There has long been controversy about Palestinian territorial waters. This issue was raised last year, during Israel’s genocidal assault on the Gaza Strip, wherein part of the so-called ‘cease-fire’ agreement included that Israel would respect international law relating to the sea. Now the issue is once again an area of international focus.
Within the next several days, the ‘Gaza Flotilla’, a group of at least three international ships, will attempt to breach the illegal blockade of the beleaguered Gaza Strip, and dock in Gaza. When this was last attempted, Israeli soldier-terrorists killed ten defenseless, unarmed people, causing international tensions between Gaza and Turkey, home to several of the victims.
As the Flotilla approaches Gaza, it is important to remember that the blockade of the Gaza Strip is illegal under international law. Yet this does not prevent Israel from condemning the Flotilla as if it, and not Israel, was the law-breaker.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who has called for the complete annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians, said that the foreign ministry will prevent the Flotilla from reaching ‘Israel’s territorial waters’.
Perhaps Ms. Hotovely would benefit from a geography lesson, combined with one in international law.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states, in part, the following:
Each country’s sovereign territorial waters extend to a maximum of 12 nautical miles (22 km) beyond its coast. Foreign vessels are granted the right of innocent passage through this zone.
The members of the Gaza Flotilla have no intention of, or interest in, approaching Israel’s territorial waters. The coastal state to which it is sailing is Palestine, not Israel. So any discussion of Israel’s ‘territorial waters’ is irrelevant in a discussion of the Flotilla; the foreign ministry of Israel has no legal authority over the coastal waters of Palestine.
Additionally, Palestine’s ‘sovereign territorial waters’, like those of every other coastal nation on the planet, extend 12 nautical miles off its coast. As a sovereign nation, Palestine is free to accept or reject any ship it so chooses, without interference from any other nation.
It is unlikely that the Gaza Flotilla will successfully enter Palestine’s territorial waters; Israel will attack the unarmed vessel before it gets even close. One hopes the loss of innocent life will be minimized, but when dealing with one of the most brutal and inhuman regimes in the world, one has little reason for optimism.
Basel Ghattas, a member of the Israeli parliament with the Joint Arab List, has now caused much consternation in Israel by announcing that he would be on one of the Flotilla’s ships. In a letter to Israeli Prime Murderer Benjamin Netanyahu, he explained the purpose of the Flotilla: “,,,to end the siege by way of turning international attention to the situation of 1.8 million Palestinians living in disgraceful, prison-like conditions as a result of Israel’s military siege of both land and sea….” Mindful of the brutal response to the previous Flotilla, he concluded his letter thusly: “Taking over the ships and preventing them from arriving at their destination will entangle Israel in another difficult international crisis, the outcome of which will be the responsibility of you and your government.”
So, let us summarize a few salient points: 1) The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is illegal under international law; 2) A foreign nation has no right to regulate what ships enter or leave a foreign port not under its jurisdiction; 3) Any other nation so blatantly violating international law would be censured by the United Nations.
What does all this mean for Israel? For one thing, any attempt to stop the Gaza Flotilla from reaching Gaza will be a violation of international law.
Additionally, it shows that apartheid Israel violates international law each time its terrorists harass Palestinian fishermen fishing within that internationally-recognized territorial limit. IDF soldiers (Israeli Defense Forces, also known as terrorists), routinely shoot and kill fisherman and ‘confiscate’ their boats. For those fishermen lucky enough to escape with their lives, they lose their livelihood, becoming unable to support themselves and their families.
Can we, for a moment, gaze into our crystal ball and see the near future? As stated, in all likelihood Israel will violently prevent the Flotilla from reaching Palestine. The U.N. will say nothing of this. Any criticisms leveled against Israel will be denounced by the U.S. which will summon the holy mantra of the myth of Israel defending its national security. There will, however, be no mention of Palestine’s national security.
So will it be business as usual? The crystal ball is a bit foggy on this point, but indications are that Mr. Ghattas’s closing comment to Mr. Netanyahu will prove to be right on the mark. Few people outside of Israel and the disgraceful halls of the U.S. Congress will see a few unarmed boats sailing towards Palestine as anything but benign. As Israel screams that everyone around the world is trying to ‘delegitimize’ it, it will not recognize that it needs no one else to do so; it is doing a fine job of that all on its own.
So another attempt to hold Israel accountable for its atrocities will be thwarted, but at what price? All indications are that most of global society has had it up to here with Israel, and eventually the final straw will be applied, breaking the apartheid camel’s back. When that happens, not even Israel’s best friend and main financier, the United States, will be able to save it from itself.
First published in Counterpunch, June 26 – 28.