would have been a violation.” Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, Chicago Law School Professor Eric Posner, and Johns Hopkins international law Professor Ruth Wedgwood all argue that the blockade is legal.
“You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not … but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they’re at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in.”
“the problem with these [anti Israeli blockade] pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza.”
“Here’s our policy. Humanitarian and other goods can come in. Weapons and war materials cannot. And we do let civilian goods get into Gaza.”
“On this occasion, we made several offers, time and time again, to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. These offers were rejected each time.”
“There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of 10,000 tons of goods go into Gaza. There’s no shortage of food, medicine, or other goods.”
Hamas refuses to accept from Israel the aid offloaded from the flotilla. This either means that there is no crisis in Gaza, or that it is actively caused by Hamas. Netanyahu: “Why is life flourishing in the West Bank? Because it’s not under the control of a terrorist organization!”
“If you support Gaza. Then you believe that Israel is ‘occupying’ Gaza, and Israel is in violation of international law because it is denying Gaza’s sovereign right to trade and aid.” [From this, you can then argue that Israel had no right to board the flotilla in International waters, and thus that the raid was illegal under international law.]
“We should do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Friends of Israel – and I count myself a friend of Israel – should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens Hamas’s grip on the economy and on Gaza. […] And it’s in their own interests to lift it and allow these vital supplies to get through.”
“Israel usually allows 81 items into Gaza, a list which is subject to revision on a near-daily basis. […] A 2008 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found that 70 per cent of Gaza’s population suffered from ‘food insecurity.’ As Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros reported last week, the Israeli authorities allow little meat and fresh produce into Gaza, leading to widespread malnutrition in the territory.” [See article for further analysis]
The blockade of Gaza unjustly prevents cement and other building supplies from entering the Gaza strip by ship or land. This is based on the idea that these materials could be used to build military fortifications. But, its effect is far-reaching in undermining legitimate Gaza construction efforts, particularly those necessary in rebuilding infrastructure after the devastating 2008-2009 war.
Israel allows roughly 81 items to enter Gaza. It excludes thousands of other types of goods, making it impossible for Gaza to engage in legitimate trade and truly build its economy. This cause serious economic suffering.
“It is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest to bring more diplomatic imagination and energy to ending this Gaza siege. How long is this going to go on? Are we going to have a whole new generation grow up in Gaza with Israel counting how many calories they each get? That surely can’t be in Israel’s interest. Israel has gotten so good at controlling the Palestinians that it could get comfortable with an arrangement that will not only erode its own moral fabric but increase its international isolation. It may be that Hamas will give Israel no other choice, but Israel could show a lot more initiative in determining if that is really so.”
“Israel had every right under international law to stop and board ships bound for the Gaza war zone late Sunday. Only knee-jerk left-wingers and the usual legion of poseurs around the world would dispute this. […] Israel has every right to protect itself under international law, including by blockades in international waters.”
Hamas has in its charter the goal of destroying Israel. They have launched missile and rocket attacks indiscriminately across the border into Israel. Therefore, Israel has every right, under international laws on national self-defense, to blockade and check all materials coming into Gaza to ensure that they are not rockets or other military supplies that could be used against Israeli citizens. Israel was merely exercising this right in its raid of the Gaza flotilla.
Audio evidence confirms the IDF issued a warning. The flotilla consciously decided to press forward. It is clear, therefore, that Israel exhausted all means necessary to avoid boarding the ship and engaging in violence. And, even when they boarded the ship, the ISF intentions were not to engage in violence, but simply to stop the ship from continuing forward without going through standard security checks.
“one thing is clear. Ships that run blockades may be attacked and sunk under international law. If Israel had exercised that right, far more than nine people would have been killed.”
“This was no peace sail, but a premeditated act of violence. We have footage demonstrating exactly what our soldiers were facing, and the last thing you can say about that ship is that it was a peace sail.”
“the blockade is an act of war, casus belli, because Israel attacked a foreign flagged ship from Turkey. Under the Law of the Sea (more or less), any ship harboring in international waters that is forcefully boarded by a foreign entity is having its sovereignty violated.”
Marcelo Kohen, a law professor at Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International Studies, argued that “There is also at present a cease-fire on Gaza. Under [Israel’s] logic one could maintain a maritime blockade unendingly. It only requires one party to consider itself as being in a ‘state of war.'” Therefore, Israel cannot justify its blockade and flotilla-raid in international waters on the grounds that it is “at war” or “in conflict” with Hamas.
International law professor Said Mahmoudi has argued this point. That, under international law, proportional force needs to be used in any given event, and that Israel’s response to the the flotilla was excessive and overly costly in lives
“Perhaps most galling about the overall defense of the raid is the constant invocation of self-defense. Everything Israel does is always done in self-defense, no matter how excessive, disproportionate, unnecessary, wrong or aggressive it is. When everything becomes a matter of self-defense and the proper distinctions between actual legtimate self-defense and reckless excesses are erased, pretty soon most of the rest of the world won’t pay any attention to Israeli claims of self-defense even when they are legitimate.”
“The other precedent they cite is the 1804 Murray vs. Charming Betsy case, in which a court ruled that the US Army cannot seize goods that are not for military use in international waters, even during wartime.”
“The naval operation … was complete stupidity. A mixture of failures that led to a disgraceful fiasco.”
“This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies, it’s about breaking Israel’s siege on 1.5 million Palestinians.”
“A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade.”
Video evidence confirms passengers were armed with weapons such as knives, axes, pistols, and metal rods. Picture evidence confirms activists had live ammunition; IDF soldiers encountered violent resistance.
IHH, which orchestrated the flotilla, is known to have ties with global jihad network and Hamas. At least 50 passengers onboard were suspected of having connections with global jihad-affilitated terrorist organizations.
Some of the activists who would later die during the MV Mavi Marmara clash spoke of dreams of martyrdom. Ali Khaider Benginin told his family before leaving, “I am going to be a shahid; I dreamt I will become a shahid – I saw in a dream that I will be killed.” His wife also said that he “constantly prayed to become a martyr.”[More examples in argument page (link above)]
“It hardly seemed possible for Israel — after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade — to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel’s goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it’s hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.”
“Claims that the activists on board represented an ‘armada of hate’ are not backed up by videos shot on board before the incident. The fact that around 20 passengers were killed whereas IDF troops were only injured proves that the activists had not prepared a ‘terror ambush’ as some quarters of the media claim.”
Flotilla proponents and Turkish charity group leaders said that since the ships were on international waters that, “even if we had used guns”, abandoning the non-violence principle would still be legal as self-defense from Israeli “kidnapping” and “piracy”.
“Video shows the Israeli commandos were surrounded and attacked as they reached the ship’s deck. The Israelis tried to avoid a lethal confrontation. Israeli officials reportedly offered the vessel the same deal that was accepted by at least one previous flotilla — divert to the Israeli port of Ashdod and unload the cargo for inspection. As long as the cargo doesn’t contain weaponry, it will be shipped into the Gaza Strip by land.”
“The more we learn about this incident, though, the more it looks like a setup designed to provoke or embarrass Israel. […] Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters onto a ship carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza early Monday, expecting minimal resistance from about 600 pro-Palestinian activists on board. The Israelis badly miscalculated. A melee ended with nine protesters killed. Dozens were wounded, including seven Israeli soldiers.”
It is key to realize that the first acts of violence were committed by protesters on the flotilla, who beat Israeli forces when they boarded. This is to blame for the escalation of the event.
Israeli sources say that the other five ships were boarded and taken over peacefully, and that the only incidents took place in the Mavi Marmara. Israeli minister Avigdor Lieberman has said, on the other five ships, “the people got off without a scratch.” This might indicate that the IDF had no intention of engaging in violence, and were only forced to do so in self-defense against violent activists on the Mavi Marmara.
An Israeli commando said that there was live fire at some point against them from below deck. Some of the commandos suffered gunshot wounds.
“[Some] argued that it was inconceivable that the civilian passengers on board would have been ‘waiting up to fire on the Israeli military, with all its might.’ By that keen logic, no Palestinian ever would have fired upon a militarily superior Israeli. We seem to know otherwise.”
“Every individual has the right to repel such attacks by the use of lethal force. That was especially true in this case, when the soldiers were so outnumbered on the deck of the ship. Recall that Israel’s rules of engagement required its soldiers to fire only paintballs unless their lives were in danger. Would any country in the world deny its soldiers the right of self-defense under comparable circumstances?”
“If the activists on the flotilla should have expected violence, as Gelb argues, what were the Israelis expecting the activists to do when they boarded their ships? Give them a hug?”
“Survivors of the Israeli assault on a flotilla carrying relief supplies to Gaza returned to Greece and Turkey today, giving the first eyewitness accounts of the raid in which at least 10 people died. […] Arriving at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport with her one-year-old baby, Turkish activist Nilufer Cetin said Israeli troops opened fire before boarding the Turkish-flagged ferry Mavi Marmara, which was the scene of the worst clashes and all the fatalities. Israeli officials have said that the use of armed force began when its boarding party was attacked. […] ‘It was extremely bad and very tough clashes took place. The Mavi Marmara is filled with blood,’ said Cetin, whose husband is the Mavi Marmara’s chief engineer. […] She told reporters that she and her child hid in the bathroom of their cabin during the confrontation. ‘The operation started immediately with firing. First it was warning shots, but when the Mavi Marmara wouldn’t stop these warnings turned into an attack,’ she said. ‘There were sound and smoke bombs and later they used gas bombs. Following the bombings they started to come on board from helicopters.'”
Activists on board agree that there was resistance but say it was not organized; rather the Israeli helicopters, ships and gunfire “created the atmosphere that people wanted to defend themselves.”
Bülent Yıldırım, president of the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), reported that photographer Cevdet Kılıçlar was shot in the head by a soldier one meter away. British activist Kevin Ovenden confirmed that a man was shot by soldiers after pointing his camera towards them. Forensic investigation found that Kılıçlar was shot in the head at close range.
The cameras, phones, and video-cameras of flotilla activists were confiscated by the Israeli government after the ship was seized and passengers detained. This means that the Gaza flotilla activists were at a significant disadvantage in sharing any evidence of Israeli Defense Force wrong-doing. This needs to be kept in mind as the evidence is reviewed. Indeed, “history is written by the winners”, and in this case it should be a concern that Israel is in control of most of the evidence of the event. And, it should be asked why the IDF would confiscate these recording devices in the first place? Are they trying to hide something?