Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gaza aid convoy witnesses begin to tell their stories


As the people from the Gaza aid convoy begin to return home, we can finally begin to learn their side of the story. The only hard evidence they have is the injuries sustained. Israeli forces confiscated all cameras, cellphones and laptops in an ongoing attempt to censor information, which began with jamming cellphone signals prior to the boarding.

Nevertheless, there are 700 of them, and that collective voice will have weight.

Israel continues to claim that the commandos were only acting in self-defense and did not initaite the violence which has left 9 or more dead. But activists tell of pre-emptive force with shots and tear gas being used prior to the actual boarding.

"Israeli commandos started shooting from the air without warning," said Mubarak al-Mutawa, a lawyer who was on the main vessel, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara. They killed a number of volunteers even before landing aboard the ship," reports al Jazeera.

Talat Hussain, executive director of Aaj TV in Pakistan alleged that Israeli soldiers were shooting people in cold blood. “Four people were shot in the forehead in front me." quoted the Hindu News.

Israeli forces also used tasers and tear gas prior to boarding. Australian photographer Kate Geraghty was was struck by a stun gun before Israeli authorities boarded their vessel.

"Even before they jumped on the boat they did use their taser guns to get people ... because when they approached our boat we were standing close to the edge and putting our hands up trying to prevent them from getting on, so they threw these percussion grenades that explode on the boat and also used tasers to push people back," she said.


Retired US diplomat Edward L. Peck who was not on the ship where fatalities occurred was interviewed on his return by the Baltimore Sun. "We tried to resist passively, which the Israeli people were not prepared to accept."

"If somebody were to appear at my door, fully armed, wearing balaclava masks, I'd defend my home," he said. "It's the Israeli commandos that were attacking" a ship in international waters "that didn't want to go to Israel," and the passengers defended themselves with deck chairs and iron pipes, but no guns.

What is the legality of the boarding?

In a letter to the Times UK Daniel Machover, chair of the British group Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights writes:

The attack by Israeli forces on the Turkish-registered vessel Mavi Marmara in international waters was clearly unlawful.

By virtue of the decision by the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Lotus case (1927), the basic principle under customary international law, is that “...vessels on the high seas are subject to no authority except that of the State whose flag they fly”; in this case, Turkey. Indeed, a 1988 treaty, to which Israel is a party, criminalises the unlawful and intentional seizure or exercise of control over a ship by force and all connected injuries, deaths and/or detentions.

Israel claims that it was lawfully enforcing a legal blockade. Even if the blockade is legal, in order to rely on this legal justification, Israel is required to liaise with the flag state, Turkey, before trying to board the vessel. It did not.

In any event, this blockade is not lawful. An embargo on adequate food and medical aid can never be lawful. As the boarding of the Mavi Marmara by Israeli forces was unlawful, those on board had the right to defend themselves, subject to the constraints of Turkish criminal law. Any force used by Israeli commandos may be judged as unlawful, let alone the use of lethal force.

Turkey must now be assisted by all UN member states to gain access to all of the evidence relating to this incident so that it may conduct a comprehensive criminal investigation, at the conclusion of which the Israeli personnel involved may need to defend their actions before a criminal court. UN sanctions should be imposed against Israel if it refuses to co-operate with such an investigation. Finally, the unlawful blockade of Gaza must now end.

Meanwhile, an Irish ship which was separated from the main flotilla is still heading towards the blockade. Ireland has asked Israel to allow it safe passage and has warned Israel that an attack on the ship will have "serious consequences."
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