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The UN Accuses Israel of War Crimes — Again

The UN Human Rights Council releases its report on the flotilla raid.

1:45 PM, Sep 29, 2010 • By MICHAEL WEISS
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Moving on from these bankrupt starting points, the reader is then treated to serious flaws in the mission’s recounting of the history of the Gaza naval blockade. For instance, Israel is judged to have implemented it “to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas.” If that were the case, then why was it established on January 3, 2009, coinciding with Operation Cast Lead, two years after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, and a year after Israel and Egypt jointly instituted the land blockade of Gaza?  In the intervening period, Hamas, an internationally designated terrorist organization, engaged in a bloody civil war with its chief secular rival Fatah, resulting in the former’s coup and unilateral takeover of Gaza at around the time it began indiscriminately firing rockets and mortar bomb into southern Israel. In 2007 alone, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Hamas fired 1,115 rockets and 1,435 mortar bombs at cities such as Sderot and Ashkelon, the majority of which armaments fell on civilian sites such as playgrounds and schools. 

Moreover, as the mission does indeed indicate, in mid-2008 Israel undertook a series of preventive measures prior to implementing a full maritime closure of Gaza in order to hamper Hamas’s ability to import weapons. These included posting notices to mariners that informed all seagoing vessels of Israel’s intent to inspect their cargos. The report even cites one such notice posted in August 2008, which read: “In accordance with the agreements between Israel and the PA, entry by foreign vessels to this zone is prohibited.” According to this declaration, the Palestinian Authority under the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas was equally responsible for Israel’s regulation of the Gaza seaways in 2008. And yet, the UNHRC Mission reserves no censure for that government or the “illegality” of its decision.

Nor does it employ an especially impartial reading of the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. The mission claims Israel violated this relevant covenant because, according to the language of the Manual, a naval blockade is unjustifiable when:

(a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or

(b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.

So far as (a) is concerned, the people of Gaza are not “starving” by any credible metric thanks to the importation of over half a million tons of food annually by Israel – another fact breezily elided in this report. Indeed, according to the CIA World Factbook, in 2010, the population of Gaza grew by about 3.5 percent: hardly an indicator of mass famine. Infant mortality is lower and life expectancy is higher there than in Turkey. Various accounts, based on first-hand investigation from Time magazine to the New York Times to Slate, have similarly failed to uncover starvation in Gaza. 

As to point (b), the mission’s analysis is extremely debatable. Consider the following. In 2008, Hamas fired 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar bombs into southern Israel. As of 2010, those numbers have reduced by 95.2 percent and 95.7 percent, respectively: 83 rockets and 65 mortar bombs. Might this not constitute a reasonable definition of a “direct military advantage”? 

The San Remo Manual stipulates the right of a belligerent nation to “visit, inspect and control the destinations of neutral vessels on the high seas” if there is reasonable suspicion that those vessels are “engaged in activities which support the enemy.”  From this, the report takes the fatuous view that the Mavi Marmara engaged in no such activity, scanting on abundantly well-attested information that connects I.H.H., the Turkish organization that owned and convened the ship, to the Hamas government in Gaza.  Given the mission’s sometime reliance on “the internet and other sources,” one wonders how it failed to come across this revealing statement made by Mehmet Kaya, IHH’s Gaza representative, in the course of an interview with the New York Times granted after the flotilla raid: “We only work through Hamas, although we don’t limit our aid to its followers… We consider Israel and the United Nations to be the terrorists, not Hamas.”  

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