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The Gaza Flotillas to Come: Some Ground Rules before Setting Out

There is no humanitarian emergency among the civilian population in Gaza, and hence there can be no justification for conveying emergency shipments intended to alleviate an emergency that clearly does not exist. Provoking a confrontation with Israel continues to be the primary aim of flotilla organizers like the Turkish IHH.


  • Mavi_Marmara_sideAn ostensibly civilian, humanitarian flotilla was employed in May 2010 to demonstratively breach the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza coast. This flotilla was organized by the Turkish IHH, which has extensive links to extreme Islamic terror groups. Provoking a confrontation with Israel continues to be the primary aim.

  • Since May 2010, the Israeli government has altered the manner in which it administers the limitations on the transfer of goods to Gaza. It now specifically prohibits only those materials that might be taken and directed by Hamas and other terror groups in furtherance of their hostile purposes.

  • There is no humanitarian emergency among the civilian population in Gaza, and hence there can be no justification for conveying emergency shipments intended to alleviate an emergency that clearly does not exist. Any genuine wish to provide materials to the Gaza population can be directed through Israeli ports and the relevant authorities.

  • Hamas routinely fires missiles randomly at Israeli civilian targets. Thus a situation of ongoing armed conflict exists between Hamas and Israel, which has the prerogative to institute a naval and land blockade to prevent the introduction of weapons and materials that could serve belligerent purposes. Such a blockade is well established in international law and practice.

  • It is internationally accepted that any attempt to breach such a blockade may be prevented by Israeli naval patrols. Such a process may take place outside the area of the blockade if the declared intention of the flotilla is to violate the blockade. Furthermore, any vessel refusing to respond to the demands of the naval forces may be stopped forcefully.

Aiming to Provoke a Confrontation

Since the May 2010 wave of "flotillas" organized by Turkish and other groups, ostensibly conveying cargoes of vital and indispensible aid intended to reach the population of Gaza, much has been written and televised as to the real intentions of the organizers.  Additionally, several enquiries have been instituted in order to analyze the legal, military, and other aspects of the flotilla affair and the way it was handled. 

What seems to have been made very clear by the groups that organized the flotilla, especially the Turkish-led IHH terror-related organization, is the fact that the use of an ostensibly civilian, humanitarian flotilla and a huge PR campaign in order to demonstratively breach the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza coast and thereby challenge Israel's policy regarding the Gaza Strip and provoke a confrontation with Israel, was clearly and continues to be the primary aim. 

Conveying humanitarian goods to what was represented as a distressed Gaza population was a minor, secondary, and perhaps even incidental aim, at least among the most vocal participants in the flotilla, although there were indeed some who participated out of a bona fide belief in the importance of identifying themselves with, and trying to alleviate what they genuinely thought to be, a humanitarian crisis among the residents of Gaza. 

The regrettable outcome of the May 2010 flotilla and the extensive international echo that still reverberates throughout the international community have nevertheless brought about a series of changes in the "situation on the ground." 

The logic and aim of Israel's blockade is to prevent the Hamas terror organization presently administering Gaza from acquiring arms, ammunition, and other supplies that could contribute to hostile activities against Israel. Since May 2010, the Israeli government has altered the manner in which it administers the limitations on the transfer of goods to Gaza. It now specifically prohibits only those materials that might be taken and directed by Hamas and other terror groups in furtherance of their hostile purposes. 

Furthermore, since the May 2010 flotilla incident and in light of the considerable publicity that has been given to the daily flow of goods and supplies into the Gaza Strip, it has become very clear to all that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and all essential and other provisions are available to all residents. 

On the other hand, the practical military and tactical implications and lessons of the May 2010 flotilla have been learned by Israel's military forces and the appropriate conclusions as to how to handle future flotillas have been reached and put into place. 

Some Basic Facts

In light of these significant changes in the situation on the ground, one may wonder on what basis could future planned flotillas be justified and, in a similar vein, what might be the real intentions and motives of the organizers who are busy preparing the next flotilla touted for June 2011. 

In this context, it might be pertinent to review some of the basic ground rules surrounding the flotilla phenomenon: 

  • It is widely acknowledged that there is no humanitarian emergency among the civilian population in Gaza. Hence there can be no justification for conveying emergency shipments intended to alleviate an emergency that clearly does not exist. Most materials and foodstuffs are permitted to enter Gaza after examination by the Israeli authorities in order to prevent tactical materials from reaching Hamas and other terror groups. Any genuine wish to provide materials to the Gaza population can be directed through Israeli ports and the relevant authorities.

  • It is widely acknowledged that Gaza is independently administered by an internationally regarded terror organization - Hamas - that is sponsored and supplied with arms by Iran and that maintains an ongoing and actively hostile attitude towards Israel. The territory also serves as host to other terror groups such as the Islamic Jihad. Practically speaking, this hostility takes the form of incitement to terror through all levels of the population by all means of publicity - in kindergartens, schools, colleges, on the radio and television, and through the web. It involves the smuggling into the area and stockpiling of missiles, guns, and ammunition for use against Israel and its civilian population and the routine firing of such missiles randomly at Israeli civilian targets.

  • It is widely acknowledged that Israel does not hold the status of an "occupying power" in Gaza. In fact, Israel transferred its civilian powers and responsibilities over the Gaza Strip into the hands of the Palestinian Authority and withdrew its forces and civilians. The Palestinian Authority's control in Gaza was later usurped by Hamas, which turned the area into a base for mounting terror attacks against Israel.

  • Since such a terror organization is in sole and effective control of Gaza and directs ongoing and active hostilities against Israel and its civilians, it is widely acknowledged that a situation of ongoing armed conflict exists between Hamas, its associates, and Israel. In such a situation of armed conflict, Israel has the prerogative to institute a naval and land blockade with a view to prevent the introduction of weapons and materials that could serve the belligerent purposes of Hamas. The institution of such a blockade is well established in international law and practice.

  • It is internationally acknowledged that a naval blockade in such a situation, once instituted and maintained in accordance with the rules of international law with the appropriate public notification as to the area of sea that it covers, effective enforcement, impartiality and consideration of humanitarian needs of the population, is fully in accordance with accepted international law and practice.

  • Similarly, it is internationally accepted that any attempt to breach such a blockade by civilian or other vessels may be prevented by Israeli naval patrols, and the vessels involved may be stopped, searched, and sent to an Israeli port in order to check their cargoes. Such a process may take place outside the area of the blockade if the declared intention of the flotilla is to violate the blockade. Furthermore, any vessel refusing to respond to the demands of the naval forces may be stopped forcefully.

In light of all the above, there is good reason to assume that the instigators of the planned flotilla intending to set sail for Gaza in June 2011 would be hard put to justify themselves other than by admitting their real character and motives as a provocative and political demonstration. 

Sponsorship, organization, and presence on such flotillas by terror organizations or their activists disguised as humanitarian groups will no longer deceive an international community which witnessed the May 2010 flotilla, the premeditated violence of its organizers, and the regrettable and tragic outcome. 

While such demonstrations may well take place if only for their PR value, they will have to abide by internationally accepted rules and prove their bona fide nature in order to be considered as genuine.

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Amb. Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is former Legal Adviser to Israel's Foreign Ministry and former Ambassador of Israel to Canada.

Copyright © 2011 JCPA. All Rights Reserved.

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