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Debate: Israeli raid on Gaza flotilla

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Was Israel justified in seizing the flotilla?

Background and Context of Debate:

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.

Contents

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Blockade: Is Gaza blockade legal? Was raid just on these grounds?

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Pro

  • Israel has right to blockade Gaza during conflict Leslie Gelb. "Israel was right." The Daily Beast. May 31, 2010: "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.
  • Israel has right to know what enters Gaza during conflict In an interview with Charlie Rose after the flotilla raid, Vice President Joe Biden said: "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."[1]
  • Israel allows humanitarian goods into Gaza Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu: "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."
  • Israel offered to transport flotilla aid peacefully Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "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."
  • Hamas is cause of strife in Gaza, not Israel Hamas refuses to accept from Israel the aid offloaded from the flotilla. [3]. 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!"
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Con

  • Blockading Gaza actually strengthens Hamas' grip Mr Cameron told the Commons during his first "questions time" as Prime Minister of the UK: "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."
  • Blockade unjustly prevents building supplies from entering Gaza. 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.[4]
  • Blockade of Gaza is generally contrary to Israel's interests Thomas Friedman. "When Friends Fall Out." New York Times. June 1, 2010: "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."
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International Law: Did Israel obey international law?

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Pro

  • Israeli flotilla raid was act of self-defense 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.
  • Israel issued warning to Gaza flotilla, which they ignored 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.[5]


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Con

  • Cease-fire invalidates blockade-justification of "war" w/ Hamas 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.[7]
  • Israeli use of force on flotilla was disproportionate. 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.[8]
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Activists' intentions: Were the intentions on the protesters bad or good?

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Pro

On March 28th flotilla organizers also said: "A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement, drawing attention to the blockade."[10]
  • Video confirms flotilla protesters were well armed 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.
  • Gaza flotilla connected with Hamas/terrorism IHH, which orchestrated the flotilla, is known to have ties with global jihad network and Hamas. [11] At least 50 passengers onboard were suspected of having connections with global jihad-affilitated terrorist organizations. [12]
  • Many Gaza flotilla activists desired martyrdom 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."[13] His wife also said that he "constantly prayed to become a martyr."[14] [More examples in argument page (link above)]


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Con

  • Activists would have been justified in violence in self-defense. 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".
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Self-Defense: Were Israeli soldiers protecting themselves?

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Pro

  • Protesters initiated violence on flotilla, not IDF. 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 troops did not harm Gaza activists on other ships. 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."[15] 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.
  • Flotilla activists fired weapons and wounded Israelis. An Israeli commando said that there was live fire at some point against them from below deck. Some of the commandos suffered gunshot wounds.
  • Out-armed Palestinians attacked Israel before, would attack on Flotilla. Leslie Gelb. "Israel was right." The Daily Beast. May 31, 2010: "[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."
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Con

  • Israeli troops fired first, flotilla reacted in self-defense "Israelis opened fire before boarding Gaza flotilla, say released activists." Guardian. June 1, 2010: "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.'"
  • Israeli rubber bullets and noise grenades stoked flotilla resistance. 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."[16]
  • Excessive force was used by Israel once on flotilla. 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.[17] Forensic investigation found that Kılıçlar was shot in the head at close range.[18]]
  • Cameras of flotilla activists were taken to hide evidence. 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?


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Strategy: Was the raid a good strategic move?

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Pro

  • Israel flotilla raid was strategic in context of Gaza blockade. "Was Israel’s flotilla raid illegal or legal?" Tufts Roundtable. : "If you support Israel. Then you believe that Gaza is a “disputed” territory without its own sovereignty. Consequently, you believe that the blockade on commerce coming into that tiny strip of land is perfectly legit (because it occurred off the shores of Israeli waters). As a supporter of Israel, you can understand their efforts to board the ship. Since it was okay to board the ship, you believe that none of the ship’s crewmen should have attacked the fast-roping commandos. Once the crewmen attacked the Israeli soldiers with lead pipes, rods and other weapons, you feel that it was well within the confines of Israel’s right to defense to repel the attackers with terminal force."
  • Israel issued the flotilla a warning, which they ignored. 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 before boarding the ship. And, the violent events that took place once they boarded the ship were a result of protester violence and escalation of the affair.


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Con


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Image: Was the raid a good move for Israel's image?

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Pro

  • Double standard in outrage over Israeli flotilla raid When North Korea torpedoed a South Korean navy vessel, killing 47 innocent people, the UN was hesitant to condemn North Korea in fear of escalating tensions. When IDF soldiers board a flotilla and are attacked with knives, live ammunition, and metal bars, the UN unhesitatingly condemns Israel as a "murderer", and calls the incident a "massacre."
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Con

  • Israel's raid on Gaza flotilla was a PR disaster Ronen Bergman, an investigative journalist for the Israli news wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay on June 2nd, 2010: "The horrific outcome -- so far nine killed and dozens wounded -- has caused irreparable damage to Israel's image. Even if the video evidence proves beyond doubt that the activists on board the ships were armed and that they were the first to attack, the battle for public opinion (which, after all, is what the flotilla exercise was really about) was lost the moment the first Israeli soldier set foot on the deck of the Mavi Marmara -- the Turkish ferry that served as the flagship. [...] What makes the flotilla fiasco all the more astounding is that Israel has been preparing for this confrontation for months. It has had time to run various scenarios, and even to review strategies it has previously employed for similar events."[19]
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Pro/con videos

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Pro

  • IDF Navy Warns Flotilla [20]
  • "Peace Activists" Stabbing IDF Soldier [21]
  • Flotilla Passengers Attack IDF Soldiers [22]
  • Weapons Found Onboard Flotilla[23]
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Con

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Pro/con sources

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Pro

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Con

See also

External links

Billie Bender. "Was Israel’s flotilla raid illegal or legal?" Tufts Roundtable. June 2nd, 2010


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