IN THE MEDIA
UN Palmer Report: Blockade of Gaza Legal
Sep 7, 2011 | Sharyn Mittelman
ABC “The Drum” – 7 September 2011
The release of the United Nations Palmer report into last year’s flotilla incident aboard the Mavi Marmara has vindicated Israel by finding that its naval blockade of the Gaza strip is legal under international law. Moreover, Israel has the right to enforce that blockade – including in international waters. It has also rebutted many of the false claims and assumptions that have been made about the flotilla incident and about the broader situation in Gaza.
The UN investigative committee headed by former prime minister of New Zealand Sir Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on maritime law, was established by the UN to examine the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010.
On that day, seven flotilla ships were seeking to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza when they were intercepted by the Israeli navy seeking to escort the ships to the Ashdod port to inspect their goods. On the ship Mavi Marmara, clashes broke out after activists attacked Israeli commandos with baseball bats, steel bars, and live fire. Israeli commandos used both non-lethal weaponry and live fire to defend themselves. Nine activists were killed, and seven Israeli commandos were wounded.
The Palmer report unequivocally found that: “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 report urged that all future efforts to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza should be done “through established procedures and the designated land crossings in consultation with the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority”, thus discouraging future Gaza flotillas.
The report also questioned the motives of the flotilla organisers, in stating that: “Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exists serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organisers, particularly the IHH [Humanitarian Relief Foundation – the Turkish aid group that primarily organised the flotilla]. The actions of the flotilla needlessly carried the potential for escalation.”
Israel has adopted the Palmer report, with the exception of some reservations in relation to the report’s finding that Israel’s decision to board the vessels in the manner it did was “excessive and unreasonable”. Israel rejects that finding, arguing that repeated warnings were given to the vessels and that its soldiers boarding the Mavi Marmara were in immediate danger and therefore acted in self-defence.
And in fact, the Palmer report was clear about this last reality, stating: “The Israeli Defence Force personnel faced significant, organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.”
The Palmer report also raises serious questions about the Palestinians’ readiness for statehood. The Palestinians are seeking UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, which includes the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. However, while it may be argued that the West Bank is ready for statehood, it appears pretty clear that Gaza is not, as it is still run by Hamas – a recognised terrorist organisation that continues to launch rockets and mortars in Israel. The Palmer report acknowledged the threat to Israel posed by Hamas terrorists, in stating that:
Israel has faced and continues to face a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. Rockets, missiles and mortar bombs have been launched from Gaza toward Israel since 2001. More than 5,000 were fired between 2005 and January 2009, when the naval blockade was imposed. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians live in the range of these attacks. As their effectiveness has increased, some rockets are now capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Since 2001 such attacks have caused more than 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The enormity of the psychological toll on the affected population cannot be underestimated… It seems obvious enough that stopping these violent acts was a necessary step for Israel to take in order to protect its people and to defend itself.
The Palmer report goes on to highlight the dangers posed by Hamas, and repudiates those who deny that Israel is involved in something resembling a state of war with Hamas, or those who claim that Israel is somehow still “occupying” Gaza, despite having no presence on the ground inside that territory. The Palmer report stated:
It is Hamas that is firing the projectiles into Israel or is permitting others to do so. The Panel considers the conflict should be treated as an international one for the purposes of the law of blockade. This takes foremost into account Israel’s right to self-defence against armed attacks from outside territory. In this context, the debate on Gaza’s status, in particular its relationship to Israel, should not obscure the realities… it is implausible to deny that the nature of the armed violence between Israel and Hamas goes beyond purely domestic matters. In fact, it has all the trappings of an international armed conflict… Israel was entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza.
Those who argue that the UN should grant the Palestinians a state without a peace agreement with Israel therefore have to answer these questions: do they really want to create a new state which will be co-run by the very terrorists described in the UN Security Council’s own flotilla report as waging war on Israel in a way that targets Israeli civilians in contravention of international law? Should Hamas be rewarded for doing so with a declaration inviting them to join the “international community” of civilised nations as part of a Palestinian unity government?
Sharyn Mittelman is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.