Tuesday, June 01, 2010

IDF Shot First? (Plus: Legal Ramifications)

RawStory has linked to a repost of the flotilla footage that I had linked to earlier.

Israeli forces assert they came under attack by the pro-Palestine civilian group, and video released by the IDF appears to show one soldier being tossed overboard amid a scuffle with unidentified individuals wielding melee weapons, like clubs and chairs.
However, in raw video captured by an Al Jazeera producer and published to YouTube late Monday, two journalists provide a play-by-play of the harrowing event as pops and cracks echo in the background. Even before the Israeli forces were aboard, one says, they were pelting the boat with tear gas and stun grenades, injuring numerous people.
Then he confirms the first death, saying the individual was killed by "munitions," but not specifying whether it was a bullet or something else. Then he confirms that Israeli forces were boarding the ship.

Another of the reporters featured in the video works for the Iranian network Press TV. "We are being hit by tear gas, stun grenades, we have navy ships on either side, helicopters overhead," he said. "We are being attacked from every single side. This is in international waters, not Israeli waters, not in the 68-mile exclusion zone. We are being attacked in international waters completely illegally."
"The organizers are telling me now, they are raising a white flag -- they are raising a white flag to the Israeli army," the Al Jazeera reporter said. "This is after one person has been killed; a civilian has been killed by munition. That number could be more ... Despite the white flag being raised, despite the white flag being raised, the Israeli army is still shooting, still firing live munitions."
Here is the video in question.

Disturbingly, the reporter is reporting that Israeli forces are trying to block phones and destroy satellite feeds to the outside world. The attempts to squelch independent reportage really raise questions about the IDF's credibility; it suggests that they knew going in that there would be casualties, and were trying to shut people up before the outside world figured it out.

That would be par for the course for, say, China; but isn't it Israel's status as the "sole regional democracy" that justifies supporting it in the first place?

In any case, you hear gunshots right off the bat, and it appears that gunfire is coming from the boats around the ship. Clearly, then, the gunfire did not originate with the activists. One of the reporters at the beginning said that they were under fire with tear gas and stun grenades from all sides, so those sounds may have been from those weapons, but it didn't sound like tear gas or grenade launchers; it sounded like straight-up gunfire.

In any case, Craig Murray brings up a good point: even if this isn't piracy, it is an act of aggression against ships flying under a Turkish flag:

The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place
on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody's territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory. There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.
Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.
Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.
In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.
This is why you don't attack ships like this in international waters: because if you aren't already at war with them, you damned well will be at war with them. Israel may have committed an act of war against Turkey in order to stop a shipment of humanitarian aid to a people who aren't even allowed fresh meat or a tub of margarine. Madness.

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