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Why Israel's flotilla attack was illegal under Interntional Law 

June 3, 2010
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The Legal Framework of International Law

The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla by Israeli Navy Commandos on May 31, 2010

Crimes against the Peace and Crimes against Humanity

By Lynda Brayer

During the pre-dawn hours of May 31, 2010, the Israeli Navy attacked the six civilian vessels of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.  The attack took place in international waters against ships flying under national flags of countries with which Israel is not at war, namely Turkey, Greece and the United States.  The ships were carrying civilians from more than sixteen countries.

Salient points:

Since no state of war existed at the time, the attack on these vessels constitutes an act of war against those governments under whose flags the vessels were sailing.

The attack falls within the purview of the ius ad bellum, those laws which govern the resort to armed conflict.  Israel’s action does not fall into the category of the ius in bello or the laws which govern the actual conduct of war.

Because this attack was carried out in international waters, the status of the relationship between Hamas, or any other Palestinian body, and the state of Israel is of no relevance whatsoever.  Likewise,neither the blockade of Gaza nor Israel’s claims and legal interpretations regarding it has any bearing on its acts of aggression in international waters.

This is not an act of piracy.  Piracy is an act of aggression carried out in international waters by individuals and not by states.

The following internationally binding treaties, charters, and agreements are relevant to the attack by Israel:

1. Article 6 of the Charter Provisions of the Nuremburg Trials

(a) Crimes against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;

(3) Crimes against Humanity:  namely murder…deportation, and any other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the execution of or in connection with any crime…whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

2. 1907 Hague Regulation Convention (XI) Relative to Certain Restrictions with Regard to the Exercise of the Right of Capture in Naval War

Chapter II – The Exemption from Capture of Certain Vessels 
Article 4.  Vessels charged with religious, scientific, or philanthropic missions are likewise exempt from capture.

Salient points:

The standard for judging the Israeli acts is objective and not subjective. It is irrelevant what Israeli ministers, generals, admirals, or soldiers thought or intended.  The test is in what they did.

What they did was engage in acts of war using weapons of war in international waters against vessels that are protected not only in peacetime but also in times of war.

Israel has therefore committed both crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity.

These are crimes that have international jurisdiction.  Israeli political and military personnel can be named in trials held in any and all countries of the world.  If the Israelis do not attend the trials, they can be tried in abstentia, and those decisions in which the Israelis are found guilty can be executed anywhere in the world.

Because unarmed civilians were murdered by a preplanned military attack, capital crimes have been committed.  While it would appear that the international community no longer finds capital punishment civilized, the punishments for these capital crimes can be multiple life sentences.

These crimes give rise to damage claims for huge sums of money and Israeli accounts can be blocked using decisions finding them guilty.

The unarmed vessels were on a philanthropic mission, carrying civilians and humanitarian supplies.  Even if Israel were in a state of war with any of these countries, it would be prohibited from capturing the vessels according to the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907.


It follows, therefore, that Israel was first of all not allowed to attack these vessels militarily, and then not to board these vessels by force, capture these vessels, attack the passengers, imprison them on the vessels, forcibly remove them from the vessels, and steal their private property in the form of cameras, computers, clothes, etc.

Every single act carried out by the Israeli military forces in international waters no May 31, 2010, are unqualifiedly and absolutely violations of international law.

Lynda Brayer is an Israeli human rights lawyer who specialized in the laws of war and international law in representing Palestinians.  She is a graduate of the Hebrew University Faculty of Law and lives in Haifa.   She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla included six vessels on May 31, 2010
1. Mavi Marmara, passenger boat, Turkey
2. Sofia, cargo ship, Greece
3. Gaza I, cargo ship, Turkey
4. Gaza II, cargo ship, Turkey
5. Spendoni,  passenger ship, Greece
6. Challenger I, passenger ship, United States

At least nine passengers were killed, eight Turkish citizens and one U.S. citizen, Furkan Dogan, 19. The majority of the passengers aboard the ships were Turkish citizens.  There were also nationals from Britain, Australia, Greece, Canada, Malaysia, Algeria, Serbia, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Kuwait and the United States.
Three German parliamentarians were aboard the Turkish boat that was stormed. There were also two Palestinian Members of the Knesset.  Swedish author Henning Mankell was also on board the flotilla.


Despite Israeli spin-doctors, and Israel firsters in the United States, it’s clear that Israel has broken international laws. Contact your government to call for an independent international investigation of Israel’s attack on the flotilla, an end to the Gaza blockade, and an immediate halt to U.S. aid to Israel.

Phone the White House: 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111. Or contact President Barack Obama by e-mail

Phone the U.S. State Department Public Information Line: 202-647-6575 ext 1 
Contact your members of Congress:
Contact your local newspapers, radio stations, religious leaders… everyone you know. 
Click here to subscribe to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 


June 1, 2010
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Update on Gaza Freedom Flotilla

The UN Security Council has called for an impartial, credible investigation of Israel’s raid on the international aid flotilla, in international waters, which left 10 civilians dead. The council began its emergency session on Monday afternoon at the UN Headquarters in New York, and by early Tuesday morning agreed to language condemning the acts that resulted in the deaths and injuries aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara and the European Campaign’s vessel Spendoni.

“The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza,” the council said in a statement. “The council in this context condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and expresses condolences to the families.”

The 15 member-nations of the council also requested the immediate release of the seized ships that made up the flotilla, as well as the civilians who were taken into custody following the raid. And it called for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent” investigation into the incident.

The council statement also reemphasized the importance of implementing U.N. resolution 1860, which calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.  The flow of aid has been severely hampered by Israel’s three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Israel has blocked media access to the internationals from the flotilla in order to prevent the world from learning their side of the story. Israeli officials claimed Turkish activists were armed and Israeli naval commandos shot passengers in “self-defense.” The Turkish prime minister said Monday that the vessels in the flotilla were inspected before they left port in Turkey to make sure the cargo did not include weapons.

Of the hundreds of activists who were detained aboard the ships after they were escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod, 15 were sent to Beer Sheva Prison. Another 25 were deported and 50 others who refused to identify themselves were being held separately, according to Israeli reports.

The Washington Report has learned that Edward Peck, 81, a former U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, who served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and as deputy director of the White House Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan Administration is nearly home in Chevy Chase, MD.

USS Liberty survivor Joe Meadors is also on his way home to Corpus Christi, Texas.  Meadors was serving aboard the U.S. Navy intelligence ship USS Liberty that was attacked by Israeli forces on June 8, 1967, killing 34 crew members. “He hasn’t had much luck with the Israelis,” his wife Jean told one reporter. Meadors had planned to drop a wreath into the water in remembrance of his 34 shipmates.

Retired television commercial producer David Schermerhorn, 80, of Orcas Island, WA., was also on the flotilla and is safe, according to the U.S. Embassy.

Today’s press release from the Free Gaza Movement stated that Israeli-licensed attorneys filed two habeas briefs on May 31. One asked for the release of passengers and the boats, so the internationals can continue their humanitarian mission to Gaza, since it was illegal to stop them in international waters. The other brief asks for information on all of the passengers, because there has been a total blackout on where the passengers are, and which passengers were wounded or murdered.

Lawyers are only being allowed access for three hours every day from 13:00-16:30. They have the names of three Palestinians still in detention: Sheik Salah, Mohammad Zeidan, and Lubna Marsawa.



- Send an e-mail and fax to your elected officials, including the president and Congress, calling on them to condemn Israel for using violence against peaceful, unarmed citizens. Ask the U.S. government to halt all U.S. aid to Israel.

Global - Call your elected officials and demand they condemn Israel for using military force on peaceful, unarmed internationals.

Global - Send an e-mail and fax to all Israeli embassies and consulates worldwide. Call your nearest Israeli embassy and demand an investigation of their raid on unarmed internationals. Call for an immediate end of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

U.S. - Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Thousands of people have attended demonstrations at Israeli embassies and consulates across the world, including in the United States. Find or organize a protest near you.

Another Victim

An American solidarity activist was shot in the face with a tear gas canister during a demonstration in Qalandiya on May 31 to protest Israel’s murder of civilians aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters. Emily Henochowicz, 21, underwent surgery to remove her left eye, and to insert three metal plates into her head/face. Israeli occupation forces fired volleys of tear gas at unarmed Palestinian and international protesters, causing mass panic among the demonstrators and those queuing at the largest checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel.

We must redouble our efforts to secure a lasting peace agreement. The world is waiting for a thoughtful, just, unbiased U.S. reaction. Will Americans do the right thing at last? Will President Barack Obama now launch an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Or will Israel get away with murder—again?

For more information:

Free Gaza Movement – Greta Berlin  +357 99187275

Free Gaza Movement –  Mary Hughes + 357 96 38 38 09

ECESG – Mazen Kahel  +33 1 46 81 12 92

IHH – Ahmet Emin Dag  +90 530 341 1934

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is comprised of: Free Gaza Movement (FG), European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG), Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), Ship to Gaza Greece, Ship to Gaza Sweden, The Perdana Global Peace Organization, and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, with hundreds of groups and organizations around the world supporting the effort.

Find out about the Free Gaza Movement by visiting its Web site:

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