A Raid From The Sea: The Gaza Flotilla Attack and Blockade Under Legal Scrutiny
By Ufuk Ulutas
SETA Policy Brief, No. 55, September 2011
The publication of the Palmer report written by the panel of inquiry established by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon once again brought the 31 May 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident and the blockade of Gaza back to world’s attention. On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos stormed a passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara, the largest boat of a flotilla of six boats which were carrying 10000 tons of humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza, in international high waters. The operation left 9 activists dead and over 30 activists wounded. The Israeli military assault against the Mavi Marmara immediately ignited worldwide protests and condemnation. Turkey, whose citizens were attacked by Israeli soldiers in international high waters, 72 miles away from the Gazan coast, took the lead in protests and condemnation. Israel, however, claimed that the demonstrators on the Mavi Marmara were aiming to break the blockade of Gaza and the Israeli commandos were forced onboard to react in an act of self-defense.During more than a year past since the Mavi Marmara attack, Israel has committed a chain of errors which started with the illegal blockade of Gaza. Using the blockade as a pretext, Israel intercepted the Mavi Marmara and used excessive force killing 9 civilians on board. Israel’s violations of international law were documented thoroughly in the UNHRC report, while the Palmer Commission penned a report with political rather than legal and humanitarian priorities. Ironically, as a country which has so far ignored myriad of UN resolutions, Israel has welcomed the Palmer report focusing on its mention of the blockade of Gaza as a legitimate security measure against Hamas, but totally ignoring the parts which stated that Israel used excessive force on board and maltreated the detainees after the takeover. This paper briefly summarizes the work done with the mandate given by the UN, and attempts to put the blockade of Gaza in its legal context first, demonstrate that Israel’s use of the blockade as a pretext for its belligerent act on board the Mavi Marmara has no legal ground, and consequently discuss Israel’s violations of international law on the board of the Mavi Marmara.