Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
What’s the difference between a group of masked Israeli commandoes taking control of a vessel in international waters at gunpoint, capturing or killing its passengers, and confiscating its cargo and a band of Somalis taking a ship at gunpoint and doing the same? The Israeli commandoes are paid agents of the government of Israel and were acting under a military commission from the government of Israel, making their pirate-like behavior an act of war according to many experts.
For those of us who believe in the right of a Jewish homeland, the behavior of the various governments of Israel since 1948 toward the people, mostly Palestinians who have lived in what is now Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for generations, has been troubling at the least. I am probably like many Americans who support Israel but do not support the actions of its government when it attacks unarmed people (as when it carpet-bombed Gaza before instituting a blockade); destroys orchards of olive, lemon, and other producing trees vital to the lives of Palestinians who have tended them for generations; confiscates land on which Palestinian families have lived and worked since long before Israel was created in 1948; forces Palestinians from their homes; expands Israeli settlements into Palestinian land; blockades the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in Gaza, depriving them of food, medicine, building materials, and other supplies vital to their lives.
Constitutional expert and political blogger on Salon.com Glenn Greenwald made this comment during a MSNBC interview about the actions of Israel in boarding a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla taking humanitarian supplies to Gaza a few days ago: “The blockade is one of the most brutal and inhumane blockades that we’ve seen in the last generation. Look at UN reports that are objective, not Netanyahu aides, that say that 60% of the babies in Palestine have anemia, 65% of the population is food insecure; the entire Palestinian economy has collapsed as a result of this blockade. Israel routinely refuses to permit all sorts of imports including food, chocolate, french fries, anything but the barest necessities to keep those prisoners — which is what they are — alive.”
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in May that 98 percent of industrial operations in Gaza have been shut down since 2007 and there are acute shortages of fuel, cash, cooking gas and other basic supplies as a result of the blockade. Israel’s military operation in Gaza destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure, including reservoirs, wells, and thousands of kilometers of piping, leading to widespread water-related health problems. About half of Gaza’s hospitals and healthcare facilities were damaged by Israel’s previous military operations. As much as 20% of Gaza’s essential medicines are usually out of stock, and there are shortages of essential spare parts for many items of medical equipment.
If Israel wanted merely to inspect the cargo of the Turkish ship it assaulted, it could have done so during daylight hours, not in the dead of night. It could have used diplomatic channels to arrange an inspection through the Turkish government, with whom it has enjoyed friendly relations. When masked Israeli commandoes armed with automatic weapons (as well as less lethal arms) descend on the ship from helicopters at 4:30 am in international waters, few people would have seen this as a normal act. It was a belligerent act, a frightening act, perhaps an act of piracy akin to the piracy regularly seen off the cost of Somalia. It became an act of kidnapping and robbery as the commandoes confiscated both the humanitarian supplies and personal property of the more than 600 people participating in the flotilla.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 defines “maritime piracy” as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State….”
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) defines piracy as “the act of boarding any vessel with an intent to commit theft or any other crime, and with an intent or capacity to use force in furtherance of that act.” The illegal military action by Israel in seizing the vessels, taking all aboard them captive, placing them in prisons in Israel, confiscating all of the cargo (as well as personal property of the passengers), and killing nine passengers looks a lot like piracy whether or not it counts as piracy technically.
As reported in the Boston Herald: “U.S. Rep. Barney Frank described the nine activists killed in the conflict as ‘innocent’ and called for an independent inquiry into Israel’s actions. Frank said that ‘as a Jew,’ Israeli treatment of Arabs around some of the West Bank settlements ‘makes me ashamed that there would be Jews that would engage in that kind of victimization of a minority.’”
Given the ongoing military conflict between Hamas (the party that controls the democratically-elected government in Gaza) and Israel, the Israeli blockade would be legal if it passed the test of proportionality; that is, if it did not inflict excessive harm on civilians according to British maritime and international law expert Douglas Guilfoyle. UN agencies have concluded that only 25% of needed aid is getting through to Gaza. Hamas fires into southern Israel sporadically, but not enough to justify a blockade as extreme as the one Israel has imposed. The harshness of the blockade demonstrates the lack of proportionality Guilfoyle speaks about.
Among those participating with over 600 people in the flotilla was former Ambassador Edward Peck, who has served under eight presidents and was ambassador to Iraq under Jimmy Carter and to Mauritania under Ronald Reagan, and was a Foreign Service officer in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Also participating in the flotilla was retired US Colonel Ann Wright, a former US diplomat. She called on the Obama Administration to challenge the Israeli government’s siege of Gaza: “It would be a really brave, bold move as every U.S. presidential administration since the formation of the State of Israeli in 1948 has blindly given free-rein to Israel in whatever actions it wishes to undertake no matter if the actions are a violation of international law. The carte blanche given to Israel by the United States has been dangerous for Israel’s national security as well as for the national security of the United States.”
When a country is free to use its military to engage with impunity in what amounts to piracy, kidnapping, murder, and theft on the high seas, while keeping 1.5 million people in a virtual concentration camp 26 miles long by 7 miles wide, holding them captive without adequate food, medicine, and supplies, there isn’t much justice or law in the phrase international law. No one with a basic understanding of the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including supporters of Israel, should see Israel’s actions toward Gaza as proportional to the threat posed, and it certainly is neither compassionate nor humane to the civilians held captive there by Israeli policy.
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print