Israel, Gaza, and the Estelle: more high seas lawlessness
Once again, Israel has illegally intercepted and boarded a vessel bound for Gaza with humanitarian supplies, this time with a modest contingent of 30 aboard, including former Canadian MP Jim Manly. The ship was in international waters when it was surrounded by six IDF boats and, as with its predecessor, redirected to the Israeli port of Ashdod. (See video of the interdiction below.)
Of course, none of this is unexpected. Of course, these sailings involve a high level of theatrics at this point, designed as they are to draw continued attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Of course, those on board the Estelle expected to be stopped, and the organizers do themselves no favours by claiming the ship was attacked. Thankfully, this time there appears to have been no violence. (Update: This Italian passenger says it wasn’t exactly peaceful, either.)
But none of this excuses the lawlessness of Israel’s action. The vessel was 30 miles off the coast of Gaza, well outside territorial waters; in any event, the territory in question doesn’t belong to Israel. The Israeli Defence ministry immediately claimed the seizure was legal, perhaps drawing courage in its lie from the Palmer Report, which the UN released in the wake of the Mavi Marmara debacle, and which called Israel’s naval blockade “a legitimate security measure.” The Palmer Commission, however, had no authority to rewrite maritime law, which is perfectly clear: A “warship” only has the right to interdict and board the vessel of another nation (the Estelle is sailing under the Finnish flag) if it can reasonably be suspected of engaging in arms and drug smuggling, the slave trade, or terrorist activities. Plainly, the Estelle can’t be.
What Israel has done isn’t technically piracy, which UNCLOS defines as action for “private ends.” Nevertheless, every time Israel sends its sailors out to do this, it de facto turns them into pirates — and sometimes worse.
Their action is of a piece with those of the U.S., another rogue nation, which routinely violates the airspace of other countries with its murderous drones (aimed at targets plucked from its President’s extrajudicial “kill list”) while passing laws that violate its own constitution. We have entered an age when the state, which is meant to maintain the rule of law, is increasingly its most flagrant violator. In short, we are all on board the Estelle now.