The San Remo defence just won't wash

June 20, 2011
Sarah Benton

The Mysterious San Remo Treaty, hasbarists’ delight
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
June 17, 2011 ·

Whenever Israel gets itself into serious hot water and kills a lot of people and looks really bad in the process, if it can, the MFA and the rest of the hasbara brigade goes into overdrive, dusts off all the possible avenues of defense they can find. Lately, with the Gaza flotilla shortly to embark on its attempt to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza, and with memories fresh in the world’s mind of the nine dead bodies shot at point blank range by Israeli naval commandos, hasbarists are turning to an obscure international treaty to defend the indefensible: the collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazans by Israel’s armed forces.

I’m so tired to hearing these chirping hasbarists crickets all singing the same song (I must’ve had six different commenters in the past year who each separately raised San Remo as justification for the blockade) that I wanted to thank a commenter who pointed me to a rebuttal of the San Remo argument. It was written by a former British ambassador, Craig Murray. And before you question his credentials, let’s present them:

…Former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He negotiated the UK’s current maritime boundaries with Ireland, Denmark (Faeroes), Belgium and France, and boundaries of the Channel Islands, Turks and Caicos and British Virgin Islands. He was alternate Head of the UK Delegation to the UN Preparatory Commission on the Law of the Sea. He was Head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, enforcing sanctions on Iraq, and directly responsible for clearance of Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf.

I quote Ambassador Murray in full (italics are mine):

Why San Remo Does Not Apply
Every comments thread on every internet site on the world which has discussed the Israeli naval murders, has been inundated by organised ZIonist commenters stating that the Israeli action was legal under the San Remo Manual of International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

They ignore those parts of San Remo that specifically state that it is illegal to enforce a general blockade on an entire population. But even apart from that, San Remo simply does not apply.

The manual relates specifically to legal practice in time of war. With whom is Israel at war?

There is no war.

Israeli apologists have gone on to say they are in a state of armed conflict with Gaza.

Really? In that case, why do we continually hear Israeli complaints about rockets fired from Gaza into Israel? If it is the formal Israeli position that it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then Gaza has every right to attack Israel with rockets.

But in fact, plainly to the whole world, the nature and frequency of Israeli complaints about rocket attacks gives evidence that Israel does not in fact believe that a situation of armed conflict exists.

Secondly, if Israel wishes to claim it is in a state of armed conflict with Gaza, then it must treat all of its Gazan prisoners as prisoners of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. If you are in a formal state of armed conflict, you cannot categorise your opponents as terrorists.

But again, it is plain for the world to see from its treatment and description of Gazan prisoners that it does not consider itself to be in a formal position of armed conflict.

Israel is seeking to pick and choose which bits of law applicable to armed conflict it applies, by accepting or not accepting it is in armed conflcit depending on the expediency of the moment.

I have consistently denounced Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. I have categorised them as terrorism. If Israel wishes now to declare it is in armed conflcit with Gaza, I withdraw my opposition and indeed would urge Hamas to step up such attacks to the maximum.

Does Israel really wish to justify its latest action by declaring it is at war with Gaza? That is what the invocation of San Remo amounts to.

So please no more references to San Remo. It’s a red herring argument.

Every day is “practice” for the Israeli navy

By Eva Bartlett. In Gaza
June 18, 2011

A June 16 Reuters article on Israel’s vow to stop any preparations for the Freedom Flotilla 2 quotes an Israeli unnamed source as saying the blockade and siege on the Gaza Strip is legal:

The source, who declined to be named, said Israel’s maritime blockade would only be deemed legal if it imposed a total exclusion zone around the small Palestinian enclave and urged the flotilla organizers not to challenge the navy.

But, under international law, including the much-touted United Nations (isn’t the UN the scapegoat reason for bombarding Libya?) the blockade is illegal [source: under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the San Remo Manual (SRM) on armed conflicts at sea –which Israel cites–and according to which, a blockade must satisfy a number of legal requirements, including proportionality. If “it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade, it is illegal.]. Further, a UN fact-finding mission to investigate Israel’s attacks on flotilla boats has concluded the blockade is illegal and the attacks on the high seas are violations of international law.

The Israeli source later adds: ”But a maritime security blockade can only be legal if it is effective and complete. You cannot keep a selective maritime blockade under international law. You can’t say who gets in and who doesn’t.“

Aside from it’s illegality, the blockade and the Israeli navy did not use the disproportionate assault force on the first 5 Free Gaza voyages (from August to December 2008) as it did on later Free Gaza attempts (including ramming one boat and abducting passengers on June 30 2009) and on last year’s Freedom Flotilla in international waters which saw nine Turkish activists killed (some shot point-blank in assassination style, said Keven Neish, a passenger and witness on board the Mavi Marmara; a UN report cites “six of those on board – one American and five Turkish citizens – were murdered execution-style“.) and dozens injured by heavily-armed Israeli commandos who rappelled [abseiled] onto the Mavi shooting with live ammunition.

Reuters reports:

On Wednesday, Israel carried out a large simulation exercise at sea to prepare for any new confrontation and the source said everything possible would be done to prevent direct clashes.
Video footage from Wednesday’s exercise broadcast by the military showed Israeli ships practicing the use of water cannon.

But ask any Palestinian fisherman from Gaza and they will tell you the Israeli navy is well-experienced in the art of water-cannoning unarmed civilians.

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